Customer loyalty forms the backbone of every successful restaurant. In 2017 the challenges that restaurant owners and marketers face in connection with brand loyalty are multifaceted. There is currently an ‘engagement crisis’ within the restaurant industry as a whole, and it especially affects the fast casual segment. Yesterday’s marketing methods are no longer as effective since customers are tired of copycat marketing, stagnant discount offers and impersonal content.  
In 2017, switch your focus to marketing strategies aimed at building loyalty. This can easily be achieved by developing an effective approach to CRM. Here are four great ways to grow customer loyalty in 2017:  

1.    Pay attention to mobile

In 2017, your restaurant should be continuously communicating with customers on their own terms, and mobile is the perfect place to start focusing on. It is no secret that people use their smartphones throughout the day, but marketers need to pay attention to how restaurants guests use their devices.

According to a recent report by the Google Shopper Council, 90% of smartphone owners use their device for pre-shopping and shopping activities while 73% actually want a loyalty card on their device. This means that mobile is your customers’ own preferred method of building loyalty and engaging with the brands. It’s also crucial to reach mobile users at key moments when they are deciding “where to eat.”

Going mobile with your marketing program is a proven strategy that pays off. Starbucks, the global company with one of the most innovative and early mobile loyalty programs, reported last year that “customers that are part of its loyalty program spend three times as much as non-members.”  This doesn’t mean that traditional methods are dead, as people still read their emails and browse on their desktops while at work or home, but mobile connections are often more personal, timely and provide important data back to the marketer. Missing the mobile opportunity in 2017 can set your business back for years.

2.    Get ahead of the curve with your restaurant’s mobile app

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Merely having your own mobile app for the restaurant is no longer enough in 2017. In order for it to deliver the results you need, it is important to understand user expectations, as well as industry benchmarks for mobile apps. You can then analyze how your app measures up against them and why.

Today’s largest and most successful restaurant brands are implementing new strategies, and rolling out proven CRM platform solutions with the goal of improving customer engagement and achieving measurable loyalty gains. Keeping an eye out for these strategies and using their successes to influence your own planning on mobile can be highly beneficial for your brand.

It’s important to note, however, that within the fast casual segment, about 90% of restaurant mobile apps available today are not driving incremental revenue. The main reason for such underperformance is not harnessing the technology’s full potential and, therefore, not creating enough value for either the customer or the restaurant. They may only have basic features, such as providing menu and location. If that sounds familiar, then you have a great opportunity to address your brand’s performance on mobile and get ahead of the competition. 

The quality of a mobile app in the fast casual category can be effectively measured by checking whether the app is actually achieving existing business goals. For example, your app could be used to get more foot traffic in specific locations, growing your CRM database, making ordering more efficient, staff quality control or, indeed, all of the above. If your app is not currently goal-oriented, consider revisiting it to get ahead of the curve.

3.    Measure marketing performance

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 Most marketers are still learning about the potential of mobile apps and how they are a key element of an effective fast casual mobile engagement platform. They don’t know how or what to measure and, as a result, are not aware of the full potential.

Here are a few ideas to help you make your mobile app the star of your CRM strategy together with some industry benchmarks from 2016 FSTEC Conference presentations:

  • Use your mobile app to target higher customer engagement. One of KFC’s most innovative franchisees was recently awarded the International Loyalty360 CX gold award for having demonstrated astounding results when using app penetration rates to measure performance. You can aggressively aim for 25-37% app penetration. For example, the same KFC case study saw every 4th customer use the app during their visit.
  • Boost the average check spend per customer. The most loyal users are higher spenders, so get them to come more often with the right incentives. Strive to attain 30% higher checks with customers who are using the mobile app. These were the results achieved by both Pizza Hut and Hooters at European locations.
  • Increase campaign conversion rates. Get your customers to come back with gentle reminders and gamification which can be highly effective. For example, KFC offered a free sandwich to guests who would return to their store within a week. 34% of the targeted guests opened the offer and 14% of recipients actually returned to KFC within a week. 
  • Get new guests through referrals. A high quality mobile app with loyalty rewards makes people want to share their experience with friends. One of Burger King’s forward-thinking franchisees got 14% of app users recommend it to their friends. Each recommendation drove an average of three new users to install the app. This user activity propelled the app to the top of the local App Store charts within a month creating great brand exposure.
  • Switch to in-house digital orders and reservations. As a cost cutting strategy, target getting 60% of your digital orders from your own mobile app rather than a costly 3rd party just like Domino’s Pizza did in the United Kingdom. Home delivery and reservations managed in-house can help you avoid expensive fees from third party service providers. 
  • Measure same store revenue growth. Using a white-label mobile app and CRM strategy alongside personalized communications should help you achieve between 6 and 20% same store sales growth. Measure this by comparing the revenues from two similar locations, only one of relies on the mobile app. This way, you will clearly see the incremental value from your app. 

4. Make communication more personal

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Marketers must create emotionally connected communication paired with targeted offers that speak to customers’ aspirations. In 2017 brands are starting to clearly see that a personalized stream of content, built “just for you,” beats a static interface forcing users to click around and hunt for the content they want. For example, in 2016, Starbucks revolutionized its app interface to include a personalized stream of offers once again fine-tuning targeting and engagement.

Customers want to feel special as they continue to purchase meals week after week, and they want more refinement, exclusivity and a better level of depth in the rewards they can get. To accomplish this objective, build elements of gamification into your mobile app, so that customers automatically gain a higher status as they spend more. Rather than offer a small discount on their next purchase, show them why engaging with your brand is extremely rewarding.

In conclusion, knowledge is power when it comes to successful restaurant CRM. Knowing which strategies to implement, how to measure success and what to expect from loyalty programs and mobile apps can really make you restaurant brand stand out in this highly competitive marketplace. 

Vasilii Diachenko is the founder of LoyaltyPlant, a mobile platform that helps restaurant owners and marketers build rewarding customer relationships by harnessing the power of mobile apps. Follow @LoyaltyPlant on Twitter for additional marketing tips.