Loyalty Stories 04: Upskill Your Way to the Top – Rasmus Houlind

On the fourth episode of Antavo’s Loyalty Stories video podcast we’re joined by Rasmus Houlind who underlines the importance of learning.

Antavo’s cover for its Loyalty Stories video podcast with Rasmus Houlind


For the fourth episode of the Loyalty Stories podcast, the guest joining us will be Rasmus Houlind, Chief Experience Officer and Thought Leader at Agillic.

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 take a look at Rasmus’ favorite loyalty programs, how to do omnichannel right, and the apparent takeover of paid subscriptions. We underscore the importance of constant learning and adapting to the global economic prospects in order to succeed. We also explore future trends and why efficiency, functionality, and ease of configuration matter so much when choosing a loyalty program vendor. 

Highlights from our conversation with Rasmus:

  • Exploring loyalty programs as a consumer and as an expert at the same time
  • Why inspirations matter so much
  • How to properly navigate the economic downturn and retain your customers
  • Prioritizing operational efficiency

Learn more:

Podcast Transcription

Welcome to Loyalty Stories, Antavo’s podcast on customer loyalty and loyalty programs. I’m Charlie Hawker, Partner Manager for UKI, Benelux and Nordics. Antavo is a technology vendor that powers loyalty programs all over the world. We help various great businesses, such as KFC, Benefit Cosmetics, as well as global automotive, fashion companies and other amazing verticals. 

In this podcast, Loyalty Stories, we dive into the trends around customer loyalty and loyalty programs. We talk with industry experts around the world to pick their brain to learn what’s next for loyalty. Today’s guest is Rasmus from Agillic. Good morning, Rasmus, how are you doing?


Morning. I’m doing great. Thank you. It’s Friday. What’s not to love? I mean, and we’re going to have a very interesting conversation, I think.


Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it. So for the audience, would you mind introducing yourself, your role and Agillic?


Of course. Well, so my name is Rasmus Houlind. I’m Danish, hence the weird pronunciation. I’m the Chief Experience Officer at a marketing automation company called Agillic, which is a Danish public company. In fact, and we are serving a lot of retail businesses, but also a lot of subscription businesses, especially in the Nordics and in DACH, so on. 

We’re looking to expand our business also through partnerships with other tech vendors such as Antavo. So basically that’s what we do as a subscription software service company, only delivering the subscription part and having partners to do the implementations. My role is Chief Experience Officer. So that means that I’m into doing basically the search source of the company, you can say. So I’m doing events and talks, I’m writing books, I’m doing podcasts such as this.

I recently published this book about personalization called Hello $FirstName. So you might want to Google that, check that out. It’s about how you can profit from personalization. So really a practical guide to looking into how you can make more money through personalization, both for you and also to get more, more loyal customers in the end.


Fantastic. Right. I’m really looking forward to this one. Maybe we can weave some of the insights from your book through the podcast as well. I’m sure they’ll fit in there.


I think I can not, not do it. So.


Part of your fiber of your being now. Okay. So the first question, easy one to kick off and help the audience kind of get to know you a little bit better, but what’s your favorite loyalty program and why?


Yeah, so my favorite loyalty program would be that of Matas. It’s one of the, I think it’s the biggest health and beauty retailer in Denmark. And they recently acquired their competitor in Sweden, Kicks, which is almost double the size. Now they’re looking to deploy the success they’ve had with the loyalty program in Denmark into the full Scandinavian market. The reason for that being my favorite loyalty program is, I mean, I think there are many reasons actually.

First of all, I’m looking at this also not only as an individual, but also as a subject matter expert. And I really admire all the things that they’re doing great. So the way that they’re combined as an omnichannel retailer, so the way that they’ve been training their staff, the way that they’ve been able to get so many people on board into their loyalty program, the way that they are capturing, I think, more than 80% of their total revenue into their loyalty program.

The way that they’re having people redeem the points in multiple ways, getting your benefits and events and extra rewards and such is just amazing. And also the subscription sort of add-on that they’ve put onto the program. They call it a sister to the program. So it’s not an add-on, I shouldn’t say that.

But it’s a paid subscription that you can have on top, which gives you extra benefits, like free shipping and such, and really the way that they are sustainably and consciously and in just the nicest way possible inviting people to this extra paid service and actually canceling it on behalf of the customer in the case that it didn’t provide the value that they thought it would. I think that’s just so responsible and in so many ways, they’re just doing good.

Also not just not over-communicating offers to someone who just bought something, but really taking a genuine interest into how do people make the most of the purchase that they’ve made. So yeah, I’m totally a big fan of their loyalty program.


No, it’s great. Cause it’s your, the view of it that I’m hearing then the passion you’re speaking about it is, is genuine, right? And it’s like, you’re enjoying it on a personal level, but admiring it on a professional level, and I think that’s really, really quite, quite insightful. And just, it sounds like a great program, right? I think the bit around that they cancel the subscription if you’re not using it. And take that kind of power back and really get, if that is so genuinely useful for the end customer. I mean, it’s fantastic.


That’s a responsibility I’d like to see more retailers take actually.


Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Well, we’ll get you’re jumping ahead. So more of a question around yourself and kind of your professional work. So what is the work that you’ve done? Agillic or previously throughout your career that you’re most proud of? You can name the client if there is one or you can keep it nice and vague. It’s up to you.


Well, I think I’ve been proud of quite a few things. So not only within retail, but generally within customer loyalty. So I’ve been working with a lot of health clubs from within, I mean, that’s a subscription-based business model, obviously. The funny thing is that they’re actually combining the membership, the fitness membership, together with the retail purchase, where you can also get things from the vending machines. 

So I see this crossover between transactional-based, business models and subscription-based business models. It goes the other way as well. So then on the other hand, we have one of our clients such as Matas that actually doing the subscriptions both on a product level, but also on an extra loyalty point, our loyalty scheme that subscription that you can have on top. So I’m very proud of that. 

One-third one that I could perhaps mention is F.C. Copenhagen. So that would be the biggest football club, the most winning football club in Denmark. And they’re showing a bit of the same actually. So a huge complexity in terms of the data they have, they actually recently just launched this paid subscription on top of the ticket subscription that you can have on top of the season passes you can have, and obviously they’re also selling a lot of merchandise. So again, huge complexity and just being able to harness that and turn that into personalized and meaningful customer experiences and ultimately customer loyalty is just amazing.


Yeah, very interesting, very interesting. When you solve those kind of big problems, it does give you a sense of achievement, right? Especially when you kind of, like every project you start with a problem to fix and the problem just gets bigger the more you kind of evaluate it. And then when you fix it in the end, it is that huge sense of achievement. It sounds great.


Yeah, really, I’m not a consultant and we don’t do professional services. But what we do is that we do the initial inspiration and we do some of the business casing that will be needed for people to actually draw up the full project and get an idea. Okay, how do we get going with this? Matas, as I mentioned, have been doing this for many years, so we can’t take much credit for much other than do inspiring them once in a while, 

But really they also have great support from some of our implementing agencies and they have a, they’re so ambitious on the inside. Same goes for F.C. Copenhagen and for some of the fitness clubs that we are working with, whether it be here in Denmark or in Norway or in Spain or wherever.


What do they say it’s the quote, it’s 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. But without that 1% at the start, you’re not going anywhere. So I think you’re doing yourself a disservice there, that you’re initiating that kind of idea, but then you’re absolutely part of the work beyond that.


What I have been doing though, and I can take some credit for that, that goes for my authorship. So really interviewing clients and non-clients and competitors and partners, really trying to figure out what good looks like, because that’s what I feel as a software provider is our role in this and our responsibility. 

If we can’t show our clients the way at least, how are they going to get there? And we need to know what good looks like for the implementation of loyalty solutions and for marketing automation platforms and such. 

So really, I mean provide that lighthouse that they can sort of navigate against. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is like one perfect implementation out there. But it’s our job to sort of gather the implementations that have gone well and really trying to put that into a meaningful model that they can use also to communicate on internally, to really looking at this. Like I normally put a lot of models in my book because then people can look at those, they can relate to those and they become communicative objects in which they can mirror themselves and their ambitions and then they can see what they should and could strive for.


Yeah, that’s really, really good. So, third question. We’re going to go into some kind of looking back over the past maybe five year kind of span. There’s been some big changes, like macro events across the world, obviously. But if we narrow it down into the loyalty industry, what are kind of the big changes you’ve seen in recent years across the loyalty industry?


COVID was crazy, right? Almost feels as if like two years have been ripped out of my calendar. So that was a huge thing. And what we saw then, I think everybody would concur, there was a huge backwind to digitalization, especially with e-commerce. I mean, if you couldn’t sell online, you basically couldn’t sell. 

So there was a huge increase in the number of sign-ups for emails and for loyalty clubs and such. There was a huge increase in e-commerce businesses popping up and existing brick-and-mortar retailers enabling e-commerce to their existing operations. 

And that has led to what I would like to call like a second wave, because then after COVID, the first wave had settled, then suddenly these companies were left with a huge customer database and a lot of online sales and a lot of engagement and transactional data that they actually haven’t been used to having those amounts of. So that raises the question, how do we capitalize on this new data, on these huge customer databases and on this vast sea of transactions and whatever data that we’ve been able to gather and collect in the process? 

For me, that has only increased the hunger and the desire for implementing loyalty solutions, but also outbound solutions, marketing automation solutions that really use these data as communication points, as insights for when and what you should communicate and do reach out to customers in order to reactivate, in order to help them move to the next level of wherever it is that you see that they would like to go.


Have you seen a change in the skill set of people in those roles that weren’t used to data now they’ve got loads? Have you seen that change?


I think there is an increase, but I still think it’s one of the things that brands are struggling the most with, like to have enough skilled expertise on board, because this is a fairly new topic to many. And if you’ve been occupied with doing top funnel advertising and then suddenly you have to move into working with first-party data and loyalty and personalization and such, it’s quite a big shift. 

So I think in terms of putting one of the biggest sort of inhibitors for really capitalizing on this, and to be honest, a lot of tech vendors play a part in sort of down-talking the amount of work that’s needed to put into it. I mean, it’s just very underestimated. 

I think some say that it’s like one to five in terms of software cost versus man-hour cost and the skills that you need to put into this. So really getting the help from people who’ve done it before, the agencies, where the really experienced and skilled people within this often sit. And I think that’s under people not looking enough in that direction. And I think they should, in order to front load and sit together with, sit beside someone who’s done it before and build stuff together, learning as you go, and then gradually taking it over from there. So skills have increased, but still in shortage.


Yeah. And I guess this, yeah, and that’s only to be expected, as you said, like those two years where there was this huge uptick in amount of data and technology providers, everyone building stuff, quite an exciting time. But then there’s, oh, actually we need to learn this stuff. We need to kind of immerse ourselves in this world and really kind of become experts. And that only happens with time. So I think that’s a really, yeah, really, really good point that that, that’s something that we’ll potentially see. So with that kind of in mind of what we’re going to see in the next maybe 12, 24 months, one to two years. 

What are the kind of the two fresh trends you think you’re going to see within Loyalty Program Strategy? It’ll be interesting to hear your thoughts on this.


So first of all, I think it’s extremely hard to tell what the future holds for us. With the interest rates seeming to have no end and just going up and up and up, but everybody believing that this is going to fall down soon. Unemployment rates on the rise, but still not out of control yet. So I think that I’m afraid we haven’t seen the worst of the economical downturn and the crisis yet.

But taking that into account, I think that will only make the desire and the need for investing more in your existing customer relationships even higher. And really making sure that in this time of crisis, you don’t lose any customers that you don’t have to. And that you take care to make your customers feel heard, feel seen, feel taken care of. And the way that you are taking care of them it’s not just another run-of-the-mill, earn-and-burn loyalty point or whatever newsletter blasting out offers that everybody is getting. 

So I think personalization is here to stay. I think it’s only going to become more important. So everybody should and would and will, I think, be upskilling the way that they’re dealing with customer loyalty, the way that they’re dealing with personalization, the way that they’re dealing with marketing automation. In order to really make sure that they capitalize on all this data and that they capitalize on all these digital customer relationships that they have collected over the years in a way that is truly differentiating towards their customers. 

So not just taking the average run-of-the-mill super boxed loyalty program, loyalty solution and doing stupid newsletters, but just really taking care to have that differentiating loyalty offering and communicating on behalf of that to deliver a truly meaningful and memorable customer experience. 

Because that’s where you’ll get the long-term loyalty on, the emotional loyalty.


So within this, it’s an opportunity to deepen that emotional connection with the brand as well.


Yeah, we can talk about sorf of economic loyalty or monetary loyalty, or we can talk about emotional loyalty. And if you’re only going for an earn and burn kind of loyalty where it’s money and it’s incentives and it’s discount and such, it’s so easy to copy.

But if you’re able to take those data that you’re getting from those interactions and turning into meaningful and fun and engaging experiences and interactions, that’s where you have people starting to change their emotional attitude towards your brand and where they maybe actually have fun engaging with you and not only feel that this is where I get the best price, but they actually get this emotional connection with your brand. 

Really looking into, okay, I’m not considering any other alternative because this is where I have the most fun. And I actually maybe even don’t mind that it’s equally priced or maybe a slightly more pricey or they I’m just choosing their private label product with higher margin or whatever because this is this is I’ve made my decision once and for all this is where my money goes.


Very interesting, very interesting. Yeah. And it comes back to that investing in yourself as a brand first, and then that kind of transferring into investing into, into your customer base and really understanding it, I think you’ve kind of hit on quite a few different, different areas there when it comes to the trends that we’re likely to see. I think that’s really, yeah, really great. Uh, and very well explained. Thank you very much. And then when it comes to sure.


Another trend maybe worth considering, I think on a short-term basis, if the crisis hits really big, I think there will be a decrease in the investment into performance marketing. So as in paid marketing, bottom-funnel, Google and Facebook, Meta Advertising. I think that could be a trend as well. There’s a trend towards insourcing the jobs that you are maybe depending on agencies to solve for you at the moment. 

And there will be a huge interest in operational efficiency. Because one thing is really looking into how we can do the personalized experiences for millions of customers at the same time. And indeed, you can do that. Say that you’ve invested in the big suites, Adobe or Salesforce or whatever. They make everything, anything possible.

But on the other hand, it comes with a cost and at a price and that can be extremely cumbersome. And it can put at least mid-sized companies into positions where they are overspending in man hours. And they are using too complex and overly complicated systems where you need to be programming and such. 

So I think really looking into the systems where it’s no code, where it’s a configuration only, where you can do the functionality, you can do the things that you want to do, you can solve the use cases that that are above the glass ceiling without having to suffer in terms of operational efficiencies. 

Really, that sweet spot of getting the advanced use cases, the truly differentiating use cases implemented without having to suffer from operational inefficiency. I think that’s a trend we’re seeing a lot. Okay, we can do this. How do we do it? Super efficient.


Yeah, I think to kind of build on that, I guess it’s around tech vendors and companies really proving value for every hour that they’re and every dollar that’s on there, that’s being shelled out on their technology systems. And I think that kind of customizable no code thing is drive does drive massive efficiency. Yeah, very interesting. Yeah. Interesting on the kind of the pullback on the paid marketing bottom of funnel tactics as well. 

I mean, as an aside, the CPMs on Meta have increased dramatically over the last 18 months or so. So yeah, that would be interesting to see where that money gets reinvested in technology, in efficiencies, in housing staff, those sorts of things. It’s going to be an interesting couple of years, I think.


Okay. We can appreciate that it’s not boring.


Yeah, exactly. It almost as if the last two years have been really boring, but no, we’ve had a few things in the way as well. Cool. Okay. So we’ve kind of touched on it a little bit there around kind of what you’d be looking for from a tech vendor to support these trends and changes. What are kind of the main things you’d be looking for?


Full feature set, no code interface, place where you can easily put your dreams into real implemented use cases that are truly differentiating and where you’d be able to do so with great operational efficiency. I think that’s what everybody should look for in a tech in these days.


Okay, perfect. Yeah, and I think it’s about, as and when you go through those RFPs, demonstrating each of those levers, right? And especially kind of the operational efficiency, like how simple it is to use. I think that’s, yeah, interesting.


I think I would look also for a vendor that offers not only the project, but a vendor that cares, that isn’t arrogant in terms of, we’ve already made it and we’re so big, so we can afford not treating our clients well. So looking at what are the services that this particular tech vendor offers on top of just delivering the product, obviously the product has to be good, but still, how is the customer support? Which kind of questions can we get there? Can we get answered there? Can we get that in writing? Can we get it on the phone? What is the average satisfaction rating with that? 

How are we being managed in terms of custom success management? Do we feel that we are a very small fish in a very big pond here? Or do we feel that there’s a problem edge and really the vendor cannot afford us not succeeding with this? So so really trying to find a vendor that matches that as well.

And a vendor that you believe is on a trajectory towards really also going ahead with thought leadership, for instance, and really telling the client what good looks like. Because if they don’t know, what are the chances that they’ll be developing their product in the right direction and that you’ll have to either switch or stick to the product that you’re having in a few years from now.


Precisely, yeah it’s about kind of, it’s not just, you don’t just want to be a sales pitch. You want to be something that is invested in over and over again. You don’t just want to be something that’s, you know, Oh, we’ve won it. Right. Put it into another team. 


So how is the handover, will it really take interest into what is the process going to look like once we’ve signed the deal? Everybody just runs away or how is that going to look?


Yeah, yeah, no, it’s really interesting. And I think, as you said, those things are gonna be more important moving forward because people don’t have the bandwidth or the stretch in the budgets that maybe that went unseen 5,10 years ago, those sorts of things. Fantastic. Okay, that’s the final question. That’s a wrap.

Thank you very much, Rasmus, for being here. I really enjoyed that chat. I think we’ve touched on so many great points. I think it was just, the whole of it was very, very interesting from especially kind of your favorite loyalty program, kind of that aspect of a brand taking the control back to say, oh, these users aren’t using our subscription. We’re just going to cancel that for you. I think that’s just, I’ve not heard of that before.


I think Netflix is doing the same actually. So if you’re not using the subscription, but everybody is, then I think they can’t find your Netflix subscription, in fact. At least they used to. I’m not sure about that anymore. Seems like all the payment services have gone from monthly payment to yearly payments. So I mean, what’s the point in at least to try and reactivate you before these subscriptions run out.


You do see that kind of, there’s sometimes a drift from the brand to the consumer and the level of trust there and I think that really reinitiates that kind of trust level between a brand and a consumer. So I think that was really, really great and thanks for bringing that to the audience’s attention. So wherever you’re listening to us be it a podcast, platform, YouTube, LinkedIn, please like and subscribe so that you don’t miss out on any of the future episodes. 

Visit Antavo to discover more about your next loyalty software. Antavo is a next-gen loyalty program technology vendor used by global companies around the world. Also, please visit Agillic and have a chat with Rasmus about any way that they can help you. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll catch you next time.

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