Okay, it is April. But for the Barclaycard Ring team, this month marked the one-year anniversary since launching its radical “crowd-sourced” credit card. From inception, the Ring’s value proposition centered on creating an experience with cardmembers that was simple, collaborative, transparent and fair – a fundamental shift in how many consumers perceive and interact with their credit card company.
At the heart of the program is a community where members provide feedback to influence how the card is structured and managed; view the card’s financial performance; and share in the resulting profits. Cardmembers seemed to embrace this new ‘democratized’ construct. Customer retention improved 25% while complaints dropped by 50%. Barclaycard has found that customers who engage in the community are 70% less likely to close their account.
Forrester recognized Barclaycard Ring with a Groundswell Award in fall 2012. With such a promising first-year, we asked Jared Young, Senior Director Consumer Markets at Barclaycard US (and former ComBlu client) to share his insights on building this unique social program and give us a peek at what lies ahead.
CB: When you started down this path, it was pretty ground-breaking in the payments space. What were some of your biggest concerns going in?
Jared: Honestly, the biggest unknown was would people ‘engage’ around a credit card. This isn’t Oreos or running shoes. We were pleasantly surprised by just how much they did engage. There’s a lot of ask-and-answer activity. Members have started discussions on debt management, financial resources, and budget tools, among other things. And they step up pretty consistently with ideas and feedback – on the card, on the community itself, on how profits are allocated in our Giveback Program. Benchmarking against Lithium’s community health index shows our engagement has been strong and growing – jumping 15% in the last six months.
CB: Community crowdsourcing was core to this program. What kind of decisions have cardmembers effected so far?
The first major product decision has been to vote in a change to our late fee policy. What was really interesting is that nearly half the members weighed in on that decision. (To put that in perspective, only about 60% of Americans voted in the last Presidential election.) Each month, we open a discussion on different card features. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve talked about an “always on” grace period, rewards and even the card design. Our current topic is a hot one – fees.
Members have also made several recommendations – a number of which we’ve executed — on how the community works. For example, we adjusted the dashboards that detail how the card is performing to reflect their feedback. In total, I believe we’ve had upwards of 70 substantive ideas floated that other cardmembers have actively engaged around.
CB: Speaking of performance, talk about the Giveback Program.
If the card performs well, cardmembers share in the profits. In essence, it incents members to make good card decisions – like paying on time, going paperless and evaluating cost-benefit trade-offs in how the card’s structured. One of the coolest things is that members can choose to take the profit themselves or allocate it to a charity that the community has selected for that giveback period. Members nominate different causes; the community votes up its favorite. The current Giveback beneficiary will be Shriner’s Hospital for Children.
CB: So what’s next?
In Year One, it was all about innovation, the cool factor. This year, education is at the heart of our content strategy. We’re about to kick off a yearlong financial literacy series to help members with financial management and planning for different stages of their lives. In addition to sharing our point of view, we’ll feature other experts, articles and tools we think would be helpful in reaching their goals.
We’ll also be extending the community platform to other Barclaycard products. Later this spring, we’ll rollout a new Travel card with its own community. Our Ring cardmembers have been invited to get a sneak peek at the new site and give us their feedback.
CB: What advice would you give other marketers who are embarking on their own community journey?
One of the key lessons we’ve learned is to keep the customer at the core of the program. Your advocates are out there and willing to engage with you and share their feedback. Be ready to listen and act on that input.
Community is about creating an authentic relationship. That may take stepping out of your comfort zone and being more transparent. In our case, we spend a lot of time explaining how a card makes money – not something that most banks are willing to do. Those P&L blogs are among the most highly read.
A solid gamefication strategy is also essential. It incents consistent engagement and helps you identify your most important advocates. We tap into our best advocates regularly – and then thank them for their extra efforts. Last month, we sent a small token to our Gold and Platinum community members and got a great response.
Cardmember Philip Huff acknowledged Barclaycard Ring’s ‘superuser giveaway’ (thank you) in his blog. Do your advocates do that?
Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions – so says Mark Twain. The folks at Zynga couldn’t agree more. The company’s mission is to “give the world permission to play”. Known for bringing us Farmville and Words with Friends, the newly minted public company was recently featured on NBC’s Rock Center. Zynga’s CEO and founder, Matt Pincus, explained the social aspects of play and pointed out that “games are meant to be played by people.” And, are they ever. According to the NBC report, about 150 million people play Zynga games every month. Interestingly, their main demographics could surprise you — they are adults, mainly moms, and a few notorious celebs, like Alec Baldwin.
There is a science behind all of this fun. Pincus’ goal is to make play a daily habit, so he gamified his offerings to foster a virtual addiction to them. Zynga studies users’ activities, behaviors and motivations to understand what works and what doesn’t, what keeps them coming back time and again. Then, they bake their learnings back into the experience. They are also pretty smart when it comes to rewarding participants, especially top performers. Arguably, they set a standard for Reputation Management. At the end of the day, they know how to be relevant.
Becoming a daily habit is the Holy Grail for community strategists. Applying game mechanics that encourage, learn from and reward member activities and behaviors can benefit many communities, even those in the more conservative, regulated financial service and health care industries. As we learned in this year’s study of online branded communities, many brands in these two industries fail to take even basic steps like confer status, elevate leadership and recognize the skill or expertise of their members.
HealthTap is a notable exception. They illustrate how gamification can be applied in the health care industry in a relevant way. Venture Beat reports that, “HealthTap ‘gamifies’ the process of answering questions, giving the physicians reputation points for their answers. On top of that, physicians can simply tap a button on a mobile phone if they agree with an answer that another doctor gave. Doctors who earn a lot of “agree” buttons can grow their standing among peers.”
Gaming brings people together. It gives them a reason to come back. And it confers status for ‘playing our game’ — whatever that ‘game’ happens to be. If you think it’s not a powerful motivator, here’s a real world analog. Admittedly I am not a virtual farmer, neighbor or mayor. But I do enjoy a heated Euchre battle with my Midwest friends or better yet, the annual game of Michigan Rummy with my family at our lake house. Core to the Michigan Rummy tradition is our own gamification that goes back fifty years or more. On the inside of an old poker chip box is the famous Family Leaderboard. Young or old, every Michigan Rummy winner gets to write his or her name on the inside of that box. A few summers ago, it was a proud moment for my Uncle Kevin when he got to add his name to the long list for the first time after 27 years! He is now immortalized as Michigan Rummy elite. I understand how he feels. The allure of adding my own name to that list means the world to me as well, and draws me back to play year after year.