​Tech Talks: Best Practices in Loyalty UI and UX

User experience (UX) and user interface (UI) are two terms often grouped together, and considering the digital-first nature of most travel loyalty program interactions, this close association makes perfect sense. They are also essential aspects of loyalty program platform development and should never be overlooked in favor of expediency or adding the latest technological bells and whistles for their own sake.   

Every single touchpoint in the loyalty booking journey builds on consumers’ perception of their experience (whether good or not-so-good) with a brand. However, just as neglecting UX/UI can risk a brand’s reputation, prioritizing these aspects can pay significant dividends. 

So, what features should brands look for in a loyalty technology platform to offer the best user experience? What are the best practices for loyalty UX/UI? How can brands overcome the challenges of implementing those practices? 

Answering those questions – and a few others – in this latest Tech Talks post is Danielle Matherne, iSeatz’s Director of Product Design.  

Danielle is an expert in UX/UI as well as graphic and digital design, with nearly 20 years of experience in those fields, five of them with iSeatz. Before assuming her current role, Danielle was Manager of UIX & Optimization and UI/UX Team Lead, and before joining iSeatz, she held several design/development hybrid positions at design and advertising firms. Below, Danielle shares her insights across her area of expertise, starting with her definition of UX and UI: 

How do you define user experience (UX) and user interface (UI)? What is unique about loyalty UX/UI?    

Thousands of articles debate UX and UI, usually employing the form versus function dichotomy. But I tend to think of the relationship in more straightforward terms. User experience is the holistic interaction with an experience with a product, whereas user interface tends to focus more on the product's visual design. In other words, UX is the umbrella under which UI sits.  

What I find most fascinating is exploring how UX and UI can impact loyalty program design and how those impacts extend to the brand itself. In a loyalty context, UX supports the why of the brand. The loyalty user experience influences not only whether a customer will keep coming back or how much value a member perceives from their participation in the program but also the reason for the loyalty program in the first place.  

That may sound grandiose, but I do not think it overstates it. Loyalty UX/UI goes beyond information architecture, visual design, or hover states and taps into the psychology of the user, a subject I recently covered in another article. 

You say that UX and UI can make or break the success of a loyalty program. What benefits are there for brands who get it right?   

I think we touched on the biggest benefit: customer retention. A well-designed, convenient, helpful user experience keeps users coming back--which is a top goal for many loyalty initiatives. Prioritizing UX and UI also helps with brand consistency. Users often know what to expect from a brand, and UX/UI should support that beyond simply having a beautifully designed site or app. Think of a luxury travel company that has invested considerable resources in establishing itself as a curatorial brand. If that brand’s loyalty program makes it difficult for a member to find what they want or get help when they need it, that will clash with the user’s expectation of a high-end experience. Conversely, consistently delightful interactions will reinforce the brand’s reputation and highlight the value the member receives in exchange for their loyalty.  

That dynamic is not unique to luxury brands; good UX/UI can highlight the convenience and value consumers get from everyday brands like Walmart. Walmart's expansion of its branded member experience to include convenience-first initiatives like curbside pickup and member-exclusive pricing alongside its everyday value proposition is a great example of tailoring the user experience based on what customers value most.    

Finally, these all combine to increase customer lifetime value (CLV) for the brand. UX/UI that boosts retention, maintains brand consistency, and helps expand the brand will result in longer loyalty relationships and customers spending more with a brand that considers the quality of their brand interactions first.    

What are the best practices for loyalty UX/UI?   

This is the big one, right? If you want increased CLV and higher retention rates and all the other benefits an intelligent approach to UX/UI can deliver, you must know how to implement it. I think this breaks down into four fundamental principles:  

#1. Know thy user 

I have used the word “user” a lot in this interview, but we must think of users as what they are: people. What are they feeling at each step of the process? What are their expectations for the experience? How do they want to be treated? Where are they most likely to be frustrated, and how can UX/UI mitigate that frustration and maximize recoverability? Considering these human elements should be central to any design process, but they are absolutely essential for loyalty programs.  

#2. Do your research  

The natural follow-up to that is identifying how to know your user. There’s no shortcut to this: you must do the research and collect feedback. At iSeatz, we employ various techniques to research our users, from interviews to surveys to focus groups. We also conduct moderated and unmoderated user testing in multiple markets, as international users will have different UX/UI needs than domestic audiences. The point is, never assume you know what the user wants until you ask them.  

#3. Take a data-based approach 

This ties into the previous best practice of conducting research, with the added dimension of ensuring that the research is quantitative and qualitative. Even something as seemingly subjective as the choice of font color can have data supporting it, stemming from consumer psychology or visibility contrast ratios. Seek out those choices that data can back up, and your UX/UI will be better for it.    

#4. Be inclusive

Thinking outside of the baseline user is a fundamental principle of accessibility, and I believe it is equally essential to UX/UI. Crafting experiences and digital interfaces that individuals with different abilities can use easily opens up new opportunities for engagement while usually resulting in streamlined, optimized processes. My colleague Zivile Goodwin, our Accessibility Specialist at iSeatz and a software engineer in her own right, has written extensively on this subject; I encourage you to read it.   

What challenges do brands face when implementing these best practices?  

The two biggest challenges are always time and money. Resource and speed-to-market constraints are not unique to UX/UI. Still, these are notable hurdles, considering the time it takes to develop a cohesive strategy and progress through a well-thought-out design process and the dollar allocation necessary to conduct sufficient research and user testing.  

The other major challenge is often ego. That might sound a bit strange, but the number of brands (particularly well-established brands) that “just know” what their users want is staggering. Taking a step back, being receptive to data that might contradict long-held notions, and being willing to explore new UX/UI avenues can be a real challenge—and a real advantage for brands brave enough to shelve their egos to potentially create better customer experiences.    

What should brands look for in a loyalty platform, solution, or partner to offer the best user experience?    

You should look for table-stakes qualities in a platform or partner, including baseline technological capability, flexibility, configurability, and industry knowledge or specification.  

But the most crucial characteristic to seek out is a culture of continuous improvement. If your partner or platform provider is not actively and aggressively optimizing their product, they are already behind the times.   

Not to be too self-congratulatory, but this is where iSeatz shines. We have never stopped researching and optimizing our UI and UX. We take every client meeting as feedback that we ingest into our system and view every user touchpoint as a chance to improve our platform. Our approach to loyalty systems is very organic, and we understand that they must constantly change to keep up with a changing world. That is why our clients enjoy future-proof loyalty solutions.   

How have recent technology advancements and UX/UI trends improved loyalty tech companies’ ability to improve user experience? Which tools specifically make good UX/UI easier to achieve?    

AI is the darling right now, and I think it is an incredibly crucial tool for the future. We are utilizing it to help us evaluate our platform for accessibility and ensure that we are meeting the needs of our users. It has also helped us generate research personas and evaluate against those personas, making our research more streamlined and efficient.  

We mentioned earlier how important user testing usertesting.com is to our process; for this, we prefer a tool designed specifically for UX/UI called usertesting.com. That is our go-to for assessing how our designs are received and work among real users. Axe by Deque Systems is one of our most-used accessibility testing tools. We also use a plugin in our workflow called Stark, which helps us assess our design files for compliance and accessibility. 

What differentiates iSeatz from its competitors in user experience and interface areas?    

We do not stick to our lane. We have dedicated time to look at how companies in different industries are approaching e-commerce, how companies in various sectors are attacking user experience, and how companies in other industries think about visual composition and transaction flows. Innovation happens through the synthesis of disparate ideas... sometimes that is as simple as seeing how a clothing brand is showcasing a garment and applying that to how hotels display rooms available for booking—or concealing filters behind a drop-down like Amazon instead of using an exposed sidebar configuration like every major travel booking platform. “Thinking outside the box” is an overused phrase, but our willingness to find inspiration away from the insular world of travel is closely related to our commitment to continuous improvement.   

What trends regarding user experience and user interface do you see coming on the horizon over the next few years?   

Again, AI is the obvious answer here. As AI becomes more integrated into platforms and booking flows, we will see wildly reimagined user experiences. I do not think the timeline is very long on that, either; I would expect to see hyper-accurate recommendation engines and fully dynamic content presentations powered by AI in under 12 months.  

The other trend I have been thinking about relates to form factors. For example, how do we take loyalty experiences beyond the desktop and mobile phone and into new platforms like Google Goggles and Apple Vision? For users exploring and trying to get inspired for a trip, the ability to virtually walk through a hotel room could be a real differentiator. Similarly, airline seat selection could be vastly improved by AR-style interfaces rather than the patently unhelpful static seat map you see everywhere.  

User experience and user interface impact nearly every aspect of loyalty program interactions and are integral to loyalty platform design. By putting people first, taking a data-based approach to design, and identifying a technology partner that prioritizes UX/UI, brands can reap significant retention and customer lifetime value benefits.   

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