Companies often treat loyalty programs like a business exchange. Customers rack up points redeemable for plane tickets or meals at Olive Garden by swiping credit cards, taking out auto loans and recommending a bank's services to their Great-Aunt Dee.
But a new way of wooing customers is gaining momentum among banks and other companies. Rather than going tit for tat, these companies are rewarding customers for participating in activities that have no direct benefit to the bottom line. By encouraging community involvement and other positive behavior, companies hope to bond with customers over things they truly care about. The intent is to foster loyalty, attract new customers and add some luster to the brand in the bargain.