It was clear to us, from data analysis of NUS extra card holders and by cross-referencing with our other databases, that the majority of extra cards were not being purchased by ‘typical’ members (defined by us as members who are registered for more than one service) at Coventry.
This was good in as much as we were meeting a basic need for a large number of members, but bad as we weren’t making the most of the opportunity. It was clear that thousands of cards were being purchased by members who, after collection, would never enter our building again. This obviously had to change.
The first question we asked ourselves was where to start, and the bar seemed as good as place as any! We already knew that our Square One venue was the only union service where we couldn’t truly measure unique participation.
We had no idea if the 1,500 students visiting on a Wednesday were the same 1,500 who would buy a summer ball ticket, and we had no idea whether these 1,500 were the same 1,500 who were also active volunteers or student reps. The extra card offered an opportunity to find out.
We launched the NUS extra card as a loyalty card in the third term of 2012, but getting to this point was not plain sailing!
Firstly, we had to determine how the scheme could be developed from an idea into a working and faultless solution, used by student staff on a day-to-day basis. We got in touch with Fidelity Systems and put together a simple brief which we both felt was achievable.
We then had to decide how ambitious we were going to be. We opted for caution, and set up the system to look at name, email address and card number. We took the view that the smaller the amount of data being communicated across the network, the better chance we would have of avoiding system failure.
Why would anyone use the card in this way?
We also reasoned that, providing we had the card number, we could always link back to other data held in the background. The next hurdle was how to make the system user-proof at the terminal end. It was clear that the card needed to be as easy to use as a Tesco Clubcard.
Working with bar staff was crucial at this stage, as success or failure would rest on their ability and willingness to implement the system. We arranged development sessions with them and Fidelity so the programmers could get a better understanding of the pressures of their roles.
Next we had to think about the incentives. Why was anyone going to use the card in this way, and how could we make sure that our ideas were affordable? The first decision was that, from a user perspective, our members must not see a cash value.
In focus groups this was shown to be potentially very detrimental. As the cash value of bonus points in most schemes rarely exceeds one penny for every pound, publicising the value has the effect of making the scheme appear pointless to many people. We therefore decided that members would only see their points, but for internal calculations, we would allocate 1 per cent of all sales to the loyalty pot.
Members can then choose whether they want to be part of one of three schemes: the personal scheme, the charitable scheme, or the sports and societies scheme. If a member chooses to be part of the personal scheme they will accrue all of their points into a personal account.
Six months hassle-free operation
At the end of each trading period we allocate members to a group based on spending thresholds, and they receive one targeted email. This gives them spending vouchers based on their loyalty. Further to this, they receive vouchers which are tailored to their individual purchasing habits using an algorithm. They also receive vouchers used to market new products and events.
If a member chooses to be part of the charitable scheme, their points are turned into a cash value and allocated to RAG, who then determine how they are used. RAG will only see the total cash value contributed by the scheme as a whole. The member then receives a newsletter each year showing how their contribution has made a difference.
If a member chooses to be part of the sports and societies scheme they must first nominate a club to be their beneficiary. Their record is then tied to the club. Individual members’ points are combined at the end of each trading period and deposited in the club’s account.
The club committee then picks items from a list of approved activities or items. For example, they may choose to use the points to offset costs of venue hire, or to put a bottle of wine on each table at the end-of-term dinner. They may also choose to use their points towards kit which carries the venue’s name.
Following six months’ hassle-free operation of the scheme, it is our intention to roll it out to other union services using wireless card readers. But for now, we are awaiting the new term as our biggest test so far.