A significant challenge for both fast-casual and quick-service restaurant (QSR) establishments is converting first-time patrons into long-term customers. If consumers’ orders do not meet their expectations, their transactions could wind up becoming one-time exchanges that leave them unlikely to return to the restaurant in the future.
Many chains — including Chick-fil-A, Dunkin’, Sonic, Starbucks and Taco Bell — have launched customer loyalty programs to encourage future engagement beyond just initial orders. These offerings can enable customers to collect reward points over time and cash them in for discounts or free menu items. They have also proven to be highly popular, with 57 percent of consumers indicating they are more likely to patronize restaurants that offer such programs.
Christopher Thomas-Moore, Domino’s vice president of global eCommerce and digital marketing, explained that the availability of these programs can go a long way toward building a company’s brand in the eyes of consumers. Such offerings can demonstrate tangible benefits to customers by rewarding them for deciding to eat or drink at certain establishments.
“These loyalty programs mean so much to customers,” he said. “I think that, in the current atmosphere, consumers across all industries really value the acknowledgment and direct appreciation that companies can provide.”
Thomas-Moore spoke to PYMNTS about how loyalty programs can elevate relationships between consumers and restaurant brands, and how the pizza chain’s decision to embrace several different digital technologies is changing the ways consumers engage with it.
How Loyalty Programs Elevate Customer Expectations
Domino’s Piece of the Pie Rewards loyalty program launched in 2015. The company released a Points for Pies offering earlier this year, allowing members to earn 10 points for any pizza they purchase, including those that are not from Domino’s. Customers who earn 60 points receive a free medium pizza with two toppings.
Thomas-Moore said the program allows Domino’s to more effectively engage with customers who have proven to be more “loyal” to the brand. The availability of such a program, he said, helps “provide reasoning” as to why they should continue ordering pizza from the company.
“Customers want to see value,” he said. “They want to see it’s reciprocal and that, [with] the commitment and the dollars they are investing into our brand, they feel like they are getting some value outside of what they’re purchasing.”
Domino’s can also tap the loyalty program for data-related insights into customers’ perceptions and feedback. Among the most significant insights gleaned is that customers who participate in the loyalty program expect rewarding experiences, such as an ordering process that is distinctive from what most customers encounter.
“Exclusivity is part of that relationship,” Thomas-Moore said. “They’ve gone the extra mile to sign up ... and they expect a different experience than [what] everyone else is getting.”
Insights such as these can help Domino’s better meet customers’ expectations, understand how they engage with the company and pinpoint opportunities for improvement.
“We’re a data-driven organization, and we’re constantly learning [about] all aspects of our business,” he said. “Our loyalty program is no different.”
Extending Loyalty To Mobile Apps
The initial point of contact between a brand and the customer is key to building a long-term relationship. This experience — positive or negative — could influence whether a customer decides to download the Domino’s mobile app, which could be a significant step toward greater brand engagement.
“The majority of app downloads have not come from us being in front of people and blasting those messages,” Thomas-Moore said. “It happens from the organic development of a relationship.”
He said downloading the company’s mobile app is “a big milestone on the road to loyalty” for a customer. This action indicates that the consumer wants a convenient way to interact with the brand and further raises the bar for Domino’s to deliver on that experience.
“The actual downloading of an app is, in itself, a loyalty play,” Thomas-Moore said. “It’s a level of commitment for an individual to dedicate real estate on their personal device to your brand.”
Customers will not be willing to demonstrate that commitment if they have unpleasant experiences when placing their initial orders, however. They must be given seamless experiences whether they order from their mobile devices, computers or at physical stores.
“Downloading an app and dedicating that real estate to a brand you had a horrible experience with or really did not enjoy … is really unlikely,” he said. “We’re building strong relationships with the brand and our customers, and they’re taking that next step of commitment.”
Adding Technology To The Menu
Mobile apps are only one part of Domino’s technology-focused agenda to connect with consumers. Consumers can place orders from a wide range of connected devices, including smart speakers, like Amazon Echo and Google Home, or smartwatches. The company also enables orders through social platforms like Twitter and Slack.
Being accessible through a broad range of digital channels is key to Domino’s strategy. In fact, the chain now generates 65 percent of its sales through those channels.
“It’s about meeting the customers where they are and where they’re comfortable,” Thomas-Moore said. “There is something to being on Twitter and being on Alexa and Slack and finding customers when they’re doing the things that they do every day, … making the ability to order and track their pizza that much easier.”
The company recently invested in a 33,000-square-foot Innovation Garage based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that will be used to test new technologies such as ordering kiosks, delivery tracking and an autonomous delivery vehicle initiative. These initiatives will help the company demonstrate that it wants to use the technologies consumers are using, Thomas-Moore said. Becoming an early tester in autonomous vehicles enables Domino’s to stay ahead of emerging solutions, for example, rather than catching up to them after they become mainstream.
“I think ... our autonomous vehicle program is continuing that message that we’ve promoted for a number of years of being innovative and challenging the space on how we develop and cultivate these experiences,” he said.
Restaurants and QSRs in a crowded landscape need all the advantages they can secure to establish long-term relationships with their customers. While customer loyalty begins with positive initial experiences, providing seamless experiences across many digital channels can help restaurant brands gain a larger slice of the market.