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Trouble with Timmies

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By: Bill Hanifin, CLMP™ |

Posted on March 30, 2023

Tim Hortons risks permanent relationship damage to Tims Rewards members and more

Tim Hortons can’t seem to stay out of the news with its loyal customers, and the coffee chain has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. At risk is the allegiance and favor of their customer base, not just Members of Tims Rewards but the general customer universe as well.

The headlining news that impacts all Tim Hortons customers is a triple-headed miscue related to their annual “RRRoll Up To Win” contest promotion which runs March 6 through April 2. 


RRRoll Up To Win (or Roll up the Rim “RUTR”) is an annual contest that dangled big prizes for customers in an instant win format. All customers had to do was to “roll up” the lip of a beverage cup and check to see if they were a winner via a printed message under the rim.

This year the contest went digital. Cashiers are no longer required to handle a gnarly, DNA covered cup. Customers now open the Timmies app to "roll up" a virtual cup with the swipe of a finger - with no body fluids exchanged. The change has caused confusion among the customer base with many taking to social media to express their frustration with the new system.

The Glitch:

A technical issue has caused bigger concern as several customers who played the RUTR game were advised they were winners of a $10,000 prize, only to quickly learn there was a mistake that negated their winnings. CTV covered the story well here, featuring long-haul truck driver Scott Adams who thought he had won a $10,000 prize via a prepaid Visa card. The big win turned into loss as Scott received an email from Timmies saying “a technical error caused an issue for a small subset of Roll Up To Win players that you are a part of”. Timmies offered a $50 Tim Card loaded to Scott’s Tims Rewards app or card.

Scott expressed his concern bluntly, saying “They are a multi-billion dollar company who built their brand on the backs of hard working Canadians. Pay up. It’s not even about the money now, it’s about the principal of it”. Other impacted customers have expressed equal dissatisfaction with the olive branch extended by Timmies, saying that they “Don’t plan to spend any more money at Tim Hortons”.

The Hacker:

Michael Wallace, a statistics professor at the University of Waterloo, claims to have cracked the code of RUTR back in 2020 and he is doing it again in 2023.  Wallace said “I gambled that they hadn’t thought of a few things that I thought of and I bought a bunch of coffees and saved a bunch of rolls and played them at the very end of the contest and managed to win at about 98 per cent of the time.” That was in 2020. After this news got out, Tim Hortons made some changes to the program and Wallace’s winning percentage dropped to an earthly 40 percent win rate in 2022.

In the 2023 contest, Wallace says he can determine when the best time of day to play is and that has upped his win rate once again. “What I found was the best time to play was 3:16 a.m. and the worst time to play was 11:46 a.m.,” Wallace said. He went on to say that when he was playing at 3:16 a.m. he won roughly 80 per cent of his rolls. When he played at 11:46 a.m., he won around 15 per cent.

There is surely amusement among consumers anytime the average person can get back at “the man”, but publicity surrounding Wallace’s ability to crack the RUTR code has to be disconcerting to customers who are legitimately playing and don’t have the liberty to manipulate their purchases.

What would Seth Godin say?

You know what it means when you have three strikes to your count? Your time at the plate is over and it’s time to return to the dugout.

You know what Seth Godin would say about this? After querying ten years of data on Seth’s Blog using his new AI chatbot, we found some foundational principles of customer loyalty that Tim Hortons could take under advisement. 

On forgiveness: “Customers will forgive a brand for making a mistake, but it depends on how the brand responds to the mistake. If the brand is open, engaged, and focused on making things better, the door is open to building a resilient, ongoing partnership. On the other hand, if the brand fails to allocate enough emotional labor to do the most important part–making things right, they risk losing the customer’s trust and loyalty. Additionally, if the brand tries to cover up the mistake, blames the customer, or fails to take action to correct the mistake, customers are less likely to forgive and may even take their business elsewhere.”

Tim Hortons has other issues that threaten the relationship they have built with customers over decades, potentially diminishing trust in the process.

  • During summer 2022,  privacy commissioners in Canada alleged the Timmies mobile app tracked the movements of customers and recorded the activity every few minutes, even when the app was not open on their phones.
  • In early 2023 the Canadian based coffee chain made changes to its loyalty program that many customers said would make it harder to earn rewards.

Trust: Seth Godin’s AI bot gave us some food for thought on Trust as well: “Trust is absolutely essential in creating long-term, valuable relationships with customers. Without trust, there can be no real relationship. Customers need to trust that a brand will deliver on its promises, that it will treat them fairly, and that it will act in their best interests.

It’s important to remember that customers are human, and they understand that mistakes happen. What they really care about is how the brand responds to the mistake. Brands that prioritize building trust and delivering value to their customers are more likely to be forgiven for their mistakes and to maintain long-term relationships with their customers.”

What’s Next?

Tim Horton’s needs to stop the bleeding. Gathering the loyalty team along with executives responsible for the brand at the highest levels to rethink their approach to Tims Rewards and their promotions would be a great way to start the process of rejuvenation. Maybe they are doing that as we speak, but the window of opportunity to stem a loss of trust and rebuild its image in the Canadian market is becoming more narrow as the news cycle continues.

During many years working with Canadian clients, I learned that Tim Hortons was synonymous with coffee itself. It was the Xerox, Kleenex, or FedEx of its category. When nearing a mid-morning break time, people would say “let’s go for a Timmies”. The incorporation of a brand name into daily language is a pinnacle achievement for any brand and it does not happen often.

The miscues at Tim Hortons span several areas of the business and collectively make a case study for why customer loyalty should be given priority at the enterprise level and why a cross-functional approach to loyalty program execution is essential in today’s digital world.

The string of customer-facing issues at Tim Hortons puts not just loyalty program members at risk, but also the broader universe of coffee drinkers who make Timmies part of their daily routine.

We’re rooting for Timmies to step up and crack a home run at its next try at the plate.