Loyalty Stories 18: The Value of Honesty and Simplicity – Amanda Cromhout

Tune in to the latest episode of Antavo’s Loyalty Stories video podcast to find out why Amanda Cromhout says simplicity should always be a priority

avo’s cover for its Loyalty Stories video podcast with Amanda Cromhout

On the fifteenth episode of the Loyalty Stories podcast, we are joined by Amanda Cromhout, Founder and CEO of Truth, Author of Blind Loyalty.

The interview for this podcast has been a valuable source for Antavo’s Global Customer Loyalty Report 2024. Make sure to download it for over 30 statistics on loyalty program trends. 

In this episode, we explore the loyalty programs that made a lasting impression on Amanda in the best possible way. Hint: this includes companies like British Airways and Vodacom. We also look at some of the projects she is the most proud of, and why IBL Together’s “wiiv Rewards” coalition program and FNB South Africa’s eBucks Rewards truly stand out from the crowd.

Highlights from our conversation with Amanda:

  • Why simplicity is a must for companies
  • The top priority expectations brands should have in the “vendor shopping” phase
  • Regional differences between the US/UK and South Africa when it comes to loyalty programs
  • The advice she would give to junior loyalty professionals

Learn more:

Podcast Transcription

Hi and welcome to Antavo Loyalty Stories. This is our video podcast on customer loyalty and loyalty programs. I’m Michelle Ellicott-Taylor, Head of Global Partnerships at Antavo. And we’re really excited to work with some really amazing brands powering their loyalty programs around the world. These brands include KFC, Benefit Cosmetics and many more.

In this podcast, Loyalty Stories, we dive into trends around customer loyalty and the loyalty programs, and we get to talk with some industry experts around the world to pick their brains and to learn what’s next for loyalty programs. 

So today, I am really excited to have Amanda on board. Hi, Amanda, how are you?


Hi Michelle, yeah wonderful to be with you, thanks for the invite.


Not at all. We’re really excited to have you here. So, I just wondered if you’d like to tell a little bit about yourself and about Truth, and also about Blind Loyalty. That would be great if you can share something on that.


Oh, thank you. Yeah, thanks Michelle. So Truth is a very niche loyalty specialized consultancy. We don’t do anything else other than loyalty consultancy. And I say nothing else, but we also run a global academy for training, which is helping a lot of loyalty professionals around the world. So we have the training angle and the consultancy. 

And then separately from that, I’ve just released a book, the Blind Loyalty Book, 101 Loyalty Concepts Radically Simplified. And I’m sure our interview will talk about the simplification process. And then thank you for indulging me to just introduce Blind Loyalty. 

So the Blind Loyalty Trust was established last year after quite a terrifying medical ordeal I went through. And as many people who may have heard me speak before, I’m calling upon the global loyalty industry to support the Blind Loyalty Trust. So I’m wearing my Blind Loyalty bracelet and I think you’ve got yours on as well. You’re in, so.

Yeah, so I’m the Founder and a Trustee of the Blind Loyalty Trust where we’re making a difference to individuals who can’t afford the care to have decent eyesight.


Oh, that’s great. That’s really such a worthwhile cause. So yeah, thanks for sharing that Amanda. And I’m just very excited to have you here today and to talk more about loyalty and I guess learn a lot from your expertise in this space. So I was just thinking like a nice place to start and it’s a great way to get to know someone is your thoughts around loyalty programs. 

So what is your favourite loyalty program and why?


So I’m not going to limit it to one because there’s little elements of a couple of different ones that really highlight what I love about certain programs. So I am a bit of a lifer with British Airways. I used to work for them. And I just find that if you do pull your efforts into one airline, you can actually get the benefits. So the Avios benefits within British Airways works for me. So, you know, I live in South Africa, but my home country is England. 

So I need to be flying for work or pleasure. So that’s, if you make it work for you, you can really make it work. And obviously with the added benefit of using a co-branded card like Amex with AVIOS, it really makes it worthwhile. So that’s a bit of a like mainstream response, but it just is solid and works for me. 

Another one I want to highlight is Vodabucks, which is South Africans loyalty program for the Vodacom brand, which is obviously, people might recognize Vodafone globally. And a very biased view why I love it, but they’ve actually, they have an incredible redeem into charity option. 

They allow you to earn non-transactional rewards. So the non-transactional rewards allow you to build up your points more quickly than just the transactional spend. So it’s engaging you, but also giving you decent rewards. And then personally, they’ve nominated Blind Loyalty as a beneficiary. And we’re seeing that as an enormous contributor to the Blind Loyalty Trust. So it’s very biased, but unashamedly so.


Well, that’s nice. That’s showing some personalisation that they’re caring about the end customer there. So that’s great that you’ve shared that. And actually with some of these, I guess, the podcasts that we’ve been working on already, travel has come up a lot actually with the airlines. So that is an interesting one with people feeling how well those campaigns are working. So that’s great, great to hear. 

And then I guess with all the experience you’ve got with actual brands, have you got an example of one that you’ve personally worked on as truth that you’re very proud of?


Definitely, there’s two again. One is South Africa based and one is international. So the international program is wiiv, w-i-i-v wiiv Rewards from Mauritius. And we help the company who own that IBL to create a coalition program across all of their consumer facing brands who becomes effectively a coalition program that went on within its second year to win international loyalty awards, best program Middle East Africa. And it’s a phenomenal program. It pulls together all of the key things a great program needs to do. I’m really proud of the team there who now run it. 

And then from a South African point of view, without question, one of the brands we’ve done a lot of work with is the eBucks program from First National Bank. And anyone who was at the International Loyalty Awards this year, in 2023 this year, they saw it was the most awarded corporate brand with three awards from the International Loyalty Awards. 

And then locally it picked up seven out of 19 trophies on the South African Loyalty Awards and we’ve done some really interesting work for them so proud of their accomplishments globally and in South Africa.


That’s amazing, that’s a huge amount of awards. So what great recognition for you as the agent working with them and the brand.


They actually had so many trophies they dropped them and they broke. So yeah, they didn’t have enough hands to carry the trophies. Yeah. No, they were just replaced.


Oh no, really? Oh no, hopefully they’ve got them replaced otherwise I’ll have to bring in some more. Oh, that’s a great story. And then I wanted to ask you as well about changes that you’ve seen. Obviously working on programmes like the ones you’ve just mentioned, but over the last couple of years, what have you seen as maybe two significant changes in the Lortie industry?


Well, I’m absolutely delighted to see the industry has taken simplification seriously. So I think a player like eBucks or globally the Vitality Program is very well known. They are both phenomenal programs, but I would say five years ago, you needed to have a degree in nuclear science to be able to work out how to navigate your way through them. So the simplification element, which is something at Truth we really pride ourselves on in helping clients simplify programs.

Because at the end of the day, consumers don’t have time to worry about the complexity of it. So simplification, I know it’s not sexy or exciting, but actually I think it’s mission critical for a successful program. And we’ve started to see some of the most complex programs really take that seriously. And even if the program requires some complexity, particularly around tiering and so on.

Then and commercially I understand why there needs to be some complexity in terms of how the program economically can progress. But in terms of the customer experience, it’s a fine balance of customer experience, but commercial viability. So none of us are naive enough to think you don’t need some of that complexity, but how some of the best brands are able to simplify it in their communication style, in their ability to offer, guide your way through getting to the next tier, type communications and so on. That’s what I’ve really seen and makes a big difference. 

And then my absolute favorite over and above simplification is just the engagement piece. So I find that spending time talking about actual program rewards is a bit of a given. Like, you know, a loyalty program has, you do this as a consumer, we give you that, whether it’s transactional or behavioral, non-transactional.

But where most programs fall down is, I believe, in the engagement piece. So we always talk to our clients saying, launching a program is the easy bit. Keeping a program live and interesting and engaging is the bit that requires work and the bit that actually most companies don’t even think about. They just launch the program and then can’t understand why it’s not successful. Not most companies. That’s not fair. That’s not correct, but a lot of companies do. 

And that’s the big change I’ve seen is that isn’t necessarily what’s happening now. Organizations are understanding actually the real customer experience post launch is what really matters. How do we talk to them? How do we surprise them? How do we engage with them? So yeah, simplification and engagement.


Yeah, that’s really nice giving that overview on those, because I think on the simplification side, there’s so many brands that want to achieve everything in loyalty, but you’ve got to start somewhere and make that work before you have your 12 month, your 24 month plan and so on, because it’s a long-term investment now, loyalty, isn’t it? It’s not just a quick fix, it’s a bigger picture than that. So great. 

Okay, and then what about some new trends then? What do you see maybe two trends that are going to be coming up? in the next, I don’t know, 12 to 18 months. Are they linked to what you’ve just said or do you see other things coming?


That’s the thing, right, I think with loyalty is it doesn’t necessarily change every couple of years. I really don’t think that these quick changes, because of the reason you’ve just said, as in it’s a long term investment, it’s not a quick campaign. So definitely linked to engagement. I think the way brands are engaging through gamification type technologies, not for quirkiness sake, not for gaming sake, but for consumer interest sake.

And so I don’t really, a lot of our clients hate the word gamification. As soon as we say that, you can see the, the board members kind of squirming in the corner. And you kind of just say, okay, forget the word gamification. It’s just great engagement through levels that make it more interesting. 

And I’m seeing some really interesting examples of that, whether it’s on a daily basis, a weekly basis, or a more long-term basis of how to explain the program rules, help the customer get more benefits, help the customer, enjoy the, just simply enjoy the program rather than it be a do this, you will get that. 

It’s bringing in some fun and you know, just there are so many great examples, whether it’s in grocery retailing, whether it’s in sports environments or fashion where companies are doing it well without it being quirky and just one of those buzzwords. 

And then the, the second idea and I wondered whether I wanted to talk about this, but, it’s not something I’m a particular expert in, far from it, but like how brands like Starbucks or Lacoste, and I particularly love the Lacoste brand, how they’re engaging with NFTs is bringing, obviously it’s such a minimal quantum of customers. You’re not appealing necessarily to the entire base, but I think there are some examples, like I researched it for the Blind Loyalty book that we’ve published, where Lacoste really co-creates their future brand, their future proposition, their future product set through NFTs. 

So using NFTs, getting the customers who are willing to participate through Underwater is the name of it, with the crocodile Lacoste. Particularly I enjoyed because I can see so many applications of that with many of our clients, particularly in fashion, around co-creation of a future brand persona, so to speak.


Yeah, and on the NFT side then, are you seeing a lot more brands starting to talk about that? Because it was almost like there was a bit of noise about that, then it simmered down again because people weren’t sure, and then people started to talk more about it again. But what are you seeing?


So Michelle, we’re definitely seeing more talk, but not a lot of action yet. So, you know, as you know, whether you’re sitting at a conference, talking to other lots of professionals, there’s a lot of talk about it. Couple of brands like, as I said, Lacoste or Adidas and so forth, who are managing to apply this, but not a great deal of action. 

So in terms of it potentially being a future trend, I think it’s one to keep an eye on. But as I say, it’s going to appeal to a small number of your customers, but actually maybe the brand’s perception is going to be higher than the actual activity around it.


Yeah, interesting, interesting. Okay, that’s great. Thanks for sharing that. And then I wanted to ask you a bit more about actually when you’re getting involved with, obviously building out the strategy and concept and things with clients, obviously thinking about the platform itself and its capabilities. 

So I guess from your perspective, but also what are the brands telling you that they’re looking for? Is it the certainty around these views, the implementation, integration? Is it about it being omnichannel? What are the kind of key things you’re seeing as regards to platform choice and considerations.


So yeah, we run a lot of RFPs for our clients. A lot of yourselves as well have been part of some of those RFPs. Honestly, in my opinion, and in the, I think the feedback from senior executives who work on projects such as this, one of the most strategically important parts of a choice of tech partner is actually the culture and ability to work together. 

I know that sounds ridiculous, high level, just high level kind of, this is obvious, but it’s where it falls down. So it’s where it falls down if it’s not correct. So one of the things that I really appreciate through an RFP process is complete and utter honesty and not an oversell at the RFP stage. 

The worst experience we’ve seen and we see it often is over promising and then during the actual execution or setting out the BID or the SSD is just, well, we can’t do that, but you said you could. Well, this is different. You know, so it’s, if, if a company comes across with real honesty and real integrity, and then you check that with existing clients and it follows through. Then that to me is worth gold dust. Cause I think it’s a given now that at this level of capability to deliver for great brands against the great strategy. 

It’s a given to me that you have the tech capability that, that a tech platform can do the loyalty rules engine, the engagement, the data management, the compliance, the security. To me, that’s a given. If it doesn’t do that, it shouldn’t really be at the table unless the strategic brief is dramatically different than a broader loyalty program. 

So I’ll always check those basic set of functionalities and say to the client, okay, the three companies sitting in front of you or sitting in front of you throughout the day today can do everything we want. Yes, I know money is going to be an issue and that’s a big issue in some markets versus others. Exchange rate plays a huge role. 

But to me, it’s around kind of actually work, kind of go to war with the people on the other side of this RFP screen, because I want to. And it’s going to get tough when in the building phase, but actually in the launch phase. So that’s to me what really matters.


That’s a really interesting answer because I think you’re so right with that. It’s the people around it too. The platform obviously is very important, to deliver on the capabilities, but you need to make sure you’re clear on those deliverables and that it isn’t going to change once someone’s in an onboarding phase. But also having that right team around you. And that’s one of the things with partnerships as well, isn’t it? That people are really connected with the right people to support those end brands. Great. Okay. 

And then I wanted to ask as well, you’ve already mentioned with some of the examples you’ve used with the brands that you’ve seen as ones that you admire with what they’re doing with loyalty, like in different regions.

I wanted to see, have you got experience of seeing that different types of loyalty strategy, concepts, et cetera, work differently in different regions? Or do you see commonalities between say the US versus UK? Yeah, have you got anything to share that?


I think, Michelle, what I’m seeing is, particularly from the US and the UK, better examples of really combining transactional and non-transactional activities, so allowing the customer to engage across multi-levels, not just on spend or swipe or transact, which we’ve been pushing for a long time, and I don’t find I get that much traction with that concept of non-transactional activities in, say, in the South African market.

The South African markets, on another hand, however, if you take the banking environment, I feel is dramatically advanced versus some other markets. So most of the South African banking loyalty programs, and there’s lots of them, are bank-wide programs, which I know is something that most banks in the US aspire to achieve. 

So you don’t get rewarded for your credit card swipe alone, you get rewarded for your lending behavior, your assets creation, behaviour, your insurance, your transactional check accounts as well as credits. 

So, and that is where we saw some excellence through say the eBucks environment, but there’s other programmes in South Africa banks that are doing that successfully and I think that’s something for the world to watch and look at and respond to. But outside of banking, I do feel that a lot of the other markets, Europe and the US are much better at proper true engagement across transactional and non-transactional, which I feel is super important.


Yeah, it is. I mean, like you said earlier on with the engagement part, but I really like what you were just saying there with the banks and all the different touch points because it isn’t just one, it shouldn’t all be about the purchase. It’s all those other behaviours, isn’t it? And bringing them together.


Yeah, and also, actually, I’m not being fair to a great South African brand, and I mentioned them in the Blind Loyalty book. There’s a company here called Old Mutual Rewards, and I praise them in the chapter about non-transactional rewards, because they are primarily an insurance organization, not just insurance, so I’m probably not doing them justice, but they have actually engaged greatly in non-transactional behaviors too.

To encourage customers to understand their financial situation, understand their credit score, speak to a financial advisor, take a course called Moneyversity. They’ve got lots of great activities that you can do to build up your own financial confidence, even without taking out a product with Mutual. But just interestingly think about it, they simultaneously are creating a great database of in-depth understanding about that customer.

Before they try and cross sell any products. So it’s a win-win, because customers are getting value back, they’re getting financial knowledge back, rewards, but simultaneously Old Mutual’s creating a phenomenal database of information around how these customers are in a financial stability, from a point of view of stability.


Oh, that sounds really interesting. I think it would be great for anyone that’s looking at the book as well to go and read more about that. So great. Okay. And then I wanted to find out as well with all the projects that you’re working on, like there’s obviously many different, I guess, teams involved on the brand side, but who’s the real driver? 

Like who’s giving you the assignment? Is it still coming from the CMO? Are there more people involved? Yeah, what’s your experience there in, I guess, the last 12 months?


Michelle, it varies, you know, so some organizations, I always hate the phone call. That’s quite a, if it’s a junior marketing person saying, Hey, I want to do a loyalty program, because you kind of know it’s going to be a lot of work and probably no success. 

You know, the perfect phone call is I’m the CEO of this business. I believe in this. I’m going to make it happen. Can you join the team to do it? Or can you drive and the strategy for us? Because you know, it’s going to happen. So it’s that old cliche. If it’s got buying at the top, it’s going to probably happen. If it doesn’t, it’s like pushing water uphill.

So I haven’t necessarily seen a massive shift in that. However, there are still a lot of brands that really try and push this from a junior marketing point of view. And hey, I’ve been a junior marketing person. I know exactly what that feels like. And it’s super difficult if you don’t have the buy-in of senior executives. 

What I do like, however, is some of the most successful programs we’ve worked on, you do see it’s much broader than just marketing because loyalty isn’t about marketing. It’s about the whole organization and we can tell immediately how seriously the organization takes it then when the initial strategy session is a broad selection of executives rather than just marketing driving it. 

So I’m not anti-marketing, I’m a marketer, I’ve been a marketer my whole career. I’m very aware that loyalty is a strategic decision that affects the entire organization. So if that first session has a cross function of everybody in there, it’s more likely to be a success.


I think we’re seeing this as a common trend actually, that the board are looking at loyalty now. It’s not that there’s just one small department or one person trying to champion loyalty. There’s a much more significant buy-in, budget availability, all of that, but the board, the more senior, I guess the executives are looking at this as well. And like you say, it isn’t just defined to the marketing, but the wider organization.

But that ties in really nicely with my next question for you, because you were mentioning there about the junior marketing. So I wanted to see if you could actually give some advice to someone in that role, because there’s lots of people coming in, you know, as grads, getting excited about loyalty. 

They might be a junior loyalty manager, but they’re aspiring to be like yourself or, yeah, head of loyalty in their department. So what kind of things would you give as advice for them starting out in loyalty and wanting to progress?


And that’s exactly how I started at British Airways. So I understand this. My advice will be do your absolute utmost to understand the entire organization. So playing back to what I’ve just said. So go out of your way to understand the impact of everything you’re doing on operations, on compliance, on finance. So one of my experiences, I worked for Woolworth South Africa which is a premium retailer.

And the first week I had to spend in the store at 3 a.m. unpacking crates of fresh produce and or going to the farm where they produce free range chicken farm or, and A, it builds relationships because you’re going to need that loyalty can’t be pushed just from one department. You need the categories behind you in retailing particularly. So get down and get dirty, roll your sleeves up, understand the entire organization. 

And then secondly, I would say, you may be confident in data, you may not be, a lot of marketers are not, unfortunately, to get yourself confident with data because you need to understand the science, not just the soul of this program. So by understanding the data, we’ve actually created a course, a loyalty customer data course three weeks online, marketeers who are just struggling to get be confident to have a communicate have a conversation about the strategic positioning of their customers from a data point of view within the organization.

So just get confident with data because at the end of the day that’s going to help you sell your story to the board or to your line manager or to or to the category manager who’s trying to or who isn’t maybe grasping what you’re trying to achieve through loyalty but you need their support.


Yeah, I mean, so many things now are starting with data, aren’t they? So if you’ve got that, like you’re saying, that actually champions your cause when you’re proving why you should be making decisions based on the data. So, yeah, so that’s some really good advice. And nice to know that you’ve got that first hand experience as well. So, so great. Well, thank you so much. 

I’ve got another question for you before we wrap up. I know you told me kindly about the programmes that you’re really interested in. Yeah, that left an impression on you, but has there been something in loyalty recently maybe that has surprised you? 

I was going to say surprise and delight, but it doesn’t have to be delight. It could be surprise to you and actually, oh, why have they done that? But has there been anything there?


I mean, my own personal experience is so simple that during the month of my birthday, like you get 101 crappy messages off brands, happy birthday Amanda. And I always joke when we work with clients to say, please never do that unless you’re gonna say something significant or offer something significant. 

Because I always joke saying, hopefully my friends and family will remember to message me and wish me happy birthday. I don’t need brands to, but if you’re gonna offer me something, like making meaningful, like offer me something, give me a free gift. 

So, you know, just little things like there’s a couple of companies in South Africa who are my local companies that I use. They don’t particularly, they do have a loyalty program, but it’s not overly impressive. But the month of your birthday, they leave you without doubt that they love you, so to speak, and they just make it irresistible to use them because they make that birthday month sort of, you can’t not use them. And I just think that’s so simple, and so basic, but it’s just t’s surprisingly wonderful because it’s so simple. So, yeah.


Yeah, yeah, and getting that message right, like you say, because you can get lost in the noise with the birthday messages, but 90% are generic, but then you get the ones that stand out in that.


My absolute worst is a car dealership. So you, let’s say for example, I’m gonna use BMW as an example, I buy a car from BMW from a dealership, I service it at a different dealership and I’ve registered the warranty with head office. You can get three different messages on your birthday, all of them just saying happy birthday. 

And I’m like, surely you can coordinate this, surely. And surely you can maybe offer me something instead of just a random SMS or email. So it’s, I think so many companies chuck money behind birthday messaging and I would say, don’t bother unless you’re actually offering something meaningful.


Yeah, and the point you’ve just made there shows about the data silos and to your other point about data, it’s understanding that data, but you need to have that true omnichannel view of all those different touch points of your customer so that you are giving that one message as a brand, not confusing messages. 

So great. Okay. Well, thank you. Thank you so much. It’s been really lovely to catch up with you again. And yeah, thank you so much for sharing all that insight. And I know all of the viewers and listeners are going to get a lot out of this session today. So it’s been really great having you. Thank you.


Pleasure Michelle, absolute pleasure, thank you.


Excellent. Okay. And thank you very much for coming to Antavo Loyalty Stories and hearing Amanda today. If you’d like any more support from Amanda, please reach out to Truth or go and check out her Blind Loyalty and get one of the bracelets. And yeah, it’s been lovely having you. 

And also, please come and visit us at antavo.com to find out more about our enterprise loyalty platform and how we can help you. 

Thanks for joining. Bye.