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Best Practices for Social & Mobile Strategies Yield Loyalty

Modern restaurant goers are more connected than ever and naturally mobile technologies will play a huge role in the future of customer engagement. The results of HT’s 2012 Customer Engagement Technology Study show that restaurants are experimenting with mobile technology to create innovative marketing programs that engage with this new era of customers, and ultimately build loyalty.

It will be critical for operators to integrate mobile and social interactions in order to acquire and engage users, elicit them as part of the marketing effort, and capture and respond to important feedback that these listening posts can provide. In doing so, restaurateurs create a sense of openness and community, provide greater convenience for their consumers, interact with and get to know customers better, and ultimately own the customer relationship. Ultimately, the goal is about engendering customer loyalty to avoid having customers defect or be poached by competitors.  

Mobile apps that motivate
While mobile apps are gaining in popularity, restaurant operators need to think about how to market these to consumers and ensure that the apps offer noticeable value and convenience.  It may be necessary to provide incentives (e.g., free appetizers or drinks, loyalty points, discounts, priority seating, etc.) to consumers to entice them to download these apps and use them regularly.  

A key goal is to shift customers’ purchase intentions, frequency, and spending while generating positive consumer impressions and word-of-mouth.  Sam’s Club Gifter Stress Lifter app was designed to assist shoppers in getting personalized gift recommendations and then subsequently facilitating their purchases of these items in an easy and convenient manner. Consider the Starbucks’ mobile app as a restaurant example. Using this app, customers can create their own drinks anytime and anywhere, review nutritional information of their drinks, retrieve order history, load money, and use a QR code to pay for purchases.

Community building yields loyalty
As customers become more attached to their smartphones and expect to engage directly with brands, it seems they are less likely to be attracted to traditional loyalty card programs. This may also be a function of consumers’ perceived interchangeability between competitive product offerings; that is, they are open to exchanging brand loyalty with one company for a better deal or incentive to patronize another.   

Given these perspectives, restaurants will need to focus on new ways to build and solidify genuine customer loyalty, not artificially-induced loyalty that results from typical point-based programs. This means that restaurants need to view each interaction with their customers as relationship-building opportunities, not merely as transactions to process.

Some key action points to engage customers include:
•    Initiate discussion-based events on topics relevant to members’ interests;
•    Ask members to rank or tag favorite content to encourage them to contribute high-quality content;
•    Encourage members to co-create products/services;
•    Reward customers based on the level of activities and contributions;
•    Launch video/photo competitions featuring menu items, customer experiences, etc.;  
•    Ask customers to create and name a new menu item and assist in the design and development of a new restaurant concept by providing input and feedback.  

Combat social backlash
While satisfied consumers can become advocates and help with a restaurant’s marketing efforts by positively influencing others, social customer engagement can also help restaurant operators understand the factors that trigger customer defection, and if caught soon enough, restaurants can intervene and provide service recovery.  By turning negative situations into positive ones before customers defect, restaurants can redeem themselves, create satisfied customers and generate loyalty. When a restaurant identifies vocal critics from social media comments, it can take corrective measures and show not only the impacted customer, but prospective customers as well, that it cares and will work to make things right.

To download a complimentary copy of the 2012 Customer Engagement Technology study, authored in partnership with Dr.’s Kim and Connolly, visit

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