Ten years ago, in 2008, TGI Fridays blazed a rewards and loyalty trail that countless restaurants have followed since. This month, the chain announced it will be taking that customer experience to the next level through a partnership with customer data and engagement platform SessionM.
The new program retires static rewards (“Earn a free dessert at 50 points”; “Get a free burger at 100”) for more dynamic and real-time rewards experiences that may or may not revolve around food.
Customers can earn rewards on a more flexible basis that does not always require them to come into the store and sit down for a meal. Instead, they may sometimes earn rewards by participating in external branded activities, such as engaging with the brand on social media.
Caroline Masullo, TGI Fridays’ VP Digital and eCommerce, said it’s all about getting people excited to find out what’s new.
For instance, a limited-time offer to try a new product before the rest of the world could surprise and delight customers, and knowing that such options will be presented could keep that person coming back to check in, rather than simply applying their loyalty membership when a waiter at a Fridays restaurant comes around with the check.
Fridays is far from the first fast-casual or quick-service restaurant (QSR) to experiment with augmenting customers’ experience via tech. However, first or not, the company believes its tech-driven, personalized, omnichannel loyalty program can differentiate it from competitors in the category by offering enhancements to the customer’s life both in and out of the restaurant, both on- and offline.
Masullo said this is going to be the profile of successful loyalty programs in the coming years, and that’s why so many players are adopting approaches like this today.
The Changing Face of Loyalty
Masullo said the lines are blurring between traditional loyalty “clubs,” programs that customers must join and loyalty benefits tied to everyday transactions.
Take Amazon Prime, for example. Customers get exclusive benefits for joining, and it’s the most convenient way to access the Amazon brand. That, said Masullo, is what the modern loyalty program must offer, and she believes things are headed that way.
“I think we will see less distinct programs and more of a holistic experience, on-premise and off-premise,” Masullo said. “It’s less about a distinct program and more conversational and one-to-one.”
Across the board, said Masullo, customers are looking at eCommerce brands as brands that give them convenience throughout their daily lives. Amazon and others have identified that customers want this convenience, and, moreover, it’s the best way to talk to people to drive engagement and repeat business. This is what all companies must do to create and maintain brand awareness today, Masullo said.
“If you’re a brand building affinity above what your brand is offering, then you need to identify what customers want and how they want to be talked to,” she said.
Masullo said that Fridays customers like the existing loyalty program, but it admittedly leaves some room for streamlining on the back end, and it could be doing more on the front end too.
Today, she explained, the company has multiple databases for its various engagement channels. Moving customers through their journey across platforms still requires manual components, which can lead to customer drop-off from one channel to the next.
Working with SessionM to aggregate those databases is the first step toward offering more personalized experiences, Masullo said. The goal is to facilitate dynamic and distinct conversations with loyal customers who are all currently receiving the same rewards materials and offers regardless of their actual behavior and purchase history.
Masullo said the new partnership will pull data from disparate sources into a 360-degree data warehouse, enabling Fridays to identify triggers for customers across platforms and serve up dynamic content whether by email or on the company’s website itself.
She said a new point-of-sale partner will help weave that data into the in-store experience as well, so that servers are equipped to provide a relevant one-to-one customer experience based on factors like the date of the customer’s last visit and what he or she ordered that time.
“We’re moving away from mass communications and toward treating people like individuals,” Masullo summarized — in other words, talking to customers how they want to be talked to.
Loyalty Goes Both Ways
Between Facebook’s data scandal and the various data breaches this year, people are more concerned than ever about who has their data and what’s being done with it. A brand that wants loyalty from its customers must show them equal dedication by taking their data security seriously.
Aside from leveraging top-notch tech tools and talent, Masullo said one of the most important things a brand can do is show customers how it’s using their data for good.
“The more relevant you can be with customers once they give you data, the more valuable you are as a brand,” Masullo said. “Use their data in a way they have told you they want it to be used. Give them content and experiences they value.”
At the same time, she said, brands must remember that customers are largely interacting via mobile. People look at their phones all day, said Masullo. A brand that offers too much can come across as aggressive, creating the exact opposite of loyalty: churn.
“It’s a private device,” Masullo emphasized. “You need to communicate with that in mind.”