In Focus
TECHNOLOGY | Kevin Santos, Australia

Customer loyalty in the COVID-19 age, as told by McDonald's, Nando's, Grill'd and Bakers Delight

An expert also offers a strategic framework for chains that want to create or refine their own loyalty programme.

The accelerated demand for contactless experiences has made chains even more pronounced in encouraging customers to download their apps or sign-up to their loyalty programs, promising their takes on value in exchange for their continued patronage.

In this COVID-19 age, how are brands making sure to create interactions that matter to its base?

In separate interviews with McDonald’s, Bakers Delight, Grill’d and Nando’s, one unified theme is clear if a brand wants its most loyal customers to come back: a one-size-fits-all approach is off the table and offering personalised experiences is still a must.

Some of the usual ingredients? Suggested items based on purchasing behaviors and relevant messaging.

“A great loyalty app and programme is one that provides a personalised experience, gives customers immediate convenience and has the ability to constantly evolve and innovate to meet customer needs,” McDonald’s Australia director of digital Brent Clarke told QSR Media.

“We are really focused on delivering on the ‘personal’ aspect of our program to enable us to exceed customer delight expectations, so segmentation and profiling will be a top priority for us in year 1,” Bakers Delight loyalty, CRM & digital marketing manager Kristy Elsworth said, referring to their upcoming Dough Getters programme.

“This will include focusing on buying behaviour and demographic attributes, and continuously refining our segments as our program matures.”

“Personalised experience[s are] crucial, so we empower our [PERi-Perks] members by allowing them to interact with us on their terms. Someone who prefers to order Nando’s Delivery via our app has different needs to someone who orders at the counter,” added Nando’s chief marketing officer Helen Reece.

“The key is providing a meaningful experience to all members and ensuring they all have a brilliant brand interaction by bringing in personalisation and using our tools and technologies to our best advantage.”

“The one size fits all approach for loyalty is no longer relevant, customers now expect a truly unique experience that is tailored to their specific lifestyle,” Grill’d senior loyalty & CRM manager Ben Wild shared.

“The new data landscape allows us to be truly more [one to one], proactive instead of reactive, and ultimately more predictive in future behaviours. With that said, we’re still surprised by the behaviours of the member base – different campaigns generate different results.”

Transaction data aside, how customers are interacting with their loyalty programmes understandably vary, with brands listing down app-only offers, exclusive events and campaigns as just some of the benefits expected. Some also cited having a feedback mechanism as a critical piece within their apps to further improve their services.

“Customers can access exclusive deals and discounts only available on the MyMacca’s App. These have been extremely popular with our customers and will continue to be a priority for us this year,” Clarke said.

Bakers Delight, set to offer VIP taste testing opportunities, birthday treats and others through their programme, says it will still have a plastic card on offer, doing so in the name of simplicity and accessibility.

“We designed our new program with customers, for customers…so when over 60% of those we spoke to said they wanted a plastic card as part of the program, we knew we had to make one available. Even if a customer forgets their card or doesn’t have the app, they can still earn and redeem simply by stating their mobile number at the counter,” Elsworth explained.

“When COVID-19 hit, we moved to virtual rewards by partnering with third party brands who aligned with our demographic, offering our members exclusive discounts. Our offers were met with great enthusiasm from our members so we’ve extended this activity,” Reece explained.

“Consumer mindset also shifted during COVID-19. Our PERi-Perks members want us to live our values and help our communities, which we’ve done by finding ways to either directly or indirectly involve our members in our purpose initiatives,” she added, citing discounts for healthcare workers and customer-led voucher giveaways as examples.

“The key feature of Relish is ‘8 and Donate’; a program that allows a member to help someone doing it tough in our cities by donating a meal through Vinnies Food Services. By becoming a ‘Hunger Hero’ a member not only receives a number of in-restaurant benefits, but they can also get that sense of ‘giving back’ through an act of kindness,” Wild said.

“By having offers and opportunities that are not just financial – our aim is to make the member feel like their voice is heard and opinion is valued. The feedback generated is a key part of determining the way the program operates and this ensures much greater adoption and uptake of the initiatives we put in market.”

Zones of loyalty programme performance, explained
In developing or refining a loyalty programme, The Point of Loyalty CEO Adam Posner argued that brands need to think about its reasons on why one’s brand needs one, understand who its customers are based on value segments, and design a program to solve pain points.

“Ensure the program structure meets the objectives and member behaviours – remember not all programs are points programs,” he advised.

He recommends building a “blend of benefits with a base of financial rewards”, then layered with experiential rewards, utility benefits, before personalising and adding “social and community connections with sustainability.”

Building a team of “loyalty champions” and picking the right technology should be considered, Posner added.

“Technology enables the program with fit-for-purpose technology and whilst an app is the go-to program interaction channel – remember it’s just another app amongst hundreds, so why would they bother?” he explained.

On data collection and use, Posner said that being “smart and sensitive” makes “all the difference”, along with dialogue and ongoing communication through all moments of a member’s experience.

“Activity is arguably the most important metric of loyalty program success,” he said.

Posner warned brands to avoid integrating interactions that “hinders an exceptional programme experience, makes it complex, low value and impersonal.”

“Customer loyalty is an outcome defined by both behaviour and belief. Behaviour is a transactional connection identified by spending more and purchasing more often from the brand over the longer term where competitive forces are in play. Belief is an emotional connection where trust is inherent,” he said.

“A loyalty program can influence both behaviour and belief through careful planning and design.”

Towards an “ecosystem of experiences”
As for the future, Posner expects such programmes to be a business growth asset and “no longer just be a marketing tool”, more focused on causes and community connections, become an “ecosystem of experiences” and be filled with partnerships.

Co-brand partnerships will be carefully curated and aligned to add value to being a member of a program. For the brands they will open up new audiences, increase engagement with existing members and generate incremental revenue.

“Paid loyalty”, such as subscription-based programs, are also bringing value to members, Posner said, citing models done by Panera in the U.S. and Pret A Manger in the UK. Simpler payments and the aforementioned personalisation strategies will still be relevant as well.

“The expectation is simple. It’s all about the time-saving economy. Make the experience simple, easy with a sprinkle of speed. Add some moments of joy to it as well with an unexpected reward,” Posner concluded.

Photo credit: McDonald's Australia/YouTube

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