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Using credit-card points to reward staff Add to ...

In Edmundston, N.B., every time one of the 200 agents at Primus Telecommunications Canada's call centre convinces a customer to add an additional service to their existing package they do not just get a pat on the back. They also get anywhere from five to 15 Air Miles reward points.

On the other side of the country in Surrey, B.C., when one of FinancialCAD Corp.'s 100 staffers has a birthday or does something above and beyond their normal duties they get a little thank you as well; a $100 gift certificate for dinner for two at a local restaurant or a pair of theatre tickets - certificates paid for with the Membership Rewards points collected on company American Express cards used by FinancialCAD's top 15 executives.

Among small companies loyalty rewards programs are slowly moving from being a way for business owners to treat themselves to becoming an innovative - and by all counts much appreciated - way to keep staff happy and productive.

"I have given bonus cheques to staff without even a nod of appreciation," says Nancy Petersen, chief financial officer at FinancialCAD. "But when they get one of those $100 gift certificates they stop me in the hall to thank me."

Granted, using points to reward staff on programs run by Air Miles, Aeroplan, Amex and the proprietary ones that come with bank credit cards continues to be low on small business priority lists.

"The three main ways small business uses rewards is first for the owner to reward himself or herself, then to use it to subsidize the cost of doing business and finally to provide staff with small gifts for maybe a job well done or at Christmas time," says Howard Grosfield, vice-president and general manager of small business services at American Express Canada in Markham, Ont.

And while overall spending on Amex small business charge cards is down, redemptions for small items are up.

"We interpret that to mean small business is indeed using rewards more to benefit staff."

Loyalty rewards have proven one of Primus's most successful incentives to encourage staff to up-sell customers, says Rob Warden, vice-president of sales and marketing.

"First it would make agents better acquainted with the program and second it would encourage them to up-sell customers. I can say that it has been very well received by call-centre staff."

On average the 200 call-centre agents pick up 250 Air Miles rewards a month or 3,000 a year.

FinancialCAD made the switch to using Amex rewards for staff about six years ago, Ms. Petersen says. "That is when the new management team came in," she says. "Before that the previous president kept them all for himself."

The company creates and sells software that tracks financial derivatives to companies and individuals all over the world and has offices in Surrey and Dublin. That means those top 15 executives each with a charge card can easily tot up $100,000 in expenses a month. For each dollar spent on the small business card, they get one Membership Rewards point.

Do they work their magic to keep staff happy and productive? You bet, Ms. Petersen says.

"Software development is a highly competitive industry; to keep staff you need to show on a regular basis that you appreciate them. We believe small acts of kindness and appreciation go a long way."

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