American Express’ VP of partnerships & brand on how the business builds long-term loyalty

Heather Laverne, vice-president, partnerships & brand at American Express, on why it’s important to reward card holders with flexible offers.

Heather Laverne, vice-president, partnerships & brand, American Express
Heather Laverne, vice-president, partnerships & brand, American Express

What are the key objectives for the American Express Membership Rewards programme?

A key business aim of the programme is to increase customer engagement and loyalty with the American Express brand and their chosen card.

We know from our own research that Membership Rewards is a key reason why many customers carry one of our charge cards – it is seen as a point of difference. The scheme is special in terms of the flexibility it offers cardmembers – there are hundreds of rewards options across travel, retail and lifestyle, and  points never expire.

Which partners do you work with?

American Express works with more than 80 partners and brands in the UK in order to offer cardmembers as much choice and variety as possible. These include travel, shopping (luxury and high street), dining, retail, fashion, entertainment and charity partners. Also included are loyalty scheme partners, such as airlines (frequent flyer programmes) and hotels (frequent guest programmes).

Why is it effective for American Express to offer rewards outside the travel space?

We recognise the importance of offering our cardmembers flexibility. Although travel is a very important element in the Membership Rewards programme, it is vital that we offer a selection of partners across other categories so that cardmembers have choice and flexibility in redeeming their points.

How successful is the rewards scheme and which partner offers prove most popular?

The programme is over 20 years old but we continue to develop and enhance it by regularly adding new partners and redemption options, such as ‘pay with points’ traditional gift cards, merchandise and points transfer partners. In addition to the choice and flexibility it offers cardmembers, another reason for its longevity is that it is simple and straightforward for customers to understand.

Some of our most popular redemption options include airline points transfers, merchandise and shopping with points online.

How do you make sure these rewards and offers are relevant to the target audience?

Customer segmentation is important. We market the programme in digital channels and send targeted communications to inform cardmembers of new partners and rewards options relevant to them.