Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 17, 2016 and was updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness on March 26, 2019.

“Custom” is an appealing word. There’s something incredibly alluring about the idea of someone building something to your exact specifications, especially when it applies to your business.

That’s why you’ve probably considered building a custom rewards program. However, while a custom program might be desirable at first, the reality is that having someone else build your program is a dangerous approach to your retention strategy. With a number of devastating opportunity costs, custom programs actually take your success out of your hands, making it difficult to execute and manage down the road.

Here are the three biggest reasons you need to be in control of your own rewards program.

You can't own your program and customer experience

Upfront, building a custom program sounds pretty incredible. On the surface, it looks like anything you can think of is possible. If you sell clothing that supports anti-bullying campaigns, you could reward customers for sharing anti-bullying messages to a specific page, making every program touchpoint 100% on brand.

Hiring someone to build your program forces you to rely on external forces that don't actually understand your business.

Unfortunately, this type of customization is actually more of a ruse than a promise that can be acted upon. When you get someone to build your rewards program from scratch, you become reliant on them to make your program a success. Suddenly, their timelines, resources, and ideas all become obstacles you need to navigate. This not only distracts you from your original vision but also eats up a lot of your precious time and financial resources.

There's a difference between what's possible and what your customers actually value.

More importantly, giving control to someone else forces you to choose between what they tell you is possible and what’s best for your brand. From what your customers want to what you value as a company, no one knows your business like you do. This means you are the most qualified person to not only design a program your customers will love but also to manage it from start to finish.

Don’t sacrifice any of that by putting someone else in your program’s driver’s seat.

You can't make changes easily

One of your brand’s most powerful assets is what it looks like. Marketing is becoming increasingly more visual, which means every visual touchpoint can significantly impact how much customers care about your brand.

So what happens when you need to update your logo? Chances are you use your logo in a number of places across your program, which means there are many areas you’ll have to update.

External teams don't know enough about your brand experience to make visual changes effectively.

This is a huge issue when you work with external developers to build a custom rewards program. Even though they might have the power to build it, maintaining it becomes extremely difficult. The building process is always easier than the maintenance, putting you and your program in a difficult position when it’s time to make a change. Without the knowledge of how every piece of your brand experience connects, an external team relies on you to walk them through significant updates, making it time-consuming as opposed to convenient.

Owning your rewards program allows changes to happen in real time, without disrupting your customer experience.

When you’re in control of your program, changes are quick and easy. In fact, the world’s best programs allow you to see the changes you make to your program design in real time. By pushing changes easily to program elements like your customer Panel and program Launcher, you do not need to go make changes to pages and pages across your site.

More importantly, you don’t need to rely on anyone else to do it, allowing you to show every customer a consistent visual experience that accurately reflects your brand.

Opportunity costs are high

Sometimes it’s worth paying someone to do the heavy lifting for you. After all, that frees you up to focus on other parts of your business, right?

The reality is that a hiring sometime to build an entirely customized rewards program can not only cost you more out of pocket but also takes a significant amount of time. This is arguably your most precious resource.. Every minute a program is being built as opposed to actually running, it creates a significant opportunity cost you can’t afford. The longer it takes to launch your program or make changes, the more potential revenue you lose to your competitors as a result.

Having an external development team not only costs you more money to build but also introduces a significant opportunity cost.

SweetLegs, a North American fashion legging brand, knew very early on that they wanted to be rewarding their customers. With a community built made of both individual customers and distributors, the SweetLegs team wanted to make sure they could properly acknowledge and reward everyone who was committed to helping them spread their brand’s body positive message.

Unfortunately, this proved to be quite difficult. As soon as they started exploring their options, they were met with a number of roadblocks that kept them from moving forward. While the allure of a completely customized program was tempting, the reality is that the experience of building it was quite difficult.

"We spent months building a beautiful dashboard but when we took it to testing we were not happy with the results. They kept pushing us to take it live, but the rewards were not consistent — one time it would work, one time it wouldn’t work, it would work for some customers but not other customers."
Chris Pafiolis, Founder & Director of Business Development (SweetLegs)

These types of issues are much easier to avoid when you are in control of your own rewards program. When you’re working with tools designed to keep you in control, you remove the dependency on another team’s timelines, resources, and ideas, allowing you to launch faster and start building deeper emotional connections with your customers right away.

Your marketing team is the most qualified to design and manage your rewards program

At the end of the day, it’s clear that your marketing team should be in control of your rewards program. With an intimate knowledge of who your customers are and what motivates them to choose your brand, they understand what your customers are looking for. This gives them the best idea of what to build and how to build it.

You can empower them to do that by working with a provider that understands how important it is for your rewards program to be managed in-house. This keeps your program from getting complicated, allows you to make changes quickly, and ensures your program is a holistic part of your marketing strategy.

Working with Smile makes all of this possible.

"It’s a great rewards programs for your customers that’s quick and easy to set up with minimal effort. So after months of dealing with another company and all of these empty promises, we were able to set up our rewards program in weeks, not months."
Chris Pafiolis, Founder & Director of Business Development (SweetLegs)

At Smile, we’re passionate about making your brand’s rewards experience something you control from day one. That’s why we’ve made it easy for you to make changes that you can see in real time, and built a platform that puts your brand front and center. With world-class support and the resources you need to succeed, we want to put you and your marketing in the driver’s seat — not the sidecar.