Connecting Human to Human, Company to Customer with Smile.io

In a world of iOS updates and changing customer expectations, everybody says community building is a must. We chatted with Tim Peckover, Senior Manager of Marketing & Communications at Smile.io, the world’s largest reward program provider. From Smile’s new community mindset to how they measure digital customer loyalty, Tim shared his learnings and insights about community with the Tydo team.
December 15, 2021
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Purple background with the Tydo and Smile logos with white text that says "Community stacks"

Connecting Human to Human, Company to Customer with Smile.io

In a world of iOS updates and changing customer expectations, everybody says community building is a must. It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot. Although community is a buzzword, it’s much more than that. 

We chatted with Tim Peckover, Senior Manager of Marketing & Communications at Smile.io, the world’s largest reward program provider. At Smile, Tim oversees the brand’s content, website, and partnerships, as well as their implementation team. 

From Smile’s new community mindset to how they measure digital customer loyalty, Tim shared his learnings and insights about community with the Tydo team. 

Building an Interconnected Community 

The Smile team used to talk about community in the transactional sense—sending a newsletter, occasionally posting content, having one-on-one conversations with merchants here and there. 

How Tim describes it: “If a community is a wheel and Smile is the hub, we were great at building the individual spokes that go out to merchants. But, we weren’t great at connecting any of the points on the wheel.”

The Smile team realized they weren’t rooted in community values or purpose; they were only talking about Smile and the benefits of it. So, they stopped and asked themselves, “How do we build a Smile community built on our own community values like we’ve been telling merchants to do for years now?” 

They built a brand new community mindset starting with no longer gating any of their content. All their PDFs, case studies, and eBooks just require the click of a link. They don’t collect emails.

That switch aligns with their new brand and community values, which revolve around helping entrepreneurs be successful—even if Smile is never a part of their tech stack. “We’re all about providing information to the community,” Tim says, “Entrepreneurs can take our content and decide what they want to do with it—whether they work with Smile or not.” 

“With every customer interaction, you’re either building a relationship or breaking it.” 

Finding the Right Community Stack  

The most successful Smile merchants share similar community stacks, including: 
  1. An email service provider (ESP). They’re not using default Shopify emails. 
  2. A help desk like Gorgias, where merchants can have a holistic view of the customer journey. 
  3. Either Salesforce, Hubspot, or Intercom to keep track of what customers are saying. 

In Tim’s eyes, the tools in a community stack need to be interconnected. For example, Smile works great on its own, but it works best when it’s integrated with an ESP. 

With the Klaviyo integration, merchants can send reward emails to their customers, and with the Gorgias integration, they can view VIP tiers and better understand the customer. 

“To many, a stack is simply listing off all the tools in your tool belt. To me, a stack is only a stack if it’s all connected.” 

Measuring Digital Customer Loyalty 

Signing up for Smile can influence: 
  1. Participation rate: How many of your customers are signing up for your loyalty program? 
  2. Redemption rate: How many of your customers are actually redeeming points? 

The way to win: Creating a loyalty program that’s actually valuable for customers. 

Otherwise, points become a liability for a business. Tim says, “If your customers aren’t cashing in on their points, you haven’t optimized your loyalty program.”  

With Smile, AOV, repeat purchase rate, and LTV all improve over time. But, it all depends on how much effort a merchant is willing to put into their loyalty program.

Once a merchant sign ups for Smile, they should ask:  
  1. Do I have a banner on my website letting people know we have a loyalty program? 
  2. Am I letting customers know they have points to redeem via email? 
  3. Do I have social engagement as a reward for my customers? 
“80,000 merchants leverage Smile programs. If we look at the performance of those merchants on average, repeat purchase rate and AOV improve.” 

Balancing Retention and Acquisition 

At its core, Smile is a retention tool. At the same time, it lowers acquisition costs. With a referral program, merchants can get in front of new customers. Plus, if set up correctly, merchants can also reward the person who’s actually sending the referral, which increases engagement. 

One of Smile’s latest features is called guest earnings. With a traditional loyalty program, you only earn points if you create an account. Now, with guest earnings, you can reward customers for points even if they don’t have an account, keeping the engagement going. 

On top of that, Smile educates merchants about how to build out personalization and IRL loyalty experiences. 

Smile recommends merchants send one-off customer thank yous (what they call experiential rewards). Certain shoppers who reach VIP tiers can join private Facebook groups and have access to exclusive products. 

In partnership with Akra, who makes sustainably-sourced, custom packaging, merchants can use QR codes on product packaging to direct people to their loyalty programs or to the closest recycling facility. And then, they can reward customers for recycling. 

Or, using the Daily Karma x Smile integration, shoppers can support a charitable cause and get points for making a donation. These integrations all work together so that merchants don’t have to build these functionalities themselves. 

At the end of the day, Smile has all the tools merchants need to keep customers around and acquire new ones. 

“Smile is compelling because it helps brands acquire and retain new users at the same time. In turn, merchants can build community-level and customer-level relationships in tandem. That dual ability is quite rare.”

Bridging Digital and IRL Experiences 

Tim sees omnichannel as the future, especially as more and more places open back up. Customers expect a good customer experience both online and offline. That starts with brands realizing that customers don’t want to sign up for another account when they come into a store. 

If they’ve earned loyalty points online, they want to access the same points IRL. 

According to Tim, both personalization and ease of use need to be replicated in the in-store experience.

Most brands haven’t really figured out personalization, but in terms of ease of use, customers expect that they can use Shop Pay and Apple Pay (sometimes even crypto payments) for purchases. Those options need to exist in brick and mortar. Plus, with Amazon, we’re used to quick delivery times. 

So, if a customer is shopping in-store and a product is out of stock, they want to know when they can get the product, not when they need to come back to the store. 

Ultimately, in Smile’s attempt to bridge digital and IRL experiences, they’re building their own interconnected community and helping merchants do the same. 

“The winning brands will be the ones creating brick and mortar experiences that reflect the online experience.” 

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