Subway's customer loyalty programme aims to increase purchases and enable the company to better know customers. I sat down with Shetal Bhatt, Subcard Programme Manager at the European Independent Purchasing Company Ltd (EPIC) and Jane Abbott, Marketing Manager at Subway, as they explained the challenges of building loyalty in a quick service environment.
At Subway the way to a customer's heart is through their stomach. That's why when any of its two-million weekly customers in the UK and Ireland behave in a way Subway wants them to, they're rewarded with points towards their next sub or a cookie.
The simplicity of the scheme, however, belies the challenges Subway faces in building customer loyalty. In the world of quick service takeaway food, customers are pushed for time.
Shetal explained: "Our primary channel is the outlets where we sell food. Customers don't stay a long time and trying to get them to sign up to a loyalty scheme and get that data at that point is a challenge."
So it's important that the customers are given tangible rewards and the scheme is run in a way that makes it easy to use, via a card, Passbook or phone app with a barcode or QR code that's scanned at the till. Since the launch of Subcard, the Subway brand’s loyalty programme, more than five million customers have one, of which over 1.5m are registered with a card or the app.
Subway is run by franchisees so the company says it is vital that all stores deliver what Subway promises – when someone has their 500 points for a free Sub they get one, wherever they are.
One of the aims of the scheme is to use the data collected from customers to ensure they're sent relevant offers and Subway knows the best channel to communicate with them.
"We have to make sure all offers are relevant," said Shetal. "We won't send an offer for a bacon and cheese sub to a vegetarian customer. It's complicated and expensive to do, but worth it." The focus is on segmenting offers and not over saturating customers, "they don't want constant messages."
The Subcard programme has a clear goal of increasing purchases and the thinking behind it is explained by Jane's tips for generating lasting customer loyalty.
1. Identify exactly what you are trying to achieve with a scheme:
"We're very clear we are trying to drive frequency of visits in order to increase spend. Trying to keep it simple rather than trying to do lots of different things. Everything we do is with that purpose."
2. Don't forget your loyal customers:
"Sometimes we'll send them out a thank you email if they've redeemed their points or give them 50 points towards their next sub."
3. Reward behaviour:
"Through segmented communications we reward behaviour we're asking people to do. Our offers reward frequency and spend – for example visiting a store a number of times over a certain time period. We have a customer feedback site called Tell Subway and we incentivise people to give feedback by giving them a free cookie."
Like many businesses, Subway recognises that social media is all about communicating with customers and not pushing products.
"The sorts of things we have done are making sure customers are first to know about new things, or we'll do exclusive content with celebrity fans, such as Lions rugby player Tommy Bowe," explained Jane. "We use it to identify any issues and can respond on a one to one basis." The brand primarily uses Twitter but is also on Facebook.
Last year Subway launched a scan and win promotion in Germany. The aim was that users would scan their Subcard and every fourth person would win a prize. "This promotion was all about trying to diversify rewards on a promotions basis," said Shetal.
The biggest prizes included smart phones, PlayStations and mountain bikes, but smaller prizes included extra points on their Subcard. The promotion was a huge success. "It hit all the metrics in terms of ROI and the number of Subcard users increasing over the promotion time," said Shetal.
It's a simple philosophy and enough to whet the taste buds of two million weekly customers.
At this year's Europe's Customer Festival, Shetel will be partaking in a fireside chat focusing around how you can move your business on from transactional loyalty to emotional loyalty and in the process improve your customer's experience.
You can also get a great run down of this and other interviews and case studies, including Aimia’s Jan-Pieter Lips, in Total Customer’s completely free Little Book of Loyalty.