Loyalty Rethought – When hate turns to love overnight

Firstly, because it’s not a loyalty programme so much as a human connection tool based around real, everyday exchanges. “I like your red lipstick, have a free coffee on us”. Secondly because it makes me smile at the simplicity of a truly ballsy idea. Imagine the guy who had to stand up in the boardroom and say “We’re giving our staff the power to give away free coffee. that’s it. That’s our entire loyalty programme.”

I love the audacity and confidence behind that, in a world where the top table is punctuated by science and numbers and spreadsheets and ROI quantified to within an inch of its life. If you don’t know the Pret story, read about it here.

And that brings me to my current tale. I’ve been a customer of the NAB for over 16 years. They have me wrapped up in more knots than 50 Shades, with home loans, credit cards and pin numbers whose complex web of intricacy means I am just never going to leave. But I have stayed with them out of begrudging apathy, which is not an emotional happy place. It makes me do things I don’t like about myself, like yelling down the phone at some poor person working the late shift in Manilla that I am definitely, 100% moving banks first thing in morning. My impetus to act is always tempered by the cold light of day and the sheer effort of changing all those secret pins and account numbers. I am one of those people who moans loudly in “I told you so” disgust every time they unceremoniously shut down yet another ATM, and have always been very happy to tell people at BBQ’s how much I loath their three small letters.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when everything changed.

Picture the scene – Saturday afternoon in Bondi Junction, hordes of people and screaming children, one distracted Me drawing money, and a curious case of $300 not making its way into my wallet but instead left lying on the ATM. I didn’t realise I’d left it there until a few hours later when I was confidently reaching for my wad of cash to pay for sushi, to be rudely confronted by a big fat pile of nothing. “Oh no!” I said to my husband in dismay, “Maybe an honest person will find it and hand it in at the bank?”

I called the NAB’s Helpline and spoke to a lovely woman who reminded me that all ATMs have cameras. “Let me take down your details and if someone does hand it in at the branch we’ll be sure to call you” she said. “And while I have you on the phone, why don’t we lodge an unclaimed monies report?”

Unclaimed monies? You mean they might be decent enough to actually give me my money back even though it was totally and entirely my fault for leaving it in plain site on an ATM machine? I mean I know they’re spruiking ‘More give, less take’ but come on, these are the same people who charge me for drawing out my own money! “OK” I said resignedly, not holding out much hope.

Cue two weeks later. A letter with the NAB monogram arrives in my mailbox. I usually leave them for a couple of days because let’s face it, they’re not going away. So it went on my desk with all the other household admin mess.

When I finally opened said envelope a week later, expecting a somewhat depressing rundown of my credit card status, imagine my complete amazement to find a letter telling me that the $300 I’d written off weeks ago had been put back in my account by the NAB. I was floored. I was the one who’d made a mistake. And the NAB is not known for sensitivity to human error.

The thing is, it wasn’t about the $300. It was the fact that the NAB had finally demonstrated to me after 16 long years of being banking robots that they have a heart. There was no good Samaritan who took it upon themselves to hand in my cash. It was the folk at the NAB, who watched the video of the vague blonde walking away empty-handed from the ATM machine lost in thought, and elected to give back $300 – just because they could.

It’s a small amount in the NAB scheme of things, but to me it’s huge. Not so much in money terms but based on the immediate softening I felt in my heart.

I like the NAB now. They’re nice. It may just even be love. And this one small act of kindness has bound me to them for life.

Just like a $4 cup of free coffee binds Pret a Manger’s people to them.

So when it comes to loyalty in 2016, perhaps it’s not so much about catchphrases around Marketing-IT integration and smart software solutions. Maybe, just maybe, it’s actually about simply making people feel good with generosity of spirit and the small acts of kindness that escape so many businesses today, bogged down by their own BS.