Customer rewards programs, the kind used by the airlines for example, have been around for a long time, but I think the concept is grossly underused by small business owners.
The drive to earn a higher status or exclusive membership is very strong and full of marketing potential when used correctly. (I was in the Atlanta airport during recent layover and I went into the Crown Room and found it overrun with people, there was nowhere to sit and work and frankly the terminal was more appealing, but the purported exclusiveness draws people far beyond rational thinking would suggest it should.)
In an effort to build repeat business every small business owner should consider adding a level of levels of perks that can be earned by certain types of customer behavior. Now, you can let people earn trips and iPods and the like, but I prefer you consider allowing them earn a place at your “Customer Council.”
A Customer Council is a perk that might earn them entry to special workshops, a subscription to premium content, invitations to council only events, links from your website – all manner of community building amplification around your products and services.
There are a variety of ways to structure membership in your council. Perhaps it’s by invitation only, by purchasing at a certain level or number of times, agreeing to an annual purchase commitment, or providing X amount of referrals.
This is one of those activities that can build strong customer ties and act as a motivator for passive customers to become active. One word of warning – don’t make the mistake of alienating customers that don’t yet qualify and make sure that you over deliver on the expectations felt by your customer council members.