#458: IAG Loyalty shares Strategy, Innovation and Insights

This interview  with two senior executives at IAG Loyalty is a must listen for all loyalty professionals.

 Rob McDonald, Chief Commercial Officer, and Silvia Espinosa, Chief Customer Officer share deep insights about the IAG Loyalty business.

It operates with 40 million members and alarmingly 3000 Avios are collected every second, whilst 2000 Avios are used per second! Interestingly, 60% of Avios are collected outside of flying.

Rob and Silvia talk through IAGL’s partner approach with recent successes. We also hear about innovations such as Avios-only flights, gamification engagement through Avios booster and IAGL’s wine flyer.

Hosted by Amanda Cromhout

Show Notes:

1)  ⁠Rob McDonald

2)  ⁠Silvia Espinosa⁠

3) IAG Loyalty 

4) IAG Loyalty LinkedIn Page

Audio Transcript

Paula: Welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty, an industry podcast for loyalty marketing professionals. I’m Paula Thomas, the Founder of Let’s Talk Loyalty. Today’s show is hosted by my colleague, Amanda Cromhout, the Founder of Truth, an international loyalty consultancy firm based in Cape town, South Africa. 

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Amanda: Today I’m very excited to interview Rob McDonald and Silvia Espinoza. Rob and Silvia are from IAG Loyalty, which is part of IAG International Airlines Group. Rob is the Chief Commercial Officer of IAG Loyalty and Silvia is the Chief Customer Officer. 

30 years ago, IAG Loyalty would have been better known as AirMiles and 10 years ago, Avios. And it’s only recently that the company has renamed IAG Loyalty because they do so much more than offer airline rewards points in the name of Avios. So with over 40 million members worldwide, 125 core partners, Rob revealed that over 60 percent of Avios collected are outside of actual flying behavior. He also shared a stat of over 3, 000 Avios are collected every second and 2, 000 Avios are used every second. 

Silvia shares with us a long list of innovations that really improve the customer experience. This also includes new airlines and new markets for IAG Loyalty. This was an interview I really did not want to end.

So today I have an extra special interview on Let’s Talk Loyalty with two individuals. I don’t think either of them need much of an introduction to the world of loyalty, the global world of loyalty. So I have Rob McDonald, who’s the Chief Commercial Officer of IAG Loyalty and Silvia Espinoza, who is the Chief Customer Officer. So two incredibly appropriate titles for us to talk through all things loyalty. So Rob and Silvia, welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty. 

Rob: Hi, Amanda. Thanks for having us. 

Silvia: Thank you, Amanda. Very happy to be here. 

Amanda: Amazing. And it’s certainly not the first time that IAG Loyalty has been on Let’s Talk Loyalty. You are a prominent brand that is featured quite a few times.

But I think it’s the first time both yourselves have been on the show. And I think for me personally, this has got a very personal connection for a couple of reasons.

Many people know I spent 11 years of my career at British Airways and there’s obviously a connection with British Airways and IAG. So that’s a very personal connection and I, it was an amazing career, but also Rob, you and I started out together in, in the world of Africa and frequent flyer marketing. And so I’ve watched your career with absolute admiration. So having you on the show has a very personal connection because we’ve worked together. And obviously Silvia, I’ve watched you from afar as well. So I’m really excited for today’s discussion.

So let’s get straight into it. I think, you know, the very first question, Paula loves to ask all of our guests, what is your favorite loyalty program? 

Rob: Sure. I’ll jump in. I think you will, you must know this. This is like so difficult. You spend, you know, it’s coming and you spend ages trying to find the right answer. I looked at everything I use and I had to say, I have a very firm favorite. It is the Hotels.com loyalty program. I love it because it does do kind of best practice in every angle, which is why I enjoy it as a customer.

It’s fabulous. Value is really super simple. If you don’t know it, this is a very simple 10 nights, get one free. But on top of that, it’s all just excellent execution. So, you know, fabulous digital experience. Very easy to use. It just hits all those marks. That said I love it and I’m a heavy user of it, but and I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, but whether the Holy Trinity of working for the customers of businesses there, I’m not sure, cause I know they’re about to change it, but I’ve been a very happy user of it because I think it does everything it should do for excellent loyalty. So that’s mine. 

Amanda: Amazing. And I don’t think Rob, if I look back to, we’ve got a list of the 100 favorite loyalty programs since Paula started asking this question. I’m quickly looking at the list as you said that. I don’t think it’s been featured before. So that’s really powerful. Yeah, because What you said feels like it should have been featured before, so thanks for sharing that.

So Silvia, what’s yours? 

Silvia: I’m going to go with a very different approach. It’s a local insurance company here in Spain. It’s mainly focused on car insurance. It’s called Mutua Madrileña. They don’t have a loyalty program like in a traditional way, so they don’t have a currency, they don’t have points. But they’ve been able to create like a very strong connection with customers, generating what we usually call emotional loyalty, right?

So customers have a sense of belonging to the club and they have done that through delivering a great customer experience, which is, you know, same seamless, simple digital and fair. So, yeah, of course, they do have perks for customers. They have discounts, which are very valued by customers. They have more benefits when you have more tenure and so on.

But what I really, what I’m, what really impresses me is how they have built that trust relationship with customers just by giving an excellent service and an experience recurrently during years. Which at the end, it’s translated into extremely high levels of loyalty from customers, which, you know, here in Spain, it is very hard for another insurance to take a customer from them. And I guess that’s the main objective of loyalty initiatives. 

Amanda: Absolutely. I love that. I love the fact that it’s not a traditional sort of earn and burn and sign up and tiers and so forth, but it still resonates and still has massive impact for you. So two extremely different examples and both of them. Great to listen to. So thank you. 

So very briefly, as we, before we get into the discussion today, which is all about IAG Loyalty, and we’ll get into the structure of the company versus IAG and the airlines and so forth. I do know a little bit about Rob’s career because I’ve been part of his earlier days, but let’s go through what’s brought you both to where you’re at, because you’re both holding very significant roles in a very significant loyalty company. So I’m sure the listeners will be very excited to hear the journey your loyalty career has taken. So over to yourselves, please. 

Rob: I think the way that I thought about it after my sort of, you know, early days learning things at British Airways was then that I moved and was very deliberate in trying to take a cross-sector approach. 

So I’ve been lucky enough that my career has taken me, you know, from airlines into hospitality with Hilton hotels, and then through to retailing with Sainsbury’s and then also banking with Sainsbury’s. And for me, if that helps anyone the choices to kind of cross-off sectors, big sectors in, in UK and Europe certainly was something that was very helpful.

Then on top of that, I was lucky enough to kind of get a global perspective both with yourself in Africa, but then lucky enough to work in America, in France and then lastly in Southeast Asia. 

So I think the sector based approach, seeing how different levers work in different sectors is interesting. They’ve always been very consumer centric brands, which is obviously very helpful, but really, that’s how I kind of thought about it as I, and I didn’t always think about it, but that’s how I created my path to IAG Loyalty in the last years. 

Amanda: That’s super interesting, Rob, because it’s not just the traditional linear path on, on just loyalty roles or just one sector, which is very interesting, I think, for a lot of people, because not many folks jump around industries.

So I don’t want to use the word dramatically because it wasn’t dramatic in a negative sense, but there’s certainly different industry industries. So I think that’s really useful. And now you’re obviously covering a role that is broad and need you to understand all those industries. So it completely makes sense.

Silvia, what about yourself? 

Silvia: So in my case, I never really thought about working in the airline industry or loyalty industry at all. I didn’t really know that was an industry. So I’m an engineer and I work as a consultant for six years here in Madrid. And after that, I decided to move to Chile just for personal reasons. And I ended up working for LATAM Airlines by coincidence, to be honest. So it was almost like something that I didn’t plan. 

And I started working in commercial areas, but quite soon they created for the first time, what they were calling like the customer domain I’m talking about, you know, like 10 years ago, where things like customer journey or customer experience. They were still quite new, especially in South America.

So I joined their loyalty program, LATAM Pass quite early. So, it was a very well established program already in South America in, you know, countries like Chile, Brazil, Argentina and so on. And I really learned very early how loyalty programs were able to shift customer behavior. And I think that’s the thing that I found extremely powerful and interesting. And that’s what got me attached to this loyalty industry. And after that, I just moved back to Spain. I joined the Diberia team, running their loyalty team. And then I joined IAG Loyalty about four years ago. 

Amanda: Amazing. I absolutely love hearing stories like this an engineering background, and now you’re the Chief Customer Officer. It’s beautiful. We have a company in South Africa where the young lady who looks after the rewards program. She’s a mathematical like whiz kid, like PhD in mathematics, but like, it’s absolutely perfectly appropriate. You just don’t expect that route to market. So fantastic. So thank you both for sharing that.

So I think before we get into our interview around IAG Loyalty, I do believe there’s a little bit of background which would be useful for the listeners of Let’s Talk Loyalty to understand, like, I’m an airline girl and I certainly understood British Airways in its former life, but now it’s no longer just British Airways.

So, Rob, could you take us through a little bit around before, just before you take us through IAG Loyalty’s change over the recent years, but how does it all fit together? IAG Loyalty and IAG, and then how has IAG Loyalty come about since the former years of and miles, for example. 

Rob: Yeah, sure. Because it is quite a long path. I’m very happy to cover it. So, our business as it is, has been around for 30 years, but you’re right. The first 27 was different and we’ll touch on the last three. But broadly we operated this business as it is today, operated the AMR scheme in the UK, which was over 30 years ago, but that came about. So it’s incredible to see that change. 

And then within the IAG group, within the various airlines that we run. We transitioned over the years from using air miles as the currency through to the creation of Avios 10 years ago, which was a large landmark. So the Avios currency was what we started operating 10 years ago, but we continued to morph.

There were a few changes into things like BA miles, but effectively we’ve been running that continuous currency over those 27 years. We have 40 million members who are collecting over 125 core partners and we’re now at a point where we have over 3,000 Avios collected every second and 2, 000 used every second.

The rebrand you refer to as three, three years ago was deliberate. So we changed become IAG Loyalty. And that really was because we had really changed. We went from managing a currency to you know, effectively running an entire loyalty services business. The scope of what we do has changed significantly. We run a number of services like data, marketing proposition, digital product design, in addition to the Avios currency, which is why we needed to rebrand to really kind of reflect the offer that we had. 

Amanda: Yeah, wow. I just need to pick up on something you said so casually there, Rob. You said so casually 3, 000 Avios collected and 2, 000 Avios used every second. That is remarkable, like absolutely remarkable stats. I mean, I know 40 million members and 125 core partners is equally remarkable, but I think when we think about every second of what we do, how much currency is being used and burnt or earned and burnt is absolutely incredible. Thank you for sharing. Lovely soundbite. 

So I think, yeah, how does The IAG fits into the broader organization of IAG. I mean, Silvia, can you give us a little bit of a sense of that relationship between the parent company IAG and then your organization, IAG Loyalty? 

Silvia: Yeah, of course. So for those who don’t know, IAG stands for International Airlines Group, right? So it is a group that includes airlines such as British Airways, Iberia, Boeing, and Aer Lingus. And each of them have an independent P&L, right? So they’re independent airlines with independent P&Ls. So the same happened with us. So we are IAG Loyalty, we are set up separately also, and that means that we have our independent P&L our own, CEO, our own leading team and so on.

The good thing about this is that it gives us the ability to focus 100% on loyalty and on driving growth without any operational destruction that you could have if you were inside the airline. So as Rob mentioned, we’re basically a loyalty service business and we run many services like data marketing proposition and so on and the Avios currency, of course, and we do that for the airlines of the group. So that’s how we interact within the group. 

Amanda: Yeah, it’s a fascinating, it’s absolutely fascinating. I think folks in the airline industry obviously would understand this much more, but I think the rest of us who are it’s one step away from being in the heart of the airline industry, just to hear how that fits together and how IAG obviously is the owner of so many airlines now.

And then how important it is that you’ve established your own brand identity because you’re not just a currency and not just the frequent flyer program. And that’s what we’re going to unpack today. So really looking forward to this. 

So things are changing. Rob, you gave us a sense there that 30 years ago it was AirMiles, 10 years ago it was Avios, and now 3 years ago I think you said IAG Loyalty. But Silvia, from your point of view, obviously holding the customer reins in your organization. How is the business innovating to keep that customer value proposition like ahead of your competition and ahead of what the customer may be expecting? 

Silvia: Yeah. So as you would expect, we’re continuously listening to what our customers tell us. And we do that through surveys, blogs, or focus groups many different ways. And the reason why we do that is because we want to understand what the pain points are and we need to make sure that we improve the proposition of our programs to solve those pain points. And also, as you said, we’re continuously looking at what others are doing. What, you know, what other benchmarks do we have? 

So, what we’ve done basically in the last, I would say year and a half or two years is focusing on improving our earn and burn proposition. If we start with their end proposition, we’ve been we’ve moved both Iberia Plus and BA Executive Club to a spend based model. So Iberia, we did that a year ago and BA just a couple of weeks ago. So as you know, this is a very extended model in the industry because it’s fair, it’s more transparent, it’s what customers actually understand. So we decided that, you know, this is the right investment that we needed to do. And I’m saying investment because we’re actually awarding more Avios to customers when flying. So, that’s the main change we’ve done on the air side, but also, you know, on the non air. 

But also on the non air side, also on the team have been working on improving significantly our non airline partner and also more Avios are issued from that side. So at the end, we think we have a really compelling offer for all our different members, no matter if they want to choose to collect Avios on air or on honor. And at the end, you know, all these additional Avios that we’re awarding to our customers, it’s putting some pressure into the redemption or the burn proposition.

So we’ve also been working very, very hard on the last year on continuously adding more options for our customers to use their Avios. And we’ve done many things, but I think there’s a couple of them, which would be very interesting for the audience. 

One of them is, we’ve launched this year Avios Only Flights with BA. So that means that every seat on the flight is only available to book with Avios. We launched at the beginning of the year the first routes and, you know, we’re choosing routes which are really attractive to customers in peak seasons. So we’re talking things like Geneva in half term. So we know customers like going skiing to Geneva for half term. So, actually that one was sold out in just three hours. So it was really well received by customers. 

And we’ve launched another around another 10, 10 more destination, all of them, popular routes in big season and customers have extremely, have received these extremely well. So all of them have been sold out in hours or days. That was one that I think it’s very interesting because it has been quite innovative. 

And the other one that I wanted to point out is all the work that we’ve been doing on the redemption outside of travel. So we want continuity to give options to customers, right? So, we’ve been focusing also in the last year in giving more options outside of travel. Like a year ago, actually in October last year, we launched our own wine business. So in average a customer redeems around 20, 000 Avios per order. And we have seen very high levels of engagements from customers. So we’re not going to stop there. So we are now thinking about what other things we can do beyond wine.

And also, you know, we, we launched our partnership with Nectar. So hundreds of thousands of members have linked their Nectar and BA executive club accounts, and they can therefore move tier points between programs.

And I would also want to mention one that is very close to my heart. So around a year ago, we launched a new redemption option to enable customers to redeem their Avios to donations to causes supported by BA Better World Community Fund, and I think that’s a really interesting option for customers.

Amanda: I definitely want to ask you about that in one second. I loved your, I love the insights about how well the Wine Flyer is doing. I think maybe that’s a reflection of the human race that it’s doing so well, but great, a great story and great that you’ve taken control of it in a sense, created your own company.

And then also the Avios Only Flights. I mean, gone are the days when, you know, there’s only like 1 percent of the seat inventory is available to frequent flyer miles. So that must be an incredibly appreciated opportunity, you know, as you say, Geneva for half term ski holidays, or I think I heard Tenerife and Barcelona was a couple of your other destinations. So, yeah, I’d really love to watch that and see how that carries on really satisfying customers beyond current, you know, old fashioned, the old days when it’s frustrating that you just simply can’t redeem your airline points. 

Let’s talk about the charity redemptions, actually. I loved, that’s something very close to my heart, personally. So, how well does that, how do customers respond to that? Do they, because there’s a lot of talk around charity redemptions and a lot of effort goes into creating that opportunity in that channel, but often we hear that customers don’t really respond to it. It’s a lot of work, but not little and get with very little engagement. How has it been for yourselves with your chosen charities? 

Silvia: Yeah, so what we’ve done is give a very attractive redemption option to customers so customers can choose between over 180 causes and that goes from local charities to larger organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Society, for example. So it’s great to give customers a choice of how they can support causes using Avios instead of cash, although, you know, the causes actually do receive the cash.

So we have also been supporting this proposition and encouraging members to consider donating because, as you say, it’s not easy to get this, you know. This encourage customers encouraged to donate and we’ve done that by, by match funding, whatever a customer is donating, we are donating the same amount. So, so actually the cost received double, double the donation. 

So we have seen customers engaging with the proposition. We have seen millions of audience donated to hundreds of organizations and customers are telling us in our surveys and in our program that they really love having this as an option. But of course, as you can imagine, this is still quite new. It’s been just one year, and it’s not as if you know, loads of all of the customers are doing it. It’s something that is still in early stages. 

Amanda: Yeah. I haven’t heard of organizations matching in that way quite as apparently as you just described. There’s a lot of organizations that give the option to redeem points to charity, but I think that’s absolutely remarkable that you’re matching the customer donation. So that’s incredible. Lovely. Well, we’ll watch that as well. We’ll have you back on the show and give us updates as that grows. So thanks, Silvia. So you talked about a lot of innovations there, and I know you’re certainly not a brand not to be pushing the innovation angle of everything you do.

So Rob, I heard you talk not too long ago about something called Avios Booster. So, you know, gamification is one of those horrible buzzwords that all the boardroom execs sort of to roll their eyes at, but actually it’s being used in a way to engage customers. It’s just another tool, but how have you used it and how have your customers responded to it?

Rob: Yeah, and I totally agree with you. I think I’m at my most frustrated when somebody comes to me and says, we must do gamification and it’s just terrible. And I think, you know, you have to set the perspective of, you know, do we have products or could we create products that, you know, have really high levels of engagement and we can introduce elements of fun. Because fundamentally, if the product isn’t good enough anyway, adding gamification, you know, isn’t going to work. 

So, so we are really pleased with Avios Booster because we do think that it hits the mark. Just a couple of what it is, basically customers who have already earned Avios can then go back in, look at their past earnings and then double, triple quadruple them.

And we just had an extraordinary response. You know, we obviously with these things you have a plan and you execute on the plan, but you’re never quite sure if it’s going to hit the mark, but we’ve just seen people flock to it. I think the reason it works is it’s pretty simple. Again, we have a strong digital execution. And it’s also very good value. So it’s not enough if it’s just fun. It also has to be good value because customers are savvy and they can see through that. So we’ve put some of our best value into that product. 

What I love a little quick anecdote. I was actually talking to the product owner this morning. She’s really passionate about it. And she had a fabulous story. She was doing customer research just recently on why people love it and how are they using it? Cause it’s still quite early. And we came across a family who, we had a family who basically the entire family when they’re waiting at the airport before they’re flying do some of our Avios surveys, so they’re all doing customer research getting rewarded for the surveys, and then immediately after that, they’re collectively doing Avios booster, all of while waiting at the gate so it was just, it’s amazing when you talk to customers and you can see that you must be hitting the spot if people are using downtime to, to interact with products. 

Amanda: Definitely amazing. How exciting. Yeah. And exactly as you said, you know, it’s adding an element of fun to get that engagement, but it only works if it’s fundamentally offering value to the customer and is simple at the end of the day. We can’t be adding more complexity. So lovely story. Lovely story about the folks at the gate as well engaging in it. 

So on the same theme of these new innovations that Silvia’s touched on and you’ve started to touch on. I spoke actually on this show with Paula around loving the idea of your subscription model, which I believe is about a year old now. So how is that doing? Because that’s obviously something that’s come into the airline industry relatively recently. How’s it doing? You know, yeah, tell us a little bit about what, how it works and how it’s doing. 

Rob: Yeah, sure. And again, I think context here we are now at a position where close to 60 percent of Avios are collected outside of flying. They’re collected from everyday spend using shopping, using credit cards, using, you know, a number of our own products like Avios Booster, Avios Subscription. So, you know, it really has, and that’s been a shift over the last three years. So that led us to kind of try and innovate on subscription. And we worked very hard to make sure that, again, value is at the centre of it.

And this is basically customer subscribing either on a monthly or an annual basis to, to purchase Avios. And what we knew we had to do was sort of get off the cycle of constant promotions and make sure that we were keeping some of the best value for people who were prepared to commit, you know, so we were asking customers to commit either monthly or annually.

And so you have to be really true to your customers that you give that value and you don’t, you know, offer them a product that later on they sort of have any regret that they did that. So that’s been a big mindset change, but we’ve seen the rewards come through because we’ve got, you know, got thousands of people subscribing. Again, the uplift has been much higher than we thought. We have, you know, half of customers going for the very biggest subscription because we have small, medium, large style offer there. We have monthly, we have annual and many of these customers had never actually even bought Avios before particularly when it launched, you know, with the cost of living, you know, the options that we were giving them to spread over 12 months was also very well received.

So we’re really pleased. And as you know, we are on about a year’s anniversary and we’re seeing incredible renewal rates. So, you know, we’re really pleased, but we’ll keep on listening and seeing if we need to adjust it and what customers would like. 

Amanda: Fantastic. Fantastic. I’m loving listening to this. Let’s talk a little bit more. You’ve talked, Rob, about 60 percent of Avios being collected outside of flying. And obviously that is a trend we’ve heard on this show from and from other airlines. For example, American were on a few months back saying exactly the same, maybe not the same stats but let’s go back to the core of airlines.

So you announced quite recently a significant relationship with Qatar Airlines and their QSuite program and so forth. So, Silvia, could you help us understand how well that is, you know, it’s a significant relationship, how well that is seen by customers. And yeah let’s understand how something like that has impacted the markets.

Silvia: Yeah, sure. So all this started like about two years ago when, you know, we took a new and actually quite innovative approach to our loyalty currency. So we thought there was a big opportunity to have airlines from outside the group adopting our currency Avios so that we could make our currency more global.

So as you said, the first one was Qatar, who they adopted Avios in March 2022. And it has been a huge success. So we’ve seen hundreds of thousands of members linking their BA Executive Club accounts with their Privileged Club account. And redemption have gone up fivefold since the launch billions of Avios have been moving between the two programs. 

What I think is really interesting is that actually BA and Qatar we’re already part of one world since many years ago. So many of the things that customers are doing were actually already available for customers. But, you know, just the fact of bringing these two programs together, we have managed to give a better customer experience with more flexibility and even, you know, even more choice and customers have really seen the value on it. And that’s why they’re responding so well to the proposition. 

Amanda: Incredible. I mean, yeah, exactly as you said, I mean, BA and Qatar are in the one world alliance, but just to see how you’ve extended the IAG offering outside of that. So, and then what’s the new, if you think about other markets, so you’ve hinted that this is not the end of that strategy, that’s possibly new airlines or new markets will be part of the broader offering. So what’s, can you share with us what’s new, what’s coming? 

Silvia: Yeah. So, well, in the first time we are of course working on including Iberia also in this partnership with Qatar. So that also, you know, members from Iberia plus can also can also participate on these agreement.

And in August also, we announced that Finnair was going to be, is going to be adopting Avios as its loyalty currency in 2024. So that’s going to be our second airline outside of the group, and you know, we want to continue to expand the currency. So we’re looking at other markets too, and it has to be somewhere that there is clear benefit for the customer. And we’re also wanting, you know, to have more options for customers and. 

One, one thing that I can say is that we’re not only looking to airlines. We believe this model could also work with other businesses. So, you know, we’re completely committed on our vision to transform Avios more from a local currency that it was used to be to a global one. So, so we think we really, we’re really convinced that there is a real opportunity here going forward. 

Amanda: So obviously Finnair, Iberia, obviously is within the group. Finnair and Qatar are outside of the group, but within one world. So is it also the possibility you’ll go outside of the one world airlines?

Silvia: So we’re looking at everything to be honest. We’re looking at airlines, not airlines within one world, outside all of it, anywhere we could see clear customer benefit, that would be something we would definitely study. 

Amanda: Amazing. Great. Well, obviously value added back to the customer at the end of the day. So we’ve talked a lot. We’ve gone a little bit deeper into sort of the core partners that you’re, you shared or airline and non airline, and we’ve talked more around airline, the airline relationship, but how about for the two of you at such a significant roles that you play in such a significant loyalty business.

Where do you get your inspiration from? Like what other brands, which other industries really stand out for you that kind of give a company as big and as bold and as successful as IAG Loyalty inspiration? 

Rob: I’ve got two that I, two that are slightly different. I mean, one initiative on its own that made me sit up and go was when Qatar Airways changed how they award Avios and basically they now award Avios if you’re flying before you’ve even boughted the plane. So literally you check in and your land in your account, and I know it sounds really. Well, why not? But nobody had ever done that. And when they did that, it was for a purpose. It was to then to allow customers to use them in duty free in Doha. So that was an initiative where I literally was really surprised. And when they told us about it, I was like, wow, that’s cool. But in the longer term, I think where I see people really executing well, it’s not necessarily innovative, but it’s across the board, which is where I see the loyalty lever working so well. 

And I look at the hotel industry. I think, you know, IHG, Marriott and Hilton, all of them have been manically focused on overhauling their programs in the last 10 years. And they probably, you know, had two or three years of being in a really great place where they’ve digitized everything. They’ve taken away many of the customer pain points.  And they’ve managed to also harmonize across a really large portfolio of brands, which is great for customers. You know, all of those different demand occasions that a customer has, whether it’s, you know, something cheap and cheerful for the weekend or a business hotel in the week, they’ve managed to use loyalty to bond all of those in a very strong way without any friction. So, they’re kind of my long term, they’ll look at and think that’s where if you focus, you get it right as opposed to just one off innovation, like, like my Kato example, which I also love. 

Amanda: Yeah, your Kato example reminds me, Rob, of how the better fuel industry loyalty programs are able to really offer that real time surprise and delight or experience for the customers because you fill up with your fuel and then you know the programs that aren’t getting it right you kind of wake up wait a few days or wait a few hours. But if you fill it with fuel which is clearly the bigger purchase between fuel and convenience store and then those points are immediately available for me to go and potentially cash in on a, on, you know, on the convenience store refreshments.

That’s exactly what you just described to me in, in, in the airline world, which as you say, I’ve never heard of it before. So yeah, example, but it’s great to see that we can see parallels immediately in some of these maybe less sexy industries like fuel. If they don’t get it right, it’s just a dramatically different experience all round.

Rob: Yeah, and we, on our own airlines being, you know, pretty honest, we haven’t yet got to that speed of issuance and we’d like to get there, but when we have done it with we do it with Uber, actually, we literally closed the door of your Uber and your Avios appear in, I’ve seen it happen in two seconds. So, we’ve done it in some places and we want to do it everywhere because you’re exactly right. It has to be like really instant the expectation of customers is there.

Amanda: Yeah. And I heard you mentioned before how successful the Uber relationship is in the sense that you said like hundreds of thousands of connected, literally immediately after you launched it and millions of rides have already been taken, earning Avios, which is just great.

Rob: Yeah, it’s crazy. Really much faster than we expected the adoption. That was a learning there. 

Amanda: Thank you. Thanks. And Silvia, for yourself, where do you also find the innovation for your role?

Silvia: I’m a big fan of this podcast. Actually, I listened to most of the interviews you launched. One that I like quite a lot was just before summer, the McDonald’s one. So I know, you know, it’s not super innovative. They’re not doing anything really new in the loyalty industry. But the fact that they’re now using loyalty to understand more about the customers to build a better customer experience and to tie together the customer journey, I think it’s quite basic, but very powerful at the same time.

And I think that’s a really good example for many, you know, companies, not necessarily small, even bigger or medium companies that are still, you know, starting this journey. And they can see this as a good example of what to follow. So that’s one that I like very much. Then, you know, I think there’s plenty of examples of innovative things that, you know, many companies are doing in the airline industry, in hotel and in the retail. But I guess that where I see more opportunity in the short term for innovation is just not so much in the definition of a new product or a new proposition, but in how do, how we deliver those products and propositions. You know, customers now they really know what they want. They want simplicity. They will, they want digital experiences, a consistency in the experience. There’s still so much to be done in terms of good execution that I think that’s where most of the companies are going to be focusing in the short term. 

Amanda: Absolutely. I love that. I love that. I think Paula will be delighted to hear that this program offers so much inspiration to you and I think to all of the listeners. That’s why it exists. And that was her original ambition for the pro for the podcast series effectively. But then to hear you go on to just say, you know, at the end of the day, you don’t have to put innovation in for innovation’s sake or, but actually just doing what you do brilliantly and seamlessly will make all the difference. So thank you. Thank you for bringing it right back down to actually what really matters, which is exactly that. Okay. 

This has been a conversation that I don’t particularly want to end because there’s a million more questions we could ask. But we’re going to run out of time. So to wrap up, are there any other points either of you’d like to share with the Let’s Talk Loyalty audience?

Rob: I think I’m just really excited about 2024 because, Amanda, as you and I have talked about, something has happened in the last, call it one, two, three years, whichever scale you want to look at, that the loyalty conversation is firmly at the C suite table, at the boardroom table, and across all organizations.

We’re seeing people come in that have never been there before because a maturity’s come where there is a much broader understanding that this is one of the most powerful things you can do. So that is keeping me excited for 2024 and what comes next. 

Amanda: Yeah, absolutely.

Silvia: Yeah, I totally agree with that. So, you know, if you look back 10 or 15 years, all these conversations were not at all at the management committee desk, right? So now this is something that actually people understand that there is value on it and companies have committed to, to invest on loyalty. 

Amanda: Amazing. And that heads us up. So in a year’s time, I’ll be knocking on your door for the next conversation to see how we feel in 2024. So, I would like to just let the listeners know that your LinkedIn profiles will be in the show notes and any other references that we’ve made reference we’ve touched on today, I’ll make sure in the show notes.

So from Let’s Talk Loyalty, Silvia and Rob, you have been very generous in your responses. There’s been a lot the listeners will be able to take away and from everybody around the world. Thank you very much. 

Silvia: Thanks, Amanda. 

Rob: Thank you, Amanda. It’s been great.

Paula: This show is sponsored by The Loyalty People, a global strategic consultancy with a laser focus on loyalty, CRM, and customer engagement. The Loyalty People work with clients in lots of different ways, whether it’s the strategic design of your loyalty program, or a full service, including loyalty project execution. And they can also advise you on choosing the right technology and service partners. On their website, the loyalty people also runs a free Global community for loyalty practitioners, and they also publish their own loyalty expert insights. 

So for more information and to subscribe, check out theloyaltypeople.global.

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