3 Lessons on Developing a Loyalty Program

Since I’ve started working as director of marketing for a small restaurant group in based Chicago, I’ve been enveloped in finding a cost effective way to gain access to our customer data so that I can better market to our guests.

Customer LoyaltyWhy? Loyal customers are brand ambassadors who do your promoting for you. With the technology available, there is no reason not to know your loyal guests (and communicate with them in their preferred channel). Not to mention, it costs six times more to attract a new customer than it does to keep an existing one.

The solution: A Loyalty Program. Here’s 3 simple lessons learned from developing our program:

1. Understand the tools already in place. I knew that we had challenges going into this project since our restaurants ran on two different point of sales systems. We also worked with vendors who had capabilities to run a loyalty program for us (at a larger cost than I was prepared to commit to). Our email service providers have the capabilities to tie transactions to offers sent via email. Our point of sale providers have the capabilities to capture data based off of credit transactions. Plus, we have a small independent tech company who placed iPads in restaurants, bars and salons throughout Chicagoland where subscribers could scan their smart phone to collect and redeem points based on visits.

2. Know what you need and don’t veer from it. Direct access to our customer data and the flexibility to work within our point of sales systems was key. And since our marketing department is small, I needed our data to be manageable (based off of my work experience at Morton’s Restaurant Group, guest data is only good if you’re able to act on it).

At about that same time, I was shopping around for companies providing loyalty program services (there were no loss of salespeople on this topic). I also spent a lot of time dining out to see what others were doing. I noticed a lot of online praise from Jersey Mike’s loyalty program. But when I tried to join their loyalty program through their mobile app, I kept getting an “Unknown Registration Code.” Other programs like Red Robin seem to be getting a lot of attention, so I asked a team member to bring in information after he dined there. This was a helpful assignment to discover the possibilities.

From there, I made my wish list:

  • Ability to push messaging based on location, frequency, points earned
  • Social sharing including giving points to others
  • Ability to upload data to our email service providers (who have opted-in)
  • Direct access to data by location to customize offers and promotions
  • Reporting tools to analyze programs and offers
  • A user-friendly program with rewards that our guests will want to sign up to receive

3. Your employees are your greatest asset! When talking with our operations team, I learned that one of our shift leaders at our Champaign location was developing mobile applications for various small businesses. We spent the next several weeks brainstorming on how to bring my wish list to life. We ended up with a mobile app system where points are awarded based on transactions without connecting to our point of sales system. Much like the dining experience at our restaurants, our loyalty app will be an interactive experience guided by our service team. The process of understanding the technical aspects and troubleshooting through problems may have taken more of my time than if I would have if I passed the project to an agency or provider, but I feel that it is well worth it.

In addition to recruiting an employee for the development of our app, I gathered support from our employees to come up with a name for the new loyalty program! I received many entries and we ultimately decided to use one of the entries for our program name! Now, we are just days away from beta testing our new loyalty program at our Champaign location.

This marks the beginning of our loyalty program launch and I am sure that there will be more issues that come up while we grow. What’s important to you when joining or developing a loyalty program?

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