Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) and Fast Casual restaurants have virtually written the playbook about how to deliver quality to millions – and billions – of customers across all aspects of the dining experience (the service, the food, and the value) without sacrificing speed.

So why haven’t many of these brands succeeded in delivering this same outstanding customer experience through their loyalty programs? I’m not referring to programs that feature punch cards that give you a free meal after 10 visits. I’m talking about programs with the power to create raving fans, change customer behavior, and keep folks coming back to a restaurant again and again (and spending more money, while they’re at it). These programs are designed around the customer, not the next transaction. They have impact because they deliver meaningful, engaging and personalized customer experiences.

In the conversations I’ve had with QSR and Fast Casual marketers, it is clear they recognize loyalty’s value and potential, yet it’s the elusive secret sauce many of them are still trying to perfect.

I believe most of these underwhelming “first-generation” loyalty programs disappoint both consumers and marketers because they fail to support the pace of change the industry continues to undergo. These costly and inflexible legacy customer loyalty infrastructures will predictably slow a brand’s adoption of new strategies and creative approaches – leading to a competitive disadvantage, lower customer satisfaction, and churn.

QSRs and Fast Casual brands need the ability to evolve and adapt their loyalty programs in real-time as customer preferences, market trends, and menu offerings change. Exceptional customer experiences can take many forms, but they are exceptional because they represent a true understanding of what the customer wants and appreciates.  This requires listening and responding to customer signals and interactions, not only their purchase activity from back-end payment transaction systems, but tapping into preferences, interests, social behaviors, etc. By engaging consumers in a personalized manner – in context, when it counts – brands can use their loyalty programs to build stronger relationships with their customers and increase wallet share.

Brands can’t simply roll out the electronic equivalent of punch card programs and think, “done, our loyalty box is checked.” Loyalty isn’t just about the payment transaction: it’s about connecting customers through the entire experience (including new opportunities presented through mobile and social media channels) that most standard loyalty platforms don’t contemplate.

QSR and Fast Casual brands today have a new opportunity to rethink their customer relationship strategies. By demonstrating they understand and appreciate their customers’ wants and needs through personalized, rich, and compelling experiences, QSR and Fast Casual brands can transform their loyalty programs into a competitive differentiator.

Our team at Stellar Loyalty is helping brands do just that. What are the key ingredients to the secret sauce?

  1. Loyalty programs designed for mobile from the ground up (not just mobile web access)
  2. Powerful social integration that continually adapts with new social platform rules of engagement, advertising and retargeting
  3. Targeted personalization and communication across all channels (taking advantage of location data, consumer preferences, attributes, purchases, etc.)
  4. Big data flexible technology architecture that supports rapid change and iteration, speed and scale, and ease of integrate to tap into the evolving landscape of technology systems that contain customer information
  5. Laser-focus on keeping the program content fresh and tailored to individual segments and personas; offering new features to engage, retain and inspire customers

I’ll be heading to the 2016 Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit (RFIS) in Dallas next week, where I’m looking forward to conversations with marketers at leading QSR/Fast Casual brands about the challenges they continue to face, and how Stellar Loyalty can help.

I am optimistic at the Innovation Summit I will hear from brands that are reimagining their strategies. It is an undeniable fact.  Loyal and engaged customers spend more with their preferred brands and, as your advocates, they refer new customers.  So let’s embrace this opportunity to deliver truly exceptional customer experiences!

Look for images from the event on our social channels and my recap blog post on key trends and insights for RFIS.