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Customer relationships to the forefront as loyalty takes a twist

In conversation with Oracle’s Andy Kulina

Prime sponsor this year of the International Loyalty Awards is Oracle. Loyalty Magazine sat down with Andy Kulina, Consumer Engagement & Retention Strategy Director, Oracle CrowdTwist to understand the strategy behind the announcement.

Andy Kulina
Andy Kulina

Loyalty Magazine: Oracle has stated its intention of being a major player in customer loyalty by electing to be Prime Sponsor of the International Loyalty Awards. How significant is this?

Andy Kulina: Very significant.  The concept of loyal has moved from a transaction model where consumers were rewarded for purchase to an engagement model, where brands strive to increase the opportunities to engage with their target audience.  To do this, organisations have to have a far better understanding of their customers – they need to know how best to interact with them. For that they need data – and this is an area where Oracle can help them excel. We have a heritage of working with data and helping organisations make sense of it, so helping customers apply this to loyalty is something we specialise in.

How did Oracle achieve this move into loyalty and customer engagement?

AK: Oracle has always worked in this space, but with the integration of Oracle CrowdTwist Loyalty and Engagement into Oracle’s Fusion Cloud ACX suite it now has an even more compelling offering to customers

Oracle CrowdTwist Loyalty and Engagement is an important element in the full ACX suite, bringing permissioned customer information from the different customer touch points. Previously, loyalty solutions concentrated on capturing what consumers had bought.  Quite frankly, this is way too late to engage with a consumer in the digital age. Today it is necessary to engage consumers between and even before purchases to understand their intent to purchase and personal preferences.

How does Oracle CrowdTwist Loyalty and Engagement enable this level of interaction?

AK: It gives those responsible for the customer relationship within a business, simple tools – we call them widgets – to create a consumer incentive to engage and a reward when they do.  These widgets are easily managed by non-technical users without the need to involve IT!  This enables the end user to dynamically change the call for action to the consumer based on the feedback that has been received.

You have only recently joined Oracle, to head up Oracle CrowdTwist Loyalty and Engagement in EMEA, what impressed you about the proposition?

Oracle is ranked as a leader in Loyalty Solutions by Forrester and in my first few months with the company I can see why.   Oracle CrowdTwist Loyalty and Engagement embraced and enabled Engagement loyalty years before our competitors.  Loyalty is an outcome, not a tactic. It is all about what you do as a marketer to create a great customer experience. If you create a good experience, then you will achieve customer loyalty. This is what really excites me about my role – it’s helping our clients understand the importance of building an engagement strategy, then showing them the tools to make it happen..

Who is on the Oracle CrowdTwist Loyalty and Engagement team?

In addition to myself, the former Director of Loyalty Technology for Kroger, on the team we have Pavel Los, who ran the Loyalty Awards-winning Shell Loyalty programme, and Bruno Sousa formerly the Loyalty Partnerships Director for Sonae, Portugal’s largest loyalty programme. It’s a loyalty dream team, made up of people who are primarily loyalty operators and strategists!  

Are you having to also promote the concept of customer loyalty within the wider Oracle organisation?

Oracle really understands the value of data and the benefit of using it effectively – as I said it’s a space Oracle has worked in for decades.  Oracle already focusses on customer experience as the most important part of the equation. Every touchpoint a customer has with a brand, from customer service to leaving reviews, all needs to be a connected, seamless experience.

Where is customer loyalty heading?

It is a huge greenfield right now. In the nineties, loyalty was only targeting existing customers. In the world of internet shopping where awareness, consideration and then engagement are all of equal importance, it is a totally different scenario, especially as Covid has fast tracked the move to digital/home delivery for so many businesses. Not one of the other existing providers in the loyalty space have been moving fast enough to drive engagement from this awareness. The market is ripe for innovation and change.

Which markets are Oracle focussing on?

We are a global company so can do business in all markets and in all sectors.

What size of company is suitable for Oracle CrowdTwist?

Medium to large enterprises that need systems are most likely to be interested in Oracle CrowdTwist Loyalty and Engagement. Because it uses SaaS (software as a service), it means there is one core solution that can be licensed, and then configured to meet specific needs by thousands of customers. It is what makes it economical and robust.

How is the concept of loyalty changing?

People are loyal for a reason. You can’t create loyalty just by offering points and rewards, there needs to be an emotional driver. The biggest shift taking place is recognition that it is necessary to change the emotional response of a customer or potential customer, and this is only possible with a great customer experience.

What about hotels and travel?

There are huge numbers of potential customers, but there is no new data. Most of us haven’t travelled much for over two years. So how do travel firms understand us? How do they learn what is worrying us, what information we need, what travel requirements we have to comply with? How do they inform us how to avoid crowds at airports & hotels? There is a lot that can be done to build that data backup. It is about creating an engagement strategy to understand: Where their potential customers are in terms of travel plans, and what are their concerns, then how can they stay engaged with them?

The travel landscape has changed significantly in the past 2 years. It is no longer about business travel and a lot of that type of travel won’t come back. The data from two years ago is largely irrelevant.  Companies in these sectors need to be re-introduced to their consumers.

Looking forward, what will be the game changers in loyalty?

There are always fast followers to a good idea. People will have adjusted to the model of a changing consumer. The winners will be those who have taken a twist and are engaging with consumers between and before purchases. The losers will be those who are still doing what they did 20 years ago.

You are joining the judging panel of the International Loyalty Awards this year, what are you hoping to see among the entries?

I will be looking at who is doing well and what it is they are doing better. You can’t scrape cookies any more for data, so I will be interested in innovative ideas around gathering permissioned data, how they drive engagement and what incentives/rewards they offer as a value exchange. I will be looking out for the brands that understand that there has to be a value proposition for every “ask” and that then you need to build a progressive, permissioned profile. I will be on the lookout for propositions that follow the strategy of ‘know me, show me, delight me”, the three key stages to drive consumer loyalty.

I am hoping to find brands that are creating an engagement strategy in order to achieve customer loyalty. I expect that the people who win the loyalty awards are those that are doing things differently; because the customer is doing things differently.

These are the people who will do well in 2022.

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