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Loyalty marketing can help merchants, but the messaging has to be right

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Many companies are working to adjust to the current circumstances amid COVID-19, and securing the safety of customers and staff is number No. 1 on the list. Once these priorities are in place, brands that can stay open, either for in-person or online access, can then turn to other aspects of running a business, like customer retention and loyalty.

These brands can find value in incentive and loyalty programs, especially those that use virtual prepaid cards. Done right, these programs can provide much-needed discounts to customers while also allowing them to remain viable and relevant during the crisis.

Brands should take time to consider what customers need and how services can be adjusted based on those needs. They’ll need to adapt to how they serve and communicate with customers in a way that makes sense in a quarantined world.

For example, many companies are moving to online-only models or limited in-person shopping. This might include contactless sales where customers drive up and have items dropped in their trunk. Some grocery stores will limit deli counter service and other similar interactions. These actions are smart responses to the current situation and allow brands to maintain some connection with customers. Virtual payment cards dovetail into such processes nicely, as they’re already contactless, removing the need for typing PINs and other physical interactions.

Transparency is king. Brands will need to communicate the ways their business will change and be open to customer suggestions. This is uncharted territory for everyone involved, so companies that want loyal customers must solicit feedback and implement good suggestions quickly. Create real dialogues with customers, so they know your business is run by people, not a faceless corporation. This openness and transparency will set the stage for customer loyalty during the crisis and well after it fades.

With the same value and functions of a physical card, a virtual card is instead sent via email or text and provides instant accessibility and protection from loss. Such cards are ideal for rebate programs. Instead of asking customers to fill out cumbersome rebate forms and then wait four weeks for a physical rebate card, instant cards offer immediacy. And customers are smart - they understand a lengthy and cumbersome rebate process is designed to get requests to drop off and so people never claim their refunds. Streamlining this process for the customer’s benefit might cost a few dollars, but that money is recouped quickly through better customer experience and boosted loyalty.

Virtual prepaid cards allow merchants to handle multiple use cases with a single and secure payments source. Restaurants that have transitioned to pickup only and contactless models can use cards to reward their frequent buyers or use them as incentives for referrals.

They replace “sandwich cards” or physical loyalty cards that take up wallet space or are frequently lost. But, it’s important for brands to keep in mind that messaging in these efforts is key. They must avoid tone-deaf content that makes light of the pandemic in any fashion or seems to downplay the threats. A misstep with such a campaign will quickly hit social media, and a company’s good intentions could quickly turn into a publicity nightmare.

The benefits of virtual payment cards go beyond replacing physical cards and eliminating social contacts. Payment vendors that manage these virtual cards can also create branded cards and portals for companies. These portals serve as additional touchpoints for consumers and allow them to check balances and reload the cards as necessary. On the company side, the portals offer rich data surrounding buying behaviors and timing, so brands can develop trend data and better gauge the effectiveness of their programs.

Commerce throughout the country will resume. It may come in an altered form, and the way customers interact with brands may shift, but the brands that will make it through this period will be those that are customer-centric with their actions, messaging and marketing. Virtual prepaid cards can play an important role in this process as brands cope with new economic realities and strive to increase loyalty and retention.

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