Sometimes friends ask me if I remember how we used to shop several years ago, as things seem to be changing so quickly at the moment. The truth is I try not to remember. I wouldn’t say I was a happy customer back then.

Things are so much easier now than they used to be, that I wonder what took brands so long to actually start caring about their customers. I think that mostly they were just thinking about profit. I get that. But if you want customers to care, you have to give them something in the first place.

Take loyalty programs for example. I was a member of a ton of them, and got very little back. There was one airline I flew with a lot and I got a decent amount of value from that one, but the others were a waste of time.

I had so many loyalty cards a few years ago that it was like a running joke amongst my friends that when I went to pay for a round of drinks in a bar, several of them would fall out of my wallet and onto the floor.

I’m not sure why I was even carrying the majority of them around, as I rarely used them. I just didn’t see the point most of the time. Apart from that one airline I flew with a lot, I never felt like I was offered anything that made me smile or feel appreciated. My points even expired in most of them.

The shopping experience is much more seamless now

I don’t have any physical loyalty cards anymore. My mobile stores all of my program details. I pay with my mobile and my account details with that store are updated automatically. I have a balance with each brand I shop with and can tell with a couple of swipes of my screen what my offers are and how close I am to being able to redeem something I actually want.

The great thing is that it usually is something I actually want, too. I remember when offers were really generic a few years ago and it was pretty rare that I ever felt emotionally attached to products or services brands were offering me.

Sometimes I worry about privacy, of course, but this is the world we’re living in. I tend to just embrace it. Besides, I’ve only shared my personal data with the brands that I trust.

The great thing is that those brands are actually using what I tell them and are offering me stuff I’m interested in. The privacy thing would bother me more if that wasn’t the case. Right now, it’s just making my life a lot easier.

My digital assistant lets me know about offers from brands and redemption opportunities when I’m nearby the store. It’s pretty rare that they don’t interest me, even if I still occasionally get offers for things people assume a 35 year old guy with my background would like.

A case study of a happy customer - cityscape

Brands are part of the same loyalty ecosystem

The best thing is probably that most of the places I shop are part of the same loyalty ecosystem. This means that although several of them have their own currencies, I can exchange from one to another easily.

For example, a couple of weeks ago I had to take a flight for a business meeting and decided to stay in the city over the weekend to do some sightseeing and catch up with some old friends. I’d accrued a lot of currency with the airline in recent months so I was able to exchange from the airline account to the hotel account on my mobile. The hotel offered me a really good rate for the weekend I was there, with breakfast included. That kind of thing happens quite a lot.

When I was younger I was a member of a coalition loyalty program but it never seemed to offer me the same kind of value. It wasn’t particularly fluid. The system now is incredible by comparison. It’s also really quick. After just a few messages with a chatbot from the hotel, I made the transfer and had my reservation in a few seconds before I got onto the plane.

I read an article few years ago that said independent stores would completely disappear before long because of giants like Amazon taking so much business in so many sectors. Stories like that might have convinced people to make a change. I think for a while the customer was under-valued. I remember seeing lots of marketing jargon about how important we were to brands, but it’s only in recent years that I’ve actually seen any evidence of that.

It feels good to be a happy customer

Some businesses in my area have shut down, but in my opinion they were the ones that didn’t care as much about the customer. There are plenty of smaller brands that have really bought into the collaboration ethos and are sharing top-level customer profile data with other brands. Those guys are really flourishing.

You notice these days that the offers are a lot more interesting and I guess it’s because of brands being part of one loyalty ecosystem. People know what you’re likely to be keen on buying. There are also a lot more experiences on offer than I remember a few years ago. Shops don’t just sell physical items these days. It’s a lot more about the whole package and how you feel while you’re there.

There’s also a lot more useful communication these days (rather than just marketing noise). Intelligent chatbot assistants from different brands get in touch quite a lot via social media messaging. My digital assistant filters them so I only see those that fit with my interests. A lot of them do. You can tell they’re really trying to personalize the offers they send to me.

Some younger people can’t remember what it used to be like to go shopping a few years ago. I can, but I think it just makes me appreciate being a customer now even more.

All in all it’s fair to say I don’t miss the loyalty cards spilling out of my wallet or the generic offers that aren’t relevant to me. I’m definitely a happy customer now.