#405: Emarat Launches Emcan - A Loyalty Leader in the UAE's Fuel and Convenience Sector

Today’s episode features the UAE’s latest loyalty program which has been recently launched by a fuel retailer.

The Emirates General Petroleum Corporation is otherwise known as EMARAT, and they operate as a leading fuel and convenience store retailer across Dubai and the Northern Emirates.

Our guest is Ali Bin Zayed, the Senior Manager Corporate Loyalty for Emarat, who has led the development and launch of Emcan, and today he shares the insights behind its name, how it was developed and some of its impressive early results.

He also shares some of the highly innovative channels that are being used to support the incredibly diverse population of people from around the world who call the UAE their home.

Ali explains how they chose their loyalty platform provider, and some of the upcoming industry-leading technology that they are implementing in order to ensure their business continues to offer more ease, simplicity and delightful experiences for their customers.

Listen to enjoy this conversation with Ali Bin Zayed, Senior Manager Corporate Loyalty for Emarat.

Show Notes:

1) The Emirates General Petroleum Corporation

2) Ali Bin Zayed⁠, the Senior Manager Corporate Loyalty for Emarat

3) Emcan

Audio Transcript

Paula: Welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty, an industry podcast for loyalty marketing professionals. I’m your host, Paula Thomas, and if you work in loyalty marketing, join me every week to learn the latest ideas from loyalty specialists around the world.

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Hello and welcome to today’s episode of Let’s Talk Loyalty, featuring the latest loyalty program launched here in the UAE called EmCan. This program was launched by Emarat, a leading fuel and convenience store retailer across Dubai, where I live, and the Northern Emirates. My guest is Ali Bin Zayed, the Senior Manager, Corporate Loyalty for Emarat, who has led the development and launch of EmCan.

And today he shares the insights behind the name, how the program was developed, and some of its very impressive early results. He also shares some of the highly innovative channels that are being used to support the incredibly diverse population that called the UAE their home. Ali explains how they chose their platform provider as well as some of the upcoming industry leading technology they’re implementing in order to ensure the business continues to offer more ease, simplicity, and delight for their customers.

I hope you enjoy my conversation with Ali Bin Zayed, Senior Manager Corporate Loyalty for Emarat.

So Ali, welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty. 

Ali: Thank you. It’s a pleasure being here. Being a fan myself, this is when I started benchmarking for a loyalty program. 

Paula: Oh my goodness. That’s wonderful. How kind of you to say that.

Ali: Thank you. 

Paula: And we’re sitting here in person as well, Ali, which is something that I don’t get to do very often. So I think it’s actually more comfortable to have this nice quiet space together. So, thank you for making the trip down. I know you are a busy man. So listen, let’s get into my favorite first question because of course if you’ve listened so much, then you’ll know exactly. So do tell our listeners all over the world, what is your favorite loyalty program?

Ali: I’m not gonna say it’s a tough question, but it’s an easy one for me to answer. It’s Emirates Skywards. I really like what I like about it is the structure. The way it is, it’s clear for the customer the way you can redeem. And I think the best part is the tier system they have.  It’s actually pretty amazing. Like you can see the difference actually from silver to gold to platinum. 

Paula: A hundred percent.

Ali: It is challenging going from one to another to the other, but the benefits are actually very valuable. And we utilize them a lot.

Paula:  Okay. Amazing. Well, me too as well, Ali. I know we were both in London recently and I know we’re both going to Rio quite soon, actually in the next few months. Please. God as well. So no doubt we’ll be on the same Emirates flight. And actually we just had Dr. Nejib from Skywards back for his third interview with us. So in the next couple of weeks you’ll be able to hear the latest inside knowledge. 

So happy to hear that you’re listening and learning, because my sense is, and you can tell me if I’m right or wrong, but I feel like, like a lot of professional marketing people or even just professional business people, we’re given the responsibility for a loyalty program and we don’t know where to start.

Ali: Exactly. And this is the challenge. This is the main challenge you have.  

Paula:  It’s super complicated. So let’s start with your role, if you don’t mind, because I think Emarat is such an amazing organization as somebody who lives here, even who doesn’t drive. I see it everywhere on the streets and around the country.

So just for our global audience Ali, would you mind just introducing the business?  And then we’ll get into the whole loyalty side. 

Ali: Yeah, of course. My name is Ali Bin Zayed. I’m Senior Manager of Corporate Loyalty.  And I’m handling marketing as well. So, we recently launched EmCan loyalty program on 26th of April. We had actually a big story behind it. Why did we go through that? And I think it’s gonna be part of our discussion today. How and what engines we used? This is what actually is the difference between us and our peers as well. 

Paula: Of course. It’s super competitive. I said to you before we started the show that I have been writing and loving, I suppose, the whole fuel and convenience retail sector for many years now, and I feel like it was one of the later adopters. And, I think that’s fair to say that we love the airlines and they started the industry, but in convenience, people just prioritized that easy in and out.

They didn’t want to stop and do anything at the point of sale, so we couldn’t really do too much on the data collection piece. 

Ali: Exactly. 

Paula: But I think the technology has become so amazing, and I’ll be dying to hear the approach that you talk. But so, just as a fuel and convenience retailer, I think the current numbers it’s 122 stations.

Ali:  It’s increasing actually by week.  

Paula: Oh my God, okay.

Ali: That the team is doing an excellent job expanding. We’re touching our 126 station. 

Paula: Amazing. 

Ali: Hopefully by next week. And of course, this is amazing for our actually customers.

Paula:  Yeah, growing through that super, super. And you said April, so we’re in 2023. We’re recording together now at the end of June. So your program is only eight weeks old. So how is it going?

Ali: Actually we’re very impressed. With the, with the feedback we’re getting with,  with the numbers we are seeing. We started in April 26th. We can say 5:00 PM. It was live. Exactly. We of course, based on our studies and market share of Emarat, we put a KPI number for us for this year, of course. And we actually exceeded it by far. 

Paula: Oh my goodness. In the first two months?

Ali: In the first two months.

Paula: Congratulations!

Ali: Thank you. 

Paula: Wow. Wow. And it is very hard to do that, Ali. I think, again, particularly coming from a business background, and I do wanna talk about your non Emarat background a little bit as well, because I think it’s very impressive, very inspiring, but literally to come in. And I thinkheard on a different podcast that you did, that you started the original development. 

So I’d love to go back maybe a year to the middle of June 2022. How did the idea come about? First and foremost? Because as you’ve said, you’re in a competitive sector. There are lots of loyalty programs in this country and in your sector. So tell us about the decision from senior management, first and foremost. How did you justify this decision?

Ali: Well, actually, it was pushed by the management, given that our competitors already launched their loyalty programs. For Emarat, our culture is, do it, and do it big. Do it bold, do it confident. So, before June, actually, before onboarding on that,   we had the push from our senior management, from our Director General, His Excellency Ali Khalifa Al Shamsi to go ahead with the loyalty program.

In our culture, what we do is we need to have a very strong business model. And the business case for that. Understanding the market, doing things, we might doing things a bit, maybe for the market is not as fast. But we do it proper. This is the strategy we have. This is the way we went onto that.  

So, prior of June 2022 exactly six months before, we had a phase zero. With one of our consultants, their partners, we studied the market thoroughly. We did a full business model behind it. We did a lot of customer personas. 

Our general customer are, there is a big variety of them. You can see from the blue color to white color from different cities. If you notice the behavior in the city out the outside of the city.  Emarat is in Dubai and Northern Emirates. So we have to cater to each and every customer from 100 and I think 160 plus nationalities we have here.

It is a bit difficult. But, we put our effort into that. We studied, and we created different personas around eight to 10 personas. Different age groups, from different generations, finishing with Gen Z because they are the future.

Paula: They are the future. 

Ali: So, we cater to each customer. We interviewed a lot of people. We did our study very carefully. Even from people commuting.  So, we did personas of an Arab mom. Let’s say a mom of four. We identified the trends with their behavior.

We interviewed her.  How often do you drop your kids to school? Where do you work? So her route was, I’m living in Ajman.  I’m dropping my kids to school. And I’m working in Dubai. So we asked her how often do you commute? How often do you fuel? What’s your preferred station? What kind of products do you like? How often do you wash your car? 

So we did similar practices with many people.  And then we based that off our data. And then of course our growth and our expansion of network. As well as the trend of sales.

After finalizing that, we went about and presented to our senior management. We put out our forecasts, our KPIs, and then we got the green light. And we launched in June 2022. That was actually everyone at Emarat was waiting for that. They were asking me when are we starting the loyalty program? How is it gonna be? They’re amazing, actually. 

So we said we will do it. We’ll work as one. We’ll work as a team. And we actually in the let’s say the most time I enjoyed the project was in the design.

Paula: Really?

Ali: Getting the ideas, doing the UI, UX with the team. Getting the ideas, challenging the ideas. Making it seamless for the customer. That was, I think the most fun part.  And then in, 22nd, 12, we like to have very nice numbers. Indeed. So, we promised our management, so,  22, 12 22. It’s gonna be our MVP launch internally.

We needed to test the IT infrastructure and the stations. We needed to test the staff. We did the full training. We made sure that we tackle every single part of it. So the MVP was only for Emarat employees.  We told them, you are our first customers. We want your feedback. No matter what it is.  

So we kept it open for them. We had help desk on WhatsApp. And we have it now; it’s 24/7. And we, of course we have it on email. We have it also in the app as well. So, and then I’m like guys, please bother me. I want to know every single detail.

Paula: Oh, lovely. 

Ali: So it was a fun experience. And then we made sure that we tackled it, of course, with our suppliers, with our teams, and with different departments. We tackled every single point. And of course, things will appear. But we tried to close, let’s say 95% of the challenges.

And then we put a date 26th April, 23. It was gonna be 23, April 23, but it was EID, so we couldn’t do that. Unfortunately.

Paula:  We can’t do it on a public holiday, Ali. That just wouldn’t make sense, huh? 

Ali: Exactly. And we launched it in Museum of the Future. 

Paula: Beautiful.

Ali: We wanted to have a statement. Saying that EmCan is here. From the most beautiful and iconic building in the world, the Museum of the Future. And EmCan is the future of, let’s just challenge our competitors of loyalty program in our industry. 

Paula: Amazing. So many things I wanna pick up on Ali. Thank you for that very comprehensive you know, just amazing story about what you’ve been through. So just to start, I suppose because I’m an expat in your country and I just realized you are the very first Emirati National that I’ve had on the show. 

Ali: Thank you. 

Paula: So that’s super exciting. And again, just for people around the world like the culture here is extraordinary. And people always ask every single person who lives in Dubai. We ask each other, how long are you here? Where are you from? And why do you live here? And I always say, it is the ambition of this country. It is absolutely palpable from the very first time I heard about Dubai, particularly of course Abu Dhabi and all of the Emirates.

But there’s just this sense of exactly what you said, do it, do it big and do it with confidence. So that comes through for you as a nation, as a culture. Am I right in understanding that?

Ali: Yeah, of course. We are very lucky to have our leaders. Our President, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. And of course,  the Vice President,  His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, our leaders, and actually our role models. Sheikh Mohamed always says, we are number one. And we will not rest until we are number one.  So we take that statement  in our daily lives. 

Not only that, but we also foresee Emarat to be a community station. We are very humble to say that we are a generous nation. That’s why we embed that with EmCan, which we say we are the most generous loyalty program. In terms of service, in terms of experience, and in terms of points. I think I didn’t mention why we chose EmCan.

Paula: Yeah, no.

Ali: It’s very intriguing the way we designed it.  

Paula: Tell us about the name. 

Ali: So we wanted to have a name that resembles our nation. So, EmCan has a double meaning. Which is when we were designing it, we said, you embark on journeys. You can, so we took it from Emarat. So EMARAT. 

Paula: Yes. 

Ali: This is our brand name.

Paula: Company name. 

Ali: And then we have, and then we said, okay, we can embark on journeys. We can have that different you know, like double meaning behind it. So EmCan means Emarat  can.

Paula: Nice. 

Ali: Emarat can give you limitless rewards. And limitless possibilities. Emarat can give you the best experience.  Emarat  can be the most generous loyalty program. So basically Emarat  can give the customer exactly what he wants. And that’s why we went to the tagline of Limitless Possibilities. Now moving to the Arabic version, EmCan means possibilities. 

Paula: Does it?

Ali: It is. 

Paula: Wow. I love that. 

Ali: So, we wanted to have that, you know, like a double meaning approach. Given our culture plus our internationalism in this nation. So, this is the whole story behind it. 

Paula: I love it. 

Ali: That’s why it was very fun and challenging internally explaining and going through that with our team. And we are very proud of coming with such needs. 

Paula: For sure. Well, thank you for sharing it. Absolutely. Because I do think here again, in particularly in the UAE, it can be hard to cut through. There’s so many loyalty programs here and I think as human beings, we need to connect with something that means something.

Ali: Exactly. 

Paula: So, and my favorite word in the whole language is possibility. So in my language, in English, possibility is my favorite word. I find it super inspiring because again, that’s what is embodied living here in the UAE. It’s like we feel like there’s possibility. So wonderful to hear that Emirate is bringing it through. And then the currency, I think is called EmCoins. 

Ali: Yeah, EmCoins. We do have a reason for choosing that. I will leave it for the future.  

Paula: Okay. That’s the next interview. Is it? 

Ali: It is. It is.

Paula: It’s talking about possibilities. Ali, you mentioned you have a new feature in terms of your gamification, so we’ll go through the whole proposition, but let’s start at the newest one again. You’re only eight weeks old; for what did you launch now recently? 

Ali:  So we did our first digital raffle amongst our peers. So, our approach to EmCan is to be seamless for the customer. We want the customer to be happy with the app. It should not take much of his time.

So the main thing, or let’s say, our USP for now is you get the points instantly. When I mean instantly, I mean within seconds. So basically you can fuel and get points. And then go to the convenience store and redeem the points you got from fuel.

Within seconds.  So this is what we want to have for the customer. So what we did is you can get, I, you can immedIately get onboarded to any raffle.  Without even, you know, like putting your name down. Just do your purchases. You get a raffle. So we recently launched the Emarat Millionaire campaign. We are giving 1 million dirhams cash to one lucky customer. 

Paula: Incredible. 

Ali: So it’s started actually in June 15th. It’s gonna end in August 15th.  So you need to hurry up Paula, for that. And to be part of that need. 

Paula:  I need to pass by every day now, huh?

Ali: Exactly. Just spend 35 dirhams on any non-fuel purchase so then the convenience store, car wash and then automatically you are enrolled. 

Paula: Amazing. 

Ali: You don’t need even to break a sweat; just do your own thing. You are part of it. 

Paula: Amazing. 

Ali:  So I want to always have a seamless experience. And this is just the beginning for us. The customer will not know what he’s getting himself into. 

Paula: And just for our international audience, we do have a fixed exchange rate, of course, between the dollar and the dirham. So a million dirhams is a quarter of a million dollars.

Ali: Yes.

Paula: Unbelievable. For a spend of you said 35 dirhams, which is about $7. 

Ali: Exactly. 

Paula: Wonderful. Wow. So one other piece I was thinking, as you mentioned there, you know, refuel, earn your points and go and spend them in store, like that’s gorgeous. I love that. What I think of the unique pieces about the fuel industry in this country is the level of service.

In fact, it’s not just in fuel. We know it’s everywhere. We are totally spoiled rotten. But is it still the case that all of the service stations for Emarat would be manned and, you know, somebody would be an attendant to put the fuel in our car all the time?

Ali: Yeah, definitely. We do appreciate our ambassadors. We do call them ambassadors  because they’re represent us. They are key for us Emarat and for EmCan well our loyalty program to make it happen. We do take great pride into having them as part of the program. And, we always tell them, you guys are the face of Emarat. You are the ambassadors. You give the best experience for the customer.  So, and we do, we are actually very happy to have them with us. We do appreciatem even out in the heat. We do our best to make sure that we follow all protocols and make sure that also they are happy. And being, you know, like taken care of. 

And we have a special program also for them to make sure that of course they promote our brand, but then we support them with that, with their tremendous efforts.

Paula: Amazing. So you have an employee loyalty program, essentially as a version of EmCan, am I right?

Ali: We do have that as an incentive for them for all their hard work as well.

Paula: Amazing. Amazing.  No, it always is at the point of sale. And the only reason I don’t have personal experience I said to you, off air is actually, we don’t have a car here. So I don’t refuel and it’s been a long time since I was driving in Dubai, but you know, even back in Ireland, Ali, I used to just for no reason, really not want to fuel my own car.

So here in Dubai there’s never lived. It is, totally. And, and I like the perspective and particularly I suppose what I just discovered this morning about your internal communications, and that is of course there is the inherent respect. Which again, I think is an Emirati value, respect and tolerance.

I know His Highness absolutely does really just educate us all on. And again, for our global audience, I know down in Abu Dhabi for example, there is a mosque, a church, and a synagogue all together with all three faiths to be together. So that’s wonderful. And the fact that you extend that across all of your team, not distinguishing who’s the senior manager, what’s anybody else, so that’s super important.

And the way that you did it also really impressed me as a podcaster, as somebody who values the power of the human voice. Because I don’t think you would be sitting here with me. We would probably never have met. I didn’t start podcasting of course, a few years ago, as terrifying as it was, and sometimes still is. But you guys have an internal podcast. 

Ali: We do. 

Paula: So tell us about the Emarat cast. 

Ali: So basically we have launched beginning of this year.  What we wanted to have as currently I am handling corporate communications as well as we always want to spread communications internally.

We do have newsletters. We do have, you know, constant communication, but we wanted something different. The market is changing and we actually, you know, like cherish our colleagues. We work together as a team. And we want to highlight everyone’s achievements. We want people to come to Emarat.

Actually,  I want to listen to a podcast.  Knowing exactly what everyone does. You know, given our busy, busy schedules. You might, you know, like be surprised. Oh, you guys did that,  you know, like, it’s really nice. So, it came from that. So we discussed this with the team.

We pitched it to the management. They were very happy. They’re like, go ahead.  So, we said we’re gonna have it with our colleagues. And I think you heard,  our colleague Liz. She has an amazing voice for the podcast. So yeah, the whole thing came out as we want all our colleagues to know exactly what we are doing to share our experiences through you know, through the podcast.  

And as you said, the human voice,  you know, like always if you notice, like whenever you hear something always, you know, like when you say, I can’t get this song,  you know, I get stuck in my head. I can’t sleep. This is exactly how it is. And honestly for me, I’m more of a listener than a reader. 

Paula: Me too. 

Ali: So I love listening cause I feel that I engage a lot with the human voice. So, we launched it. People were very happy. They were very excited. And, we do have a lot of episodes coming from different projects. And it’s actually, you know, like we are very happy to have launched that internally. 

Paula: Amazing. Amazing. No, it honestly, I honestly, Ali, as I said, for me, running and creating and continuing this podcast because that’s a separate challenge, of course, has been the single best thing I’ve ever done in my career.

And for me, it actually achieves, certainly for you, of course now internally, but for me, it achieves that emotional loyalty that’s so many people who come onto our show, they’re talking about, we have our transactional loyalty, we’re trying to create emotional loyalty, and they struggle with how. 

And I’m really clear in my mind that anybody who does listen to a broadcast from somebody that they know, there’s more trust, there’s more understanding. And all of these people, of course, are spending time, obviously commuting to get to their work. So listening to what’s going on in the business.

I think what it to me shows is that the management is showing up in a different way, not just an easy, I don’t wanna say lazy, because newsletters take time and effort as well. But it’s almost to me, like it’s too easy to do a newsletter that it’s not necessarily read. Sometimes I think the employees are like, oh, I’ll read that later. 

Ali: Exactly. 

Paula: Because they’re busy.   

Ali: Exactly. Then, and this happens to me as well, you know, like you get a lot of emails. You’re running from one meeting to the other. And then you said like, you get a, you know, like an email. I’m gonna get check it later. And the people sometimes can’t make it, you know, like. 

Paula: Doesn’t happen.

Ali: Exactly. So,  listening to a podcast, it’s actually funny, you know, like even when you’re reading emails. You can even listen to it in the background on the way back home, going to work.  And it gives you, let’s say it opens your vision to see exactly what’s happening, you know, with your colleagues. You appreciate them. You understand the big effort that they go through.  

Because in meetings,  you know, like you’re limited with time. But in podcasts, you can, you can speak your mind up. So we don’t, we don’t generally,you know, like tell them, you know, like you have to be strict to their content. We just,  we are here to chat with you.  

Paula: Super nice. Super nice. Wow. Well, certainly I will be watching and waiting and, and really keen to hear how that develops over time. And well done to Liz. I did hear her doing a wonderful job with you guys to launch the program. 

So tell us about some of your challenges, Ali. The technology is always a challenge, I think. And certainly the biggest way that you can different once you do have a proposition in mind. So, you know, I think some industries do suffer from maybe legacy point of sales systems or there’s a lot of complexity particularly in convenience, retail and fuel.

So tell us about the whole process. So you designed your proposition. You’ve figured out exactly what all of these personas was going to value. And I do know it’s quite a generous program. Do you wanna touch on that piece and then tell us how you chose the platform? 

Ali:  Yeah, definitely. So first thing we did is a gap analysis. We need to make sure that, where are our technical gaps? We do have remote areas. We do have city areas. We do high like, and the spread is a lot. Network could be an issue. And as you said, the legacy systems. Some of them, cause Emarat was established in 1981. 

And in 1981, Emarat was one of the first national few companies in the country. We take great pride that it was formed by the late, His Highness Sheikh Zayed our Founder, with his brothers, of the United Arab Emirates. May they rest in peace. 

So when Emarat was established, we were the community of let’s say the country. We see ourselves as part of community. We are there for people. So we launched the convenience. Then, so we do have old stations. We do have new stations. So we need to make sure that we have a gap analysis. So when we did the technical aspect, we do not, we did notice some challenges.

But of course, our IT team did a great effort with our consultant on board on that. So we tackled them from the beginning. We made sure that the information architecture that we had for the program is built strong, is built well. Then of course we had run a lot of work streams.

So we were all over the place. We had six months to get things done. So it was back to back meetings like from 7:00 AM all the way till like three or four. But with different teams, of course, with all departments of Emarat. They did a wonderful job. 

So, one of the main challenges we had was, we have, of course, multiple systems from the forecourt, and they’re very sensitive given the, let’s say the environment that we have. And we are dealing with a very let’s say flammable substance, which is fuel. So we had to make sure that whatever POS is within the standard that the ones we are using. We did have you know, some challenges with the team, know that we can do that, we can do this because of, you know, like HSE protocols that we have. 

But we managed to sort it out altogether. It did take time.  But we managed to get it,  to get it fixed. Because what we wanted to do is, we always say we wanted the impossible. 

Paula:  Oh, right. Okay.

Ali: We want the points.

Paula: No problem.

Ali: Right now. 

Paula:  And then the instant gratification. 

Ali: Exactly. Because when we see it, we look at the customer point of view.  And then we embed it. Of course, we don’t look at our point of view. Yeah, because this is, because we are doing the app, not for us. We’re doing it for the customer. We want the customer to be satisfied.  We want him to have the excellent customer experience for him to be loyal to our plant. 

Also one of the main challenges was let’s say with different departments. We didn’t see an eye for a knife at the beginning.  I mean, we do agree and align with everything, but then yeah, it’s the timing, it’s the effort that being put. They have of course, their excellent strategies, we do.

But of course, collaboratively. And, you know with teamwork, we managed to get it sorted. That’s why it is fun. I always tell my team if it’s not challenging, it’s not worth it.  

Paula: It’s too easy. 

Ali: Exactly. And developing the points scheme was tough given the margins. Because the fuel margin is kind of fixed by the government. 

Paula: It’s tiny. Unfixed, you’re right, of course.  

Ali: So we have to abide by the market prices. And the non-fuel sector, given that it’s convenience. We need to make sure that it doesn’t take from that. So we built a very strong business model for it. 

Now the point scheme, that was the fun part is, we do have a lot of items with very low margins, and we have some items with high margins. So we had to make sure that, you know, like we take that risk. And we become better than our peers when it comes to points. This is where we want to be better. But not only that. But also with our infrastructure of the app, the seamlessness. How you earn points, how you redeem it.

We have a very nice feature called Station Finder. So if you want to check with Bakeria. Bakeria is one of our brands as well. They have amazing food, by the way, and we do have very healthy options. Non GM or gluten free. That’s in direct marketing. You just go to the two EmCan app. You click on Station Finder.  You choose a bakery.  And it tells you exactly what Bakeria area is closest to you. So these were the main points,  or let’s say the fun times. We say challenging times. Yes. 

Paula: And you have a family proposition as well, don’t you? 

Ali:  It’ll be out very soon. So we’ll be, have a family account. Because, when you look at the population, we do have a lot of families. And most of them, let’s say from a household perspective every family,  you have two people fueling for their kids for  their chauffeur. The ones they have.  

So when we look at it, the chafer won’t understand much the, the loyalty mechanism.  So,  the thing we have in the pipeline is that one account is joined all together.  And then the head of the family head can design how everyone contributes.

And, also with the APR, that’s also coming soon. 

Paula: What’s that, sorry? 

Ali: APR. So autonomous number plate recognition.  That will be also part of the application that you fuel and pay within with your car plate number. And you get points instantly. 

Paula: Amazing. 

Ali: So I’m spilling some beans.

Paula:  Yes, I love it. 

Ali: But we have more of the AI technologies embedded within the app.  We are working with a lot of partners right now, not only to keep it within Emarat ecosystem.  Emarat ecosystem has fuel. It has non fuel, which is the convenience store. It has bakery, which is our food and beverage. We have car wash, we have car registration. Of course we have LPG, we’ll be part of that. And we want to have, and we will have very soon partners outside of our ecosystem. So you’ll be able to transfer points with different partners. We are on talks with many actually. But I will leave it again for the future.  

Paula: You can,leave that one hanging. We can do that another time. But I like that piece actually. And again, I mean, number plate recognition, I can only imagine because every fuel station in this country is packed. So it’s not like there’s a lot of time or space to actually have that number plate recognition. So sounds like super high end technology.

And as you said, you know, UAE particularly is a country that does have a lot of drivers. So many people are blessed to have somebody that they do use to support the family. For example,chauffeur sometimes if they’re very lucky,  very high end, but very clear that you have a focus on that seamless experience,leveraging the best technology that you can absolutely find  In order to make sure that there is a point of difference. So that’s what drives loyalty ultimately. Exactly. It’s not just the points.  

Ali: Yeah, definitely. When we look at it, it’s the experience. Why would I be loyal to, let’s take any brand in the region. Why would you go to that, let’s say, a clothing store? Could it be the experience? Could it be the service?  Or could it be even the, the return, the, let’s say, the point of sale and also the returns. 

Paula: Yes, that’s true. 

Ali: Because if you have one negative experience, 

Paula: A hundred percent.

Ali: You’re not going back. I do have so many loyalty programs. My wife has more. 

Paula: Okay, good. Well done. 

Ali: So,what I like about most of them is, they do have, some of them has have value. But some of them have very low value for the point.  So for me,  if I don’t get much value from it, I honestly don’t look at it again. 

Paula: I’m very impatient, Ali. And actually, I was quite surprised recently because I did a quiz, a loyalty quiz, and somebody said, actually how many programs you’re a member of? And I said, really less than three. Skywards, of course, Amazon Prime, but actually I don’t really.

Actually, I will say I’m joining a couple more hotel programs now, so I know we are planning, hopefully, to meet in Rio as we talked about. So I did recently join the Accor program, so we’ll definitely be getting ALL points. So I hope you’ve booked yourself in and made sure that you’re a member of that program.

Ali: I mean, for me, I’m a Bonvoy member. But, I do have actually many other programs that I’m part of.  But yeah, it’s, again, it’s the experience. For me, it’s, and I think also for the people, it’s the experience. 

Paula: Yes, of course.  

Ali: But for us in our industry the experience is very short because the customers are fueling in and out within five minutes. And, we need to capture his sentiment within that period.

Paula: Of course. And they don’t wanna hang around. They don’t really want a big relationship. They want efficiency and rewards. 

Ali: Exactly. 

Paula: They really wanna feel apprecIated. And yeah, they wanted to know that you do care. So that’s super funny. And given that you don’t have a technology background yourself, I think Ali, how did you find it to choose a platform?

Because I always feel like you’re right. Like the fun part is designing the strategy. You can brainstorm, you can get lots of perspective. And then you can always change it and tweak it. But once you choose your tech, you know, that’s a long-term decision.  So how is that for you? 

Ali: Well, I do have a bit of, let’s say outside of my working hours, I had two apps actually. I had one in Turkey, Istanbul. And I had one here in Dubai. But, it was I think the past three years I was working on them. They were deployed. It was fun times.  But then I had to shift the focus. We froze it for now given the economic, let’s say.

Paula: Climate is.

Ali: Exactly. So now we focused more on that. Luckily I had, so I’m the, I was the product manager of the loyalty program. Luckily, the project manager has tremendous experience in the tech as well. Hamad Amjad, he did a wonderful job also supporting me in the journey. What we did also with our partners. Cause we are partners, we studied all programs and let’s say engines. So,when I ask you how do you define a car, it’s by the engine.  So we said, okay, how can I have the best loyalty program in the market?

While having a weak engine, that doesn’t add up. So he said, we need best in class. We need the best in the world because we are not just implementing it for the loyalty points and the engine itself. But also for the behavior of the customer and the analytics. 

Because data is key for us to understand the customers.  So, of course we studied them part of phase zero. And also the beginning of the project from June. It was almost, say twice a week. Three times a week. We had discussions. We meet them. And then we came out with the best in class, Salesforce. 

Paula: Amazing.  

Ali: We take pride to be one of the first, let’s say companies using Salesforce loyalty engine in the region. And we do have excellent support from them. So what we envisioned. I’m kind to have as a full customer relationship management, the CRM.  A powerful CRM. With a powerful loyalty engine.  With a powerful analytics case. 

Because we study the data, we create different personas based on the current data we have. Like within the short period, we identified so many different trends within that engine. We identified that we have, let’s say, in certain areas, I dunno if we can disclose that, but we have close to city proximity Red Bull is the best selling. Why is that? And the closest to airport. So such data gives you a lot of business, input and business insights. 

Paula: A hundred percent.

Ali: And, Emarat is moving to become more data-driven.  So now we look at numbers. We look at specific data. In 2023, you notice like a lot of you know, like chargeability coming out. Lot of AI programs and software. So what we do, we take this data.

And, while having such a powerful engine from Salesforce, we take leverage of the sales cloud. We take leverage of the marketing cloud. Also the CRM, the analytics part of it, and the loyalty engine. So imagine having that all under one ecosystem. You’ll be surprised of the amount of data you can see.

And the amount of trends and behavior that what we were seeing right now.  It’s actually amazing. Like I just sit for hours with the team and then like, even on the weekends, you know. 

Paula: Oh no, Ali, no.

Ali: So, and then, and then we’re like wow. I didn’t know that that existed. You know? And we look at it even per SKU level. Like we look at the customer trends. You notice a lot of different trends from customers in different areas, different products. 

This helps us. I don’t wanna scare the customers. I’m like, we’re not let’s say, being the police here, but we actually understand your behavior to give you a better promotion. And, once we know that you are a coffee lover, we will give you a better offer. We will give you a better package that you can get. You can get a better subscription for that. We person, so with that powerful platform. we will start personalizing offers per customer.  

So for example, my offers will vary from yours.  This is what we want to give the customer a personalized experience to that level. We want the customer to always be happy. To know that he is special from, from the others. It’s not. One promotion for everyone. No, it’s promotion for coffee lovers, for tea lovers, for even Red Bull lovers. 

Paula: Plenty of those. 

Ali: Yes, exactly. So, this is how we leverage such engines. 

Paula: Well congratulations to Salesforce. I do have some great friends there, so just they must be delighted to have you. So, so well done.

Ali: Thank you.

Paula: Yeah, I can see the value that comes through having that holistic perspective because I know you did have big gaps in what you were doing. So good that you’re feeling really good about that. That’s amazing. 

So, any numbers you can share—actually, Ali, I know it’s not always possible, but anything you can share, you did already tell us that you’ve achieved your one year results of course in just two months.  So that’s extraordinary. It’s anything else you can share with us? 

Ali: I mean we, I think when before we talked, I gave you a number. So back then we had around 40,000 signups. And today at 9:00 AM, we had 143,000 signups.

Paula: Oh my god. Amazing. 

Ali: We mainly look at signups rather than downloads. If we tackle retention, we really focus on let’s say specific numbers.  And we wanted to be more transparent to the management. We can say we had X amount of downloads. But then downloads will not reflect sales. So we look at signups, we track signups, we track retention.

We have around, I think, 70 to 80 percent retention of the customer. The way we look at it is a customer, an active customer is when he visits the station within a month.  So in one month, he’s an active customer. We do have a lot of active customers or within EmCan. 

We do actually visit the data multiple times a day. We need to make sure that the customers are happy.  We have 24/7,  customer support. We do have WhatsApp support. I think we have, of course we have email. And we have an app, let’s say messaging.

We do have a fixed salary that we need to get back to the customer within 30 minutes. This is very key for us because we want to listen to our customers. Again, as I said, it’s not points and redemption only. It is experience and service. If a customer failed to redeem a point or to earn a point, we are here. Message us on WhatsApp. I think that in our region, this is how we work. 

Paula: Well I was going to say actually, because you mentioned it earlier and I wrote it down and I forgot to come back to it, so you mentioned the help desk on WhatsApp. I think when we were talking about your associates, your ambassadors. So is that something that’s available for all members?  

Ali: Yeah, it is. 

Paula: I love it. 

Ali: So now with the, we’ll have an update, let’s say very soon. You’ll be just to click on a WhatsApp icon. It’s gonna take you to the WhatsApp directly. And feel free to share whatever.

Paula: I love it. 

Ali: Even the good and the bad. Because when we do, of course, these are the people behind the scenes that we truly you know, like are very happy to have. And again, we use Salesforce to identify the customers that had issues before. We record what type of issues we have. It’s a full analytical dashboard that we look at transparently. 

And we share it of course  with our management to make sure that, and like what is the performance of our support? How we can make it better? How we can make the customers or what is the main issue that the customer that say raises? Is it a point issue? Then we need to tackle it immediately. Is it a service issue? Then we take it to the concern department immediately. Is it a suggestion? We take it again to the concern department. We want, so EmCan is a channel of communication to Emarat. We are generous. We give you a hundred points at every signup. 

Paula: Nice. I just got mine.

Ali: So you can get water, I think for now. 

Paula: Okay amazing. Okay, good. I’ll do that on the way home.

Ali: So that’s why we say we are the most generous. And yeah, we make sure that the customers are always satisfied. 

Paula: But that attention to detail, Ali, because you know, I know there’s different platforms and different protocols in different countries, of course listening to this show, but you know, here in Dubai, it’s WhatsApp for absolutely everything.

To the extent actually that a friend of mine bought a car on WhatsApp without ever having seen it. She trusted the garage, she trusted the brand and she was in a hurry and she just bought the car based on the WhatsApp. 

Ali: Exactly. 

Paula: So we are totally addicted to it. And it’s super efficient. It’s so to have that level of expectation, and I think as you talk about things like AI and the way it’s going forward, I really think WhatsApp and loyalty will get closer together. In terms of checking points, balances, what can I do, and all of those kind of things. 

So I think beyond support and service, there’s so much more that we can start to leverage with these incredible tools to really amaze. I think all of us just want to be like wowed and go, oh, that was cool. 

Ali:  Exactly. Exactly.  

Paula: Super. Super. So what does the future hold? Is there anything else you can share? Any other state secrets or non-state secrets?

Ali:  I already gave a few accounts to everything, but yeah, we want to have more gamification as part of the plan. AI is definitely part of it. When we look at it, we want again, we want the experience to all of our customers. For Gen Z, gen Y, gen X,  we are here. 

We are also happy to announce that we will have a special welcome bonus for students and people of determination. Because we again, this is also for our social responsibility. EmCan will also move to digital receipts given our net zero strategies, given from the management. And, also one of our pillars as well to have digitization as, as course part of that. So, EmCan will not only be for Emarat. EmCan will go above and beyond for that.

Paula: I love it. And I do think digital receipts is something that again, drives a different type of emotional loyalty. I think at the time maybe it feels quite transactional, but certainly as a consumer, I’m much happier. If you’re not handing me pieces of paper and I feel the rubbish and whatever it comes to my email, I’m very reassured. I have everything at my fingertips if I need it. So, also a really nice strategy. 

Ali: We’re adding as well. I think this is very interesting to share is people don’t know their fuel spend,  overall. So we not only were giving points, but we’re giving data value to the customer. So very, very soon as well, we will be having an analytical part. This is your spending per month on fuel, your carbon one footprint as well. So, these things are part of a pipeline. It’s just we will make it happen efficiently and of course, in a very,  seamless way. 

Paula: Amazing. Oh my goodness. Right? So we have to make sure we have a catch up, coffee together, please. God, in Rio de Janeiro. Very excited. I know you’ve entered the Golden Loyalty Awards. 

Ali: Yes.

Paula: So there’s gonna be much excitement there. I haven’t booked my flight yet, but that’s gonna be happening very soon. So I think I’ve asked all the questions today, Ali. As we’ve said, you’re only two months old in terms of launching the program and already. So much to be proud of extraordinary results. Is there anything else that you wanted to mention before we wrap up today?

Ali: I mean, I just wanna mention that, you know, we are happy for our customers. We are very happy with the customer satisfaction that we are getting. I’m looking forward for our next episode to share even more accomplishments.

Paula: Amazing. Okay. Well listen, it’s been an absolute joy. Thank you for listening. 

Ali: Thank you. 

Paula: Thank you for reaching out. So Ali Bin Zayed, Senior Manager of Corporate Loyalty at Emarat. Thank you so much from Let’s Talk Loyalty. 

Ali: Thank you very much, Paula.

Paula: This show is sponsored by The Wise Marketer. The world’s most popular source of loyalty, marketing, news, insights, and research.

The Wise Marketer also offers loyalty marketing training through its loyalty academy, which has already certified over 500 executives in 38 countries as certified loyalty marketing professionals. 

For more information, check out thewisemarketer.com and loyaltyacademy.org.

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