A delightful and insightful interview with Aussie Merciadez - Senior Partnerships and Rewards Manager at Optus.
With a first name like ‘Aussie’ and surname that sounds like ‘Mercedes’, I had no idea what to expect from the interview I had set up with Aussie Merciadez to discuss loyalty.
A personality that is infectious, a passion for customer loyalty that pumps from her heart and the rigour for customer insights makes Aussie an absolute all-rounder.
(A note to the reader: Aussie’s background is an abridged version of what she shared with me and could be a movie screenplay!)
1. Why ‘Aussie’?
Mum and dad came to Australia on an adventure and enjoyed it so much they stayed. I was conceived and born here (too much information). Dad wanted to call me ‘Canberra’ and Mum wanted to call me ‘Adelaide’.
When they were discussing this with the doctor, he asked them why those names and they said … because I was born in Australia. To which he said … so now that she is a true-blue Aussie, just call her ‘Aussie’.
I guess that made it easy for them and the rest is history.
2. So what’s your history?
I always wanted to be a performer and actor and in fact landed a few roles back in the late 80’s.Acting was fun, however not as stimulating as I had hoped for.
I wanted to be more involved in the business side of movies. ‘Executive Producer’ seemed to be the title for me! When I interviewed for a role at a post-production studio, they asked me if I had any experience, to which I replied ‘no, but I’ve got personality!’.
I landed a marketing role at the post-production studio (design, visual effects and animation) and had many years of working on the digital production of high end TVC’s, broadcast & movie blockbusters.
My experience in marketing and digital production took me to a global design agency where I used the expertise gained to work on brand activation campaigns bringing the ‘theatre’ to brands and music labels. In one year I managed over 180 brand activation and promotions testing my project and people management skills in a massive way!
I moved to the world of advertising and one day met a lady (thank you Linda Jones) who said to me…’Aussie you should be in loyalty’, to which I responded…’You mean all those points programs...?’ Yes!
With a hop, skip and a jump I landed into the nirvana of loyalty programs!
I worked at a loyalty agency (Global Red) and gained a significant love for the measurability and data-driven decision making that loyalty programs could provide. I gained significant experience there and then made the leap into the corporate world taking on a loyalty role at Optus, which after 7 years brings me to today!
3. Let’s talk about Optus Perks
We have started at zero customers three times as a program, based on establishing new platforms. We grew our base from zero to over a million in the first year and currently access over 5 million customers through our app and through a web portal.
It’s a no strings attached program. No points. No waiting to be rewarded. Our members get rewarded from day one and surprise and delight is at the core of the program. I’ve received calls and emails from customers asking why they received the ‘surprise’ reward to which I say ‘because you’re awesome!’
I want to make customers feel genuinely appreciated.
We want to help customers connect with the things that matter to them most. We slightly modified this vision when Optus became entrenched with entertainment being our core offering.
Our program enables our team to support the wider business with access to a great range of rewards on a central platform.
We are now working on ‘Perks with Purpose’ where we are aiming to match members with rewards relevant to their purchases and preferences.
I am always looking for something new that can make a difference to our customers, and nurture users of our network at a service level who may potentially become customers with their own accounts in the future.
We have created a test and learn environment to allow for the flexibility of different offerings, partners and the opportunity for us to be more agile. This is becoming more important as we move into the future.
The program is supporting the ever-changing needs of our customers while taking into consideration the rate at which new technology is rapidly changing and becoming more accessible.
4. What do you think is the difference between a ‘rewards’ program and a ‘loyalty’ program?
A ‘rewards’ program is a way for companies to recognise and thank customers for their loyalty / tenure with a range of benefits.
A loyalty program is when an entire business gets behind a consistent approach of recognizing customers and applying business rules and treatments to ensure the customer experience is managed with the right level of investment in all channels at every customer touchpoint.
5. Why does the business believe in the ‘Optus Perks’ program?
We make data-driven business decisions and have delivered on our targets and business objectives and continue to support the business within the areas that matter most.
This could be through our existing or new partnerships or through a deeper understanding of our customers’ needs and wants. I want everyone to win - our business, our customers, our team, our partners.
6. What are the three biggest opportunities for the program?
- Being agile and growing with the business with the ability to course correct on demand.
- Remain focused on our customers and listening to what they want and need.
- Continuing to build long lasting relationships with our strategic partners with shared objectives and not being afraid to fail, learn from our mistakes and keep moving forward.
7. What are the three biggest challenges for the program?
- Working with tighter budgets and knowing you have a broad customer base to reward and retain.
- When the business priorities don’t exactly align and potentially sending customers mixed messages.
- Integrating into new technology seamlessly without impacting customers from a marketing point of view.
8. If you could start again, what would you do differently?
If I could start all over again knowing what I know now, I would slow down and stay focused on fewer bigger better things rather than everything.
I am glad though we did everything we did but some of the things that didn’t work, we could have probably done without and if I cleared my plate of some of the lesser priorities, I may have not made some of the decisions I did to try new things.
Having the test and learn environment doesn’t mean you have to test EVERYTHING.
9. What advice would you like to give brands starting a new program?
- Walk in your customers shoes with the lens of the type of customers you want to attract.
- Understand their nuances, have a bullseye target.
- Focus on that customer profile to ensure you maintain that consistency and the program will evolve naturally with an anchor if you ever feel the program brand has lost its way.
10. What advice would you like to give brands with existing programs to keep them relevant?
- Be open to change as your program may not serve the same purpose as it did when you first launched.
- Identify the opportunities and plan your transition if a change is required in your program.
- Just because your customers are not seemingly receptive to your current program doesn’t mean they won’t react when you make a change.
11. What do you think is creeping up on programs that could disrupt them for the better or for worse?
I think the pace at which social and consumer culture is moving is so rapid. Any company who believes by making customers wait to be rewarded may find themselves in the cold as I believe customers live in a world of instant gratification and a “NOW” society.
There is a role for points programs if there is the frequency of customers transacting with your business often or/with transactions with significantly higher values.
Where the transaction is less frequent, there needs to be a way for the reward to be meaningful and to be NOW.
12. In five years what will a loyalty program look like?
mmmm…that’s a good one! In five years, customers (members of programs) will determine the partners and rewards they will want to see in their favourite loyalty program. Personalisation will be operating at its best and so it will be the ability of the Loyalty Program to be agile and have the relationships in place that will determine the success of the program.
Aussie has an amazing tapestry of life experience and expertise. with an abundance of humour, imagination and the belief in rigour and insights.
For me the stand-outs from our conversation are:
- Ensure your loyalty program delivers for every party involved.
- Slow down and stay focused on fewer bigger better things rather than everything.
- Be agile and open to change as the program needs to evolve to changing member needs and business requirements.
- Understand the purpose of your program so that you stay on-course when new and shiny things come along (This is my interpretation of a range of thoughts Aussie shared).
Have a happy loyalty day!