a pile of loyalty program cards

Email Notifications: User Experience Basics

Forget, for a moment, what I said a couple of weeks ago. Apparently, companies still need to learn the essentials. One important rule of design, regardless of what industry, sector, or area of expertise you are in, is to take care of needs before you get to wants.

Take loyalty programs for example. As most of you probably know, airlines and hotels (among others) all have loyalty programs where you earn points for every trip. It might be by mile, by day, by dollar, but there is some number of points. They are often designed to cater to the lowest common denominator of extrinsic motivation, which is the opposite of what they should be doing, but that is a subject for another day. Today I want to focus on the monthly statements they send by email.

As most of you know, travel industry loyalty program points usually expire either 12 or 18 months after your last use. So as long as you earn or redeem points every 12 or 18 months, you get to carry forward the entire balance. Otherwise, the points you might have been accumulating for years could disappear in seconds. This is something you probably want to know.

But it is not easy to keep track of these mentally. I don’t know about you, but I have one of these for half a dozen airlines and half a dozen hotel chains. And each one has a different expiration date that changes every time I travel or use miles to get a magazine subscription or to send someone flowers. No way I can keep track of that.

But really, I shouldn’t need to. Each one of these programs sends me a monthly statement by email. The email clearly shows me the date of the email so I don’t expect to see very recent activity on the balance. It clearly shows me the total number of points I have. But it doesn’t show me the expiration date. I could be getting a statement that shows me 100,000 points, as of sometime last week, that are expiring next month. They tell me the 100,000. They tell me the date last week. But not the expiration date. So obliviously, I pride myself on building up this great balance that will pay for a vacation over the holidays and then ZAP they are gone.

It seems to be that this is an obvious piece of information. I have had miles expire so many times I can’t count. And all I had to do was log into my account, send someone 500 points worth of flowers, and I could have kept the rest. But I didn’t know. And they didn’t think to tell me either.

Alternatively, they could send a warning email a week or so before the points expire, to make sure that this is salient. It could be the subject line of the email so that even if I delete advertisement-looking emails without reading them, I would at least notice that. The message could be in a color that fits their brand. It could have all kinds of special offers attached. It could do a whole lot of extras.

But at least hit the necessities. Know your user. Know your use cases. Then once you have this down, go back and read my previous post on how to do the extras.

Image credit: “Kundenkarten” by Mattes used under Public Domain

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