The partnership stemmed from the tremendous growth in Uber transactions from AmEx customers over the past year and Uber’s need for a loyalty program. Zaretsky emphasized her team’s goal of going where the customers are, even if that means a startup. Together, the two companies created Uber's first-ever in-app loyalty program, available exclusively to AmEx cardholders. When taking an Uber ride, AmEx customers have the option to “earn or burn” their points; that is, take them or spend them. Participants earn points at 2x the regular rate as an added bonus.
Zaretsky cited big data as integral to the program’s marketing campaign. The company created different experiences for cardholders depending on whether or not they had used Uber with their AmEx card. Upon opening an email, customers who had used Uber with their AmEx card previously were taken directly to the app store to download the latest version of the app and enroll in the program. AmEx customers who had never used their card with Uber were directed to Uber’s website for a custom enrollment experience in the joint loyalty program.
The emails included customers’ names as well as animations to demonstrate the steps to engage in the program. The campaign yielded high open and success rates, according to Zaretsky. The idea was to make the process “slick” and “friction-free” in response to customers’ feedback to avoid multistep enrollment processes: “It’s been an internal push for us to build things that are super simple and easy to use.”
The company’s strong relationship with TripAdvisor also uses data to enrich cardholders’ shopping experiences.
“We knew our cardmembers were spending a ton of time on TripAdvisor. Our cardmembers love travel and are passionate about it, so we wanted to do something special to let them upgrade their travel planning experience with TripAdvisor," Zaretsky said.
TripAdvisor wanted more reviews, and so the two formed a partnership. AmEx would validate and authenticate reviews by allowing cardmembers to link their TripAdvisor accounts to their cards. Whenever an AmEx customer establishes this link, they earn an AmEx traveler badge that accompanies all of their ratings and reviews.
AmEx then went a step further, pinging spenders who had just swiped their card at a hotel, restaurant or attraction to review their experience. AmEx also developed its own private hub within TripAdvisor’s site, adding an element of exclusivity to the partnership. The hub allows AmEx travelers to access recommendations that are contributed by and available to only AmEx cardholders. It also has hot lists, which include the top places – destinations, restaurants and hotels – AmEx travelers are visiting, based on spending data.
What’s interesting, according to Zaretsky, is that customers increasingly demand data-enhanced intimacy with AmEx to use their spending data to enhance their shopping experiences.
“We have permission to creep,” she said. “Our card members really want us to take the big data and use it to make their lives better.” She said she’s even heard a customer say, “I want you to know almost too much about me. Use that in everything that you’re targeting to me.”
So how has AmEx sent customized content to cardmembers without infringing on privacy? Feedback is critical.
AmEx relies on two advisory boards of digitally engaged customers for constant feedback. The company also looks to customers outside of these boards for feedback after each initiative. But balancing privacy with personalization is ultimately the responsibility of AmEx's "controls" team – a small group of internal legal experts who know laws and regulations, particularly as they pertain to the social and digital ecosystem, in Zaretsky’s case. This group is able to advise on ideas before the company sends anything to customers.
“It’s sort of like our secret sauce because we’re able to know from the beginning what’s going to fly,” Zarestky said. “It’s tough, but you need expertise in that area.”