The 5 Characteristics of a Great Small Business Loyalty Program

By now, as a small business owner, you’ve assuredly seen many articles, blog posts, and social media shares on the benefits of loyalty programs for your small business. 

Over the last couple years, it seems that loyalty programs are everywhere, with businesses from the mom-and-pop shop all the way to mega corporate chains rolling out loyalty programs in one form or another.

Seeing all this positive press, perhaps you’ve decided you’re ready to start vetting solutions.

Whether you choose something as complex as a CRM, or something as simple as a smart phone app, the success of a loyalty program at your place business of business depends on whether the program has the right mix of stickiness—those things that, when combined, make a customer want to not only participate, driving more visits to your shop, but also want to share that program with their friends.

But exactly what is it that goes into the “right” mix? What makes a great small business loyalty program stand out from the rest? What things should you ensure that any solution has baked in, so that program launch, maintenance, and updates are a breeze for you and even better for customers?

Below, we’ve outlined the five characteristics that we’ve found in every great small business loyalty program that we’ve observed. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these should get you started on picking the right loyalty program for your business:

1.     It’s Easy—The most important characteristic necessary for any program to be successful is ease of use, both for you and for your customers. When it comes to your customers, if it takes any longer than downloading an app and inputting some personal information (or having it populated from a social media app), they’re already lost. For you, any solution should make your life easier and not add multiple tasks to your already busy day.


2.     Its Value is Instantly Recognized by Customers—When developing an offer, you always have to put yourself in your customer’s shoes: “What’s in it for me?” Sure, ease of use will help them through the implementation step, but they have to get there first. That’s where a compelling offer comes in. Make sure what you’re offering is valuable in order for your loyalty program to look attractive to your customers.

3.      It’s Customized—Your loyalty marketing program should be able to be customized on two fronts. You want a program that’s flexible enough to cater to your business’ needs without being extra hassle for you to manage (see #1). You also want to be able to have some level of customization for your customers, even if it’s just segmenting them by their buying behavior.

4.     It’s Exclusive—Part of that recognized value from #2 is that your loyalty program is exclusive. Make sure your offer includes extra-special treatment for your best customers. Maybe that means exclusive gear, an after hours event, or huge discounts. Make your best customers your evangelists by rewarding their purchase behavior with exclusive offers they couldn’t get otherwise.

5.     It Surprises—The element that makes some loyalty programs stand heads and shoulders above the rest is that great ones surprise their customers with special treatment. It might be a free coffee on your business’ birthday, or on their birthday, or a joke on April Fools. Are you familiar with the concept of Easter eggs? To make a long story short, Easter eggs are hidden content in computer programs or video games. The best loyalty programs do the same kind of thing, sending special messages and giving special offers to loyal customers. Try to work a sense of surprise into your program.

There’s many other unique ways to make your small business’ loyalty program great. Just like any other great marketing, if you know your customers well, and know how they like to be treated, you’ll go far in designing a loyalty program that does all of the above and much more.


Hannah Kaye Kirchner is a Product & Customer Relationship Management Expert for mobile loyalty marketing at First Data, working on customer retention and engagement for large retailers and SMBs, as well as Perka, First Data’s mobile loyalty solution. You can find her online on LinkedIn.