| by Brad Marg
3 steps to

Last year, Google released data showing that "near me" searches on their platform doubled between 2014 and 2015. According to this USA Todayarticle, Google’s search ads marketing director interpreted that to mean "convenience often trumps brand loyalty." But this isn’t necessarily true across the board. Loyal fans often forego convenience for the sake of a more valuable customer experience. They drive further, pay more, and are generally willing to domore to engage with the brands they love.

That said, it is true that in the extremely competitive quick-service restaurant business, consumers using a mobile search for "lunch near me" quite often do end up taking their business to your closest rival. So the question is, "How can restaurants differentiate themselves to break free from anonymous search results and win repeat customers?"
Experience shows that this starts with a mutually beneficial loyalty program that both, boosts your business and rewards customers. But launching a loyalty program involves more than simply handing out punch cards or promo cookies. We believe brands must follow these three key steps to develop a program that engages customers, encourages regular visits, and enhances marketing strategy: 

•    Step 1: Build a base for brand engagement

Brands must use a technology platform that captures consumer information, first and foremost, because data collection and analysis form the roots of any successful loyalty program. This is the foundation that enables brands to segment and identify their most valuable customers.

Segmentation can, and should, be based on complex customer characteristics to drive relevancy. The program must also be straightforward and easily digestible for consumers. Starbucks recently updated loyalty program is a good example with its relatively simple "Buy 12, get the 13th free" offer. 

After establishing a framework, brands can deploy targeted campaigns to drive customer engagement. That doesn’t always mean dishing out discounts though, because some customers prefer perks like cut-in-line passes, VIP scheduling or birthday gifts. Data can be vital in deciding which offers should be made to specific customers. 

As a prime example, Zoe’s Kitchen, does a great job of delivering rewards without eroding margins. By downloading its app and uploading a receipt photo, customers can rate and comment on their dining experiences. In turn, app users are rewarded with "goodies," like a half-price sandwich or a free side dish, which inspires return visits and promotes additional spending. 

QSR brands can mimic that same kind of success by working to keep their programs as fresh as their food. It’s key to remember that customer loyalty is not a "set it and forget it" thing. Likewise, in order to truly connect with consumers, it’s critical to stay relevant to their needs and wants. In other words, monitoring data and detecting trends is key to maintaining true engagement with customers. 

Step 2: Make signing up simple and fast
A restaurant can have the world’s best and most engaging loyalty program, but it’s useless if no one participates. It’s essential to pay attention to how best to get customers to sign up.

For QSR brands, it’s well-known that anything that adds to time spent in line spoils the experience, so restaurants must make program sign-up speedy and easy. For instance, many brands simply request a phone number or email address to quickly create a virtual customer ID and then immediately connect a customer’s purchases with that individual’s loyalty program profile. 

Brands can take that a step further to glean insight by giving customers added incentives to complete their online profiles when they have time. In this realm, a non-restaurant industry player – LinkedIn -- does a good job at making its profile completion like a game and not a task that must be done. 

For instance, users can see how strong or complete their profiles are via a measurement icon that loads with the profile and allows users to see what else they need to add to gain "all-star" status with their profile details. Retailers and restaurants can use the same strategy by letting customers know that you will extend better offers, deals, and product access with a customer's increased participation in your restaurant’s platform. 

The plethora of mobile apps now available can also help expedite enrollment. Much in the way that hotels now enroll new loyalty members during check-in, restaurants can pull online or mobile order information into the rewards program, with customer consent, and assign an account number. After all, remember that one of the primary reasons people visit quick-service restaurants is – just as the name implies – for "quick" service, so make sure your loyalty program doesn’t slow them down. 

Step 3: Follow the leaders

For other inspiration and ideas in this realm, track other businesses with similar customer bases as your own, and track what they’re doing that works best. For instance, the cosmetics retailer, Sephora, has been consistently praised for its Beauty Insider program, which is an excellent working example of how well a business can understand its customers and translate that understanding into the workings of its loyalty program. For example, the program’s tiered structure preserves the most exclusive perks for Sephora’s VIB Rouge members, but the program’s members at other tier levels are still rewarded in some fashion. 
In the food service business, Carmel Kitchen and Wine Bar locations in Florida and Pennsylvania, has a unique service structure that allows dine-in customers to order via a server-provided iPad. Additionally, that same device can be used to enroll in the restauarant’s Club Carmel loyalty program, all while still seated at the table. 

The bottom line is that restaurant strategies in this realm must evolve to attract and engage today’s consumer. When the focus remains on cultivating customer relationships, brand loyalty grows organically which ultimately ends up helping both you and your customers reap what you sow, whether that be increased profits or reward points. 

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Customer Service / Experience, Food & Beverage, Loyalty Programs, Marketing, Marketing / Branding / Promotion

Brad Marg
At Clutch, Brad Marg serves as Chief Operating Officer, overseeing operations, client delivery and marketing for the business. His primary focus is on delivering outstanding experiences for clients and customers across retail, apparel, hospitality, and other select industries.

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