The Best Loyalty Programs Aren't Digital

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QUESTION From NRA Attendee:

How do you sort through all the loyalty reward systems out there? they all seem to do the same thing with the exception of the free wifi thing that gives me the ability to capture email addresses. Do Millenials mind being targeted with geo tracking / caching? Or is it better to just stick with the Frequent Buyer Club we have going on where the 10th burger is always free?

Thanks! I'll check the website in a week or so to see if you answer this.



OK so there are two of us responding to this one because you touched on something I and my anonymous "co-responder" are passionate about.

In my opinion, randomly thanking a regular or a new customer with a comp goes a very very very long way. That being said: One of the most valuable things I've learned in the industry is "You can add all you want but avoid taking away at all costs."  

In other words if you're offering a system that people are using and appreciate, don't take it away from them. Especially not to swap it out for something more invasive and potentially creepy.

If you do go with a loyalty program, I would add it to your existing rewards card program and not replace it all together.

My "co-responder" over here on the phone with me is a nerd when it comes to this stuff. He wrote an article on linked in which is even more proof that he's a nerd and so he's going to copy and paste it below.

I'm not saying he's wrong I just think his opinion is a lot stronger than mine so here you go.


(You're a nerd Chef!)

"The most effective way to sustainably build any business is by strengthening and developing the relationships with the customers you already have before trying to attract and reward new ones."

It never ceases to amaze me how many businesses spend time, money and human collateral on: collecting emails, blasting birthday coupons and utilizing geo-tracking in order to encourage loyalty and bounce-back visits when they could allocate those resources to simply taking better care of their customers while they're already there: on property, in the store or at the table.

We just returned from the 2017 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago and were surprised by the number of successful companies showcasing apps that facilitate customer loyalty rewards and consumer behavior tracking by gamifying the guest experience, soliciting feedback at regular intervals and strategically blasting coupons to new customers.

While nothing beats the personal touch of one-on-one communication; I do realize that some guests prefer anonymity.

Every customer has a different comfort level with regard to how and when they prefer to offer feedback (if at all)...but no matter how many times I see operators relying on someone dropping a customer survey form (written or digital) with my check, I can't help but wonder how anyone (from the most introverted and conflict-averse among us to the self-proclaimed food experts and wanna-be restaurant critics of the world) could see such a reliance as anything other than the operator essentially saying:

"Your experience is so important to us that instead of ensuring a manager is close at hand to observe and resolve any issues on-the-spot or thoroughly TRAINING our staff to: anticipate needs, follow-up, observe nonverbal communication and speak with you directly...we are offering you the opportunity to take more time out of your busy life and hand-write us a note about it on this card - or to highlight a number of stars from 1 - 5 and then offer some detailed explanation as to why you chose the number of stars you did since we were unable to even ascertain whether or not your experience was a positive one.".

No one can dispute the tremendous value in building consumer profiles and tracking metrics like: satisfaction, commitment, retention, preference, recommendation or even soliciting customers via text when they're in the area.

But before adopting a customer rewards program and quantifying your customers' experiences, just make sure you're first "rewarding" your guests by covering the basics like: making eye contact, smiling, saying "Hello", thanking customers again on their way out, knowing the menu inside out (preferably by having tasted it and having been tested on it) and knowing whether or not the order they received was exactly what they were expecting.

e.g., If a guest orders a burger or a steak, after bite or two, the server should be capable of discerning whether or not it was cooked to the guest's preference without having to ask: "How's your steak?". Close-ended questions like that do not constitute "follow-up".

The most effective way to sustainably build any business is by strengthening and developing the relationships with the customers you already have before trying to attract and reward new ones.

Affiliation, Validation and Acceptance are three of the most basic fundamental human needs any operator can tend to in order to deliver that exceptional experience to every guest...even the ones who want to amass points in order to win a free appetizer.

In order to say "I See You" and "You Belong Here", the most successful hospitality professionals first acknowledge, observe and then communicate with their guests in a warm, personal and unobtrusive way.

I don't care if it's fast food or fine dining, reading the guest and engaging in a "table touch" if appropriate is the way to establish a rapport with loyal customers and learn best how to show them that you appreciate their business. A free burger isn't always the best way. Maybe they'd value a hat more...

Thanks for your question,

Josh Sapienza