Restaurants, Meet Your New Omnichannel Loyalty Program: Why QSRs Needs to Serve Loyalty Slowly

Jan 11, 2013

For an industry that prides itself on speed, the above title might seem counterintuitive. That’s especially true when you consider a recent survey commissioned by QSR Magazine that ranked seven fast food restaurants and their drive thru speeds. A full minute separated the fastest, Wendy’s, which completed drive thru transactions in a brisk 129.75 seconds, from the slowest, Burger King, which lumbered to the finish line at 3 minutes and 20 seconds. Delivering quick service is just one aspect to optimizing the oh-so-important customer experience.  Customer experience (whether good or bad) can impact restaurant patronage, referrals, frequency of visit and ultimately customer lifetime value (LTV) in both QSR and fast casual establishments.

But when it comes to loyalty, slow and steady (taking the time to understand how to construct the ideal experience for both customers and employees) might trump fast and furious changes to customer experience management. According to the same survey, customer experience (at least at the drive thru) has room for improvement. Over half of respondents, 56%, said they had either a “pleasant or average experience.” Far fewer, 38%, claimed to have had a “very friendly” experience. Some 5% reported a “lackadaisical/mechanical” experience and 1% had an outright “rude” go of it. The QSRs with low scores would clearly benefit by addressing necessary changes from the top down.

Loyalty Served Fresh

It should be obvious, yet it bears repeating. Loyalty is about rewarding incremental behaviors in addition to creating genuine experiences and customer engagement. And omnichannel loyalty – an enterprise-level initiative to drive, track, measure and reward incremental behavior throughout the enterprise and customer experience across all channels – applied to QSR is not just about delivering tangible experiences (physical rewards like free food and discounts). It’s also about intangible rewards delivered seamlessly on any marketing channel – so get creative!

These could include gamified Facebook ‘likes’ or location-based Twitter posts that customers can use to earn more direct benefits. Once you understand how your customers are interacting with your brand (across different touch points and by collecting data on what’s working), and whether or not their expectations are being met, then you’ll be armed with insights to shape future engagement and deliver new and different experiences when and where it matters most.

Too often QSR brands view loyalty in simplistic terms. Half of consumers report that, for them, fast food loyalty comes only in the form of punch cards (e.g., buy nine meals and get the tenth free) or their app versions. But that’s not the way to inspire true loyalty, repeat purchases and brand advocacy. Google’s recent scuttling of Punchd, a mobile loyalty card app it plans to phase out by mid-2013, speaks to the company’s recognition that loyalty’s future lies elsewhere.

Or, in the words of Google’s Vice President of Engineering Venkat Panchapakesan in a recent article, “We remain focused on developing products that help merchants and shoppers connect in new and useful ways.”

Room for Dessert

The good news is that even with QSR’s loyalty shortcomings, consumer interest in fast food loyalty has risen over the last two years, jumping 35% according to a recent report. There are also signs that some fast food restaurants are doing loyalty right. Starbucks often gets top billing, but others like Dunkin’ Donuts and its DD Perks membership program, launched in 2011, are right up there too. The program gained popularity throughout 2012 not just by offering loyalty basics – points toward purchased items – but by including social media elements and an opportunity to buy brand merchandise, a fun way for loyal customers to advertise that they, too, “run on Dunkin’.” Members were also rewarded with exclusive in-store and online offers, updates on new menu items and location-specific store opening details.

Whether online or in-store, customer engagement was about connecting with consumers in genuine and emotionally relevant ways. Sometimes a “please” and “thank you” goes a long way too. Or, as noted at the 2012 Fast Casual Executive Summit by California Tortilla, a Mid Atlantic and Northeast chain eatery, engaging consumers on topics beyond restaurant and menu options only added loyalty mileage. The Mexican restaurant’s “Burrito Elito” loyalty program stressed a communications approach that included patron discussions of cultural issues and politics. Such tactics are reminiscent of collegiate wine and cheese get-togethers where professors and students discuss issues outside classroom core curriculum, creating scenarios that foster stronger relationships. A restaurant that brings that level of customer care is no different.

Whether fast casual or QSR, we all know fast food is called that for a reason. But when it comes to omnichannel loyalty, restaurants from either format could afford to take it slow, letting consumers digest a positive experience along with their food.

Hungry for more? Take a look at our omnichannel loyalty infographic to learn more about Kobie’s approach to making a true impact on the customer lifetime value (LTV) – the ultimately loyalty metric.