Fast food restaurants, commonly known as QSR’s (Quick service restaurants) deliver the food customers crave with limited waiting time. Speed and convenience are the name of the game. Until recently, the industry centered its customer centric marketing efforts on menu promotions, price-advantaged combos, sweepstakes, and contests.
That has changed in the past five years as 9 of the top 10 QSR chains globally and 13 of the top 20 have reward programs today. Among the list, Starbucks, Subway, and Panera Bread were the earliest to launch programs and multiple evolutions have resulted in exemplary programs today. Chipotle, Chick-Fil-A, and Dunkin’ are pillars among the second wave of loyalty program launches. The most notable chain to introduce a loyalty program in the past year is McDonald’s, the QSR chain sitting on top of the global list.
To meet customer expectations for the quick and easy experience they expect from their favorite QSR, the choice of program enrollment method at the point of purchase is key to building membership and keeping customers engaged in any program. Here’s a quick survey of the most commonly used enrollment methods used today with pros and cons called out for each.
Phone Number or Email Address
Customers are invited to enter a phone number into a pin pad or card processing device at the time of purchase. Oftentimes that is all the customer is required to do to join the program. Since gathering data to build customer profiles is essential to long term success in customer loyalty, customers can expect to receive follow up messages via SMS or email to stimulate a full enrollment. The messages come in the form of a “thank you” and maybe a small reward for having taken the first step. Either method encourages the new member to navigate to a web form to complete enrollment.
Pro: Everyone knows their phone number, so the requirement to join the program via this datapoint is simple and creates minimal friction. Using an email offers the same simplicity, but the opportunity for misspelling is high and since many people have multiple email addresses, there is opportunity to create data gaps for future communications.
Con: When loyalty management is delivered natively through a point of sale (POS) system, this method of enrollment works well, however, we’ve seen some systems that require the customer to speak the data to a cashier to enroll. That can be clumsy, slow the line, and represent security issues that cause customer discomfort. Remember too that integration of loyalty software to POS systems can be costly and require time. Most loyalty providers have integrations to a select number of POS equipment platforms but not all. In some instances, standalone tablets must be used as an alternate solution to a full POS integration.
SMS to Short Code
Some QSR’s offer customers the option to text a short code, e.g., “JOIN NOW” to a specified SMS address (a short code), e.g., “12345”. The action generates an account number for the customer which is associated with the originating phone number. An SMS message is returned with an invitation to click a link, navigate to a mobile web page, and complete enrollment. There is probably at least one other SMS message in this stream as the QSR needs to gain permission to continue the conversation via SMS.
Pro: The enrollment process can be triggered from any point where the invitation can be posted. Whether on a sign in a drive up, on a “keep your distance” floor sticker (the type that became popular during the pandemic) or at the cashier, customers can start the process while waiting in line. This is time saving, low friction, and a simple way to enroll. The texting process happens outside of the store POS environment, so integration efforts between loyalty system and POS is minimized.
Con: In our experience, while this method is easy for the customer to enroll, it results in low conversion to creation of a full profile. Through observation of program operations, we have evidence that customers perceive that sending the SMS is all they need to do to join a program and many times they do not click through to the progressive web app to complete enrollment. This results in anonymous accounts on file. These accounts may be able to earn points in a program, but rules often prevent redemption unless a full registration is completed. The burden created for the QSR to encourage customers to complete a profile is not efficient and often may limit program results.
Scan a QR Code
Just when we thought QR codes were out of fashion, i.e., dead, they have enjoyed resurgence as result of the pandemic. The customer scans the code and is directed to a mobile web site to complete their registration. The rest of the process is similar to the SMS to Short Code method.
Pro: QR codes can be placed anywhere, making engagement easy and friction free. Smartphones have evolved to allow cameras to process QR Codes, eliminating the need for a QR processing app. During the pandemic, consumers were reintroduced to QR codes, resulting in higher engagement.
Con: Customers must complete the enrollment process by navigating to a progressive web site and the same disconnect issues that present in the SMS to Short Code method will become problematic for QSR’s relying on this method.
There’s an app for everything it seems and that is definitely true for QSR loyalty programs. Apps are easier and lower cost to develop than in the past. Asking customers to download and create an account in a QSR mobile app seems to be the most popular enrollment method today.
Pro: “Don’t leave home without it” applies more to a mobile phone than a credit card these days. Customers have their phones handy and can easily download an app to join a program. Signage in the store might leverage a QR code to facilitate the download. Once customers become accustomed to using the mobile app, engagement rates may be higher long term.
Con: Your mobile app must offer more than just a connection to your loyalty program. When you establish elements of value and utility in an app, it is more likely to remain on a member’s smartphone. Just like customers once thought that they had “too many loyalty cards,” now many people would say they have “too many apps” on their phones.
If you have not guessed it by now, the most effective approach to QSR loyalty program enrollment is to offer multiple options. Only a select handful of brands have the magnetic power to enroll customers at scale using only a mobile app. Many are well advised to take a more friction free approach. In any case, opting for enrollment methods with the highest profile building conversion rates is wise. And, remember that your choice for enrollment must also provide a direct way to identify program members at the point of sale to give them credit for their purchases. We tackle that topic next.