An interview with Anna Samkova – Group General Manager for Digital at The PAS Group Limited
I had the pleasure and privilege of interviewing Anna Samkova for my series of articles on 'Loyalty Leaders' (the first for 2022), and it was so rich with insights I felt I had found a bronze, silver and gold mine!
Anna is a very experienced digital and loyalty professional (some more background below), and from what I heard in the interview, she has so much to share. She does so with honesty, vulnerability, and a refreshing and engaging, no bulls#$!t frankness.
(NOTE: The PAS Group is a leading Australian apparel and sports business managing multiple brands, including Review, Black Pepper, Yarra Trail and many others. More information can be found at thepasgroup.com.au, and this article focuses on Review's loyalty program)
1. Who is Anna Samkova (outside of work)
I arrived in Australia from Russia in 1993. I could not speak English, and I had a not recognised degree. (Now that's a tough start).
In Russia, I had it all. I was established, had a recognised degree, and had a red carpet (her words) ready for me to be successful.
Starting again in Australia was scary, although, with no fear, I pushed through and got going by studying (marketing diploma), creating a family, and landing a marketing role at Dodo. I was asked to start a loyalty program there, and honestly, I did not know what a loyalty program was, however away I went, and Infinite Rewards was launched.
Fast forward to today (with some other roles in between). I have been at the PAS Group for almost 11 years, having had various marketing roles across the different brands and then landed in digital. Since then, I have not looked back.
(A fascinating insight on Anna. She is a voracious reader and reads widely, although books on the Stoics and Stoic Philosophy is of particular interest).
2. So why did you set up a loyalty program for Review?
(PAS Group has several brands with loyalty programs structured uniquely to suit the brand and their customer segments; however, we discussed the Review loyalty program).
It goes back ten or more years ago when we decided we needed a program for data gathering.
With all the data coming in, we started to build a second layer of analysis about our customers - who they were, what they bought, when, how often, and how much they spent.
We have now evolved the program to be a fully personalised customer experience.
We stopped 'spray and pray' about six years ago. We now have over 150 attributes connected to our customers based on who they are and their behaviours.
Interestingly, our top spenders, of which there are about 1300, contribute 11% of total revenue. This is very important because I see many brands chasing new customers, but more is not better. Profitable customers are key. Knowing this helps with predicting revenue. It also keeps us pushing up the dial on measuring Customer Lifetime Value.
(This is one of the gold nuggets I found that helps keep the business leaders engaged in the program as predicting revenue is a precious decision input for a company).
We never stop looking at ways to improve from the customer's point of view, looking at the channels they engage in, the frequency of comms and what we can do with the next-best-offer.
3. What are the main challenges you face with making your program valuable to your business and meaningful for your members?
- Seamless integration of technology in an omnichannel experience. Synchronising the experience across all touchpoints, so the customer does not have a clunky experience.
- The right technology stack is crucial as we keep evolving and improving as a business and with sophistication comes great responsibility.
- Building strategic initiatives across the channels is a challenge. As an example, we have a detailed win-back strategy, and we need to ensure it flows through all channels seamlessly (Anna shared so much detail on their win-back strategy that it deserves a white paper of its own)
- You need loyalty program hero's in your team. The retail team is key to selling the loyalty program story, and it's imperative to be in touch with them and customer service. Always ask your customer service team what their "headaches" are and what are the customer complaints.
4. If you could start fresh with a new program,
What would you not do, do better or do more of?
I wouldn't change anything because we started without any audacious goals. We just wanted to know who our customers were, and from there, it was steady and slow.
Oh, and I would not do a refer-a-friend. It did not work, and I had an egg on my face! (This was a wonderful moment of honesty and vulnerability from Anna).
The APP has been a journey. There were some warnings that it would not work. However, for us, it has been successful. Our measure has been about the quality of members engaging with the APP, not volume, and we now treat the APP engaged members as a unique segment.
Understanding the members who engage with the APP means that we don't need to double up on comms and irritate our customers.
5. What advice would you give to brands thinking about a loyalty program?
- Start with the end in mind
- Have an honest conversation with yourself (leaders) – why a program?
- Look at your technology stack to ensure integration
- Always engage across the business and let the different teams in early – all departments
- Engage with the broader team regularly and don't steam ahead and then look back, and no one is with you
- Personalise the experience – I am mad about that! Personalisation is not <your name goes here> - those days are gone
- Do a data review. What do you have, what do you want?
- Keep educating the business. Use data and insights to help with decisions. Data trumps opinions!
6. What do you think is creeping up on programs that could disrupt them for better or worse?
There is too much technology around. There is so much disruption in the technology space, and everyone is selling hard in the field, and it is a dangerous field. Be aware of the 'drag and drop' simple talk. Technology can be complex, and, in some cases, you will need extra people to manage a platform.
The organisation chart can have an impact on a program's success. Excellence can be diluted when there are silo of specialisation, so integrating marketing, digital, and loyalty has proven to be a very successful strategy for us (this was another valuable nugget)
7. What's the most underestimated force behind a program's performance?
The team. Our teams' love for the customer amazes me to this day.
8. What are three critical skills a loyalty program marketer needs?
- Analytical. I believe we need to be customer-centric but data-driven.
- Leadership. We don't achieve things on our own and need to inspire people along.
- Listening. Speak to people in your team that are customer-facing. They would have all information you require to grow any loyalty program strategically.
9. Leave us with a lasting loyalty thought
For those brands on the journey of loyalty and personalisation, you might get fatigued by the should we or shouldn't we talk? Just start!
If you wait, you will rob your customers of a beautiful, personalised brand experience. (Another valuable nugget)
Start with your high spenders and those who disengaged with the brand. Our win-back strategy is so sophisticated it will blow your mind!
Thanks, Anna, you did in the interview!
There are too many insights in this article to summarise. However, there were some brilliant quotes:
- "We stopped 'spray and pray' about six years ago. We now have over 150 attributes connected to our customers based on who they are and their behaviours."
- "Keep educating the business. Use data and insights to help with decisions. Data trumps opinions!"
- "The organisation chart can have an impact on a program's success. Excellence can be diluted when there are silos of specialisation, so integrating marketing, digital, and loyalty has proven to be successful."
- "Our win-back strategy is so sophisticated it will blow your mind!"
- "For those brands on the journey of loyalty and personalisation, you might get fatigued by the should we or shouldn't? Just start! If you wait, you will rob your customers of a beautiful, personalised brand experience"
Have a happy loyalty day!