Ten Stamps Later and Your Customers Still Aren’t Loyal

phone, apple, square, coffee, payment, register

What makes you come back for more? Really think about what makes you loyal for a second, because it’s something you never really question.

For brands relying on frequency like restaurants, the loyalty club has become standard practice. Buy 10, get the 11th free. Some can prove that those clubs drive increased frequency, maybe by .5 visits per month. That kind of increase is certainly valuable. But does it drive true loyalty?

The brands I know with successful loyalty programs are also successful in a bunch of other metrics as well. Funny how that works, isn’t it. Zoe’s Kitchen boasts a great performance from its loyalty club and app. But they do pretty well in store traffic and sales per unit across the board. Maybe it’s because they offer a unique menu mix not found at many other places at a reasonable price and executed well, operationally. They serve the food in a cool environment. Their employees are bright and friendly.

Which of those factors brings people back for that extra .5 of a visit? The free panini in five months or good meals and friendly people while you’re earning it?

Humanity Over Apps

I don’t belong to many loyalty clubs. I don’t like treating meals like a contract with Columbia House. I do use the Starbucks app because it provides more than just loyalty rewards. It offers a fast store finder, ordering tools, and nice payment functionality. The loyalty rewards themselves are on the silly side; access to apps and songs and refills.

A funny thing happened at my local store. I ordered a cup in a hurry, and they had just run out of my roast. The barista recommended a different drink I had never tried, and I accepted because of my helpless caffeine addiction. As she handed it to me, she said “On the house, thanks for trying this.” Super good experience.

Later that week, the Starbucks app crapped out on me and wouldn’t let me pay. I pulled out a credit card and haven’t used the app since. What I learned is that I wasn’t going for the gamification. Or the potential for a free 50th cup of coffee. I was going for the rare spark I get when there is an exchange of humanity.

As slick as I think the app is, (it is one of the best) it deleted part of the brand experience when the customer had to fidget with their phone to pay instead of interacting with the barista. Is that the kind of experience we want customers to be loyal to?

Experience Over Everything

Any store can offer your 11th thing free. It’s easy. Not every store can sell you something you want to have 11 times, in a way that makes you happy to do so. Experience is a huge driver for future visits. Most of that made up of elements that aren’t on the menu or with a UPC.

Are loyalty programs worthless? No. Can they alone drive traffic to a mediocre experience? No. If you are examining a loyalty program, make sure to put the same level of effort into the customer experience you expect customers to be loyal to.

Author: Adam Pierno

Adam Pierno has a one-of-a-kind perspective on restaurant and CPGs. He investigates the connections between strategy, media, digital and business goals employing social media listening, analysis and traditional consumer research to find meaningful insights for brands thinking about their futures.