Reward programs can build customer loyalty, show appreciation, and promote motivation.
Most of us have heard that it’s easier to retain a current customer than recruit a new one. In fact, some research in online retail suggests that just 1% of a website’s users generate as much as 40% of its revenue. Old customers stick with what they know, and if their first purchase works out, they’re likely to buy more on their return.
Of course, selling online courses isn’t the same as other online retail. However, there are some obvious parallels and lessons to learn. We know that new learners who haven’t yet experienced an online course are more hesitant to invest their money in it. Conversely, learners who have already signed up for a course or seminar know what to expect, and have already committed some of their resources to the program.
Clearly, cultivating loyalty from your customer base is a wise investment if you want to sell more courses, but it can also help you recruit new learners more effectively. People trust recommendations from those they know, and while some of that will happen naturally through word of mouth, you can help the process along with a few, well-placed incentives.
So, if you want to learn how to gain the allegiance of your current learners and grow new business at the same time, here are five ways to reward customer loyalty for learners who share your course with their network.
1. Offer cash back or discounts.
How much are you willing to pay to recruit a new learner? As much as we’d like to believe that new learners will come to us on their own, the reality is that marketing and advertising costs money, and you’ll have to make some kind of investment in it in order to get the word out about your course.
Once you do the math to learn how much each new learner is worth, you may realize that referral programs are one of your most cost-effective means of bringing in new business. So, why not offer your current customers a referral code to share with their friends? If someone makes a purchase using their referral code, you can offer them cash back or a discount on their next purchase.
2. Create a learning buddy program.
You may be familiar with this strategy if you’ve ever considered a gym membership. Almost every gym will have a “workout buddy” program where you and a friend both get discounts off your membership, so long as you’re both members. It’s a popular system, both because of the discount (often in the neighborhood of 15%), and because having a workout partner keeps both parties committed to their fitness goals.
If accountability partners help with exercise, why not apply the same principle to education? After all, two of the biggest challenges facing most online courses are their course completion rates and the sense of isolation felt by their learners. Have them bring a friend along, and they can keep each other motivated while cutting down on their loneliness.
3. Offer a prize give-away for social media shares.
Many referral programs only offer rewards for closed sales. However, a consequence of this policy is that some learners never get rewarded, even when they share with their network. In effect, this turns the loyalty program into a commission-based system rather than one which is rewarding the loyalty for its own sake.
One way to avoid this is to change the reward system. If your goal is to raise brand awareness and get your program in front of more potential learners, you could set up a prize raffle for people who share to different social networks. I participated in one of these raffles one summer and one a half-dozen books over the course of a few weeks. The books probably cost less than $20 each, but I happily shared the program to win them.
4. Offer credit points or badges for social media shares or referrals.
Prizes come and go, but another way to reward social sharing is to tie it in with your program through gamification. Offer points to learners who like or share your posts, or to those who make updates about their course progress on their social media channels. You could even offer an “influencer” badge to learners who do the most sharing or bring in the most new learners.
It may sound like a stretch, but gamification can be a powerful motivator to learners. And something as simple as a social media share is easy for your learners to do while having a high value potential for you. To further encourage social sharing, think about how learners could use their points to unlock new user permissions or earn extra lessons in the course. Just make sure that whatever reward program you come up with doesn’t get in the way of learning.
Loyalty programs don’t just grow your customer base—they grow your community.
When you reward customer loyalty through a referral program, you don’t just grow sales. You also increase the overall number of learners in your community. And with strong incentives in place, those learners are likely to be more dedicated, active participants.
Most importantly, use your loyalty program in a way that is beneficial to your learners. If they begin to feel like part of a pyramid scheme, it may turn them away from your course altogether. And if it gets in the way of their learner experience, it can damage your program itself.
If you want to build true loyalty, your program must primarily be a reward for your learners—not a reward for yourself.