The new year is fast upon us, and with it comes new opportunities for restaurant brands to surprise and delight their customers with engaging and rewarding experiences. A well-designed, innovative loyalty program can help you get there.

But technology is fast changing customer expectations, so it’s vital to refresh and reimagine the possibilities.
Forrester recently published its2017 Predictions: Dynamics that will Shape the Future in the Age of the Customer.It’s an excellent guide for developing New Year’s customer experience resolutions. The report points to designing “signature moments that win the hearts, minds and wallets of customers,” and “operationalizing emotion,” whereby brands will “quantify and better harness the power of emotion to drive affinity and spend.” These are powerful concepts to consider as you evolve your customer loyalty and engagement strategies in the new year.

To jump-start your efforts, here are five concrete ideas:

1.  Do it right with mobile:

Having a mobile app is becoming table stakes, yet once you set certain expectation with your customers, you need to keep raising the bar in the mobile experience. Here is what’s important to consider for your mobile app going into January and beyond:

-Achieve mobile quality with native apps
Home sweet home! Native apps are natural extensions of a mobile device’s platform (e.g. iOS or Android)). Native apps are written in the device’s specific language and look and feel like the default apps. Only native apps can interact with and take advantage of operating system features and other software readily available on those platforms. For example, the ability to integrate features like Apple Pay or content for iMessage into your own app will result in greater use.

Apps that try to reproduce the look often fall prey to the uncanny valley effect (a replica that appears almost, but not quite like the real thing). Big players like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Bank of America have learned this lesson the hard way by first investing in HTML5 and later going back to native for performance reasons.
Luckily, there are specialized development environments in iOS and Android that enable developers to build native apps.

-One size doesn’t fit all
One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to mobile because the experience on your phone is not the same as the one on tablets. For example, not only are aspect ratios different, but dpi (dots per inch) vary from one device to another, which can drastically change how an app should look and behave.

Quick tip: Using Obj-C or Java gives you more control on the size, resolution and even orientation of your apps. Tackling technical challenges like these are necessary in order to deliver a superior user experience.

-Mobile ordering needs to be integrated with loyalty
Friction-free mobile ordering is now a must-have and should also be seamlessly integrated with your loyalty solution. Imagine how you can increase average ticket size with personalized offers based on customer preferences, all of which are captured from your loyalty program and integrated with order information. Armed with this rich data, consider the opportunities to segment and target customers to improve slower day-part performance, for example.

2.  Entertainment really does matter: embrace it

Consumers love to play games. In fact, 32 percent of consumers’ time on mobile apps goes to a combination of gaming and entertainment, according to Flurry Analytics. Consider how you can entertain your customers and tie it to the restaurant experience.

These games can be fast and simple, such as a spin-the-wheel or scratch-to-win games, or a more in-depth game enhanced with image recognition or augmented reality. You can also enhance the gaming experience by making it social, so your customers can share the experience with their friends.

3.  Share in your customers’ passions and reward them

Customers’ loyalties are often best exemplified by their loyalty to a celebrity or sports team, and QSR brands are paying attention to this fact.
About a year ago, Dunkin’ Donuts held a popular loyalty campaign entitling New Englanders who enrolled in its DD Perks program to a free coffee the day after a Patriots’ win.

Likewise, in the 2016 World Series, as part of Taco Bell’s Steal a Base, Steal a Taco promotion, the chain gave away free tacos when either team stole a base. President Obama even gave the promotion a shout-out at a 2016 campaign rally.

These programs work because they tap into existing emotions and extend those emotions in a way that’s fun, memorable and rewarding for both customer and brand.

4.  Showcase your customers and make them heroes

Your happy customers are your best advocates, so give them a social platform. User-generated content is a trusted and authentic way to communicate the attributes of your brand, and you can build full-blown marketing campaigns and promotions around it. It also provides a way for you to recognize and thank customers as your marketing heroes.

A recent McKinsey study found that “marketing-induced consumer-to-consumer word of mouth generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising” and showed that customers acquired through word-of-mouth had a 37 percent higher retention rate.

Influencer marketing also helps your search engine ranking. According to The Social Media Revolution, user-generated social posts account for 25 percent of search results for the world’s top 20 brands. The more people that mention your brand on social media, the more popular and relevant you will be on Google.

5.  Engage customers in between orders

Finally, make certain you are giving customers new reasons to go to your app and engage during the “time between orders.” Loyalty is about creating a relationship – one that is meaningful, fun and feels true to who you are as a brand. Consider ways to enrich the experience when customers are not looking to dine. For example:

– Offer sweepstakes or contests.
– Solicit input and share results back so customers know you value them.
– Continue to make it social.

So this new year, start thinking about creating “signature” experiences and embracing new technologies that will tap into your customers’ imaginations as you engage, entertain, entice and reward.

So then, what’s your New Year’s loyalty resolution?