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Posted by Sarah Brown on 03 Mar '17

When a loyalty card backfires

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My purse is overflowing with loyalty cards from the different cafes we go to and even from a fish and chip shop!

Yet twice in the last couple of weeks it’s the loyalty card which has almost made me never return and in one instance was the final straw.

First there was the café, a social enterprise, with the wording on the card “By 6 hot drinks and as a thank you for your loyalty have your next on us!!”

Immediately I was put off by the spelling mistake, and the fact that I only knew it existed because I’d seen someone use it though we had visited before and hadn’t been offered one.

I duly ordered two drinks and got a single stamp on my card. I queried this as I thought the wording meant a stamp for each drink but no I was told it was per visit and someone in the queue told me I should be grateful for a free drink. I felt quite embarrassed and uncomfortable.  Of course, if we pay separately and then sit together we’ll get two stamps – bizarre.

In fact I think a free drink after 6 drinks for a café which is priced pretty reasonably is too generous but the visit method is just wrong. Now if the offer was buy 6 and then we will give a free drink to someone we support in the social enterprise, they work with people who have mental health issues then I would like that – see the blog I wrote about the café in Monton.  

Then yesterday we went to a café which I regard as quite expensive. Firstly the food was not great, a welsh rarebit with raw toast underneath and cheap cheese with no flavour. Then the tea was lukewarm, I assume no one warmed the pot.

I went to pay got out my loyalty card and as she put the 7th and 8th stamp on the card, it needs another 2 for a free drink she said “Haven’t you got our new card, you only need 6 stamps for a free drink”. She showed me the new card, didn’t give me one, didn’t offer to stamp the new one, rather than the old one or offer me a free drink for my 8 stamps on the old one. Then to add to the customer experience I was made to wait several minutes to pay by card as the owner was on the phone, she appeared to apologise and asked me how my food had been.

I have been in the service sector all my life so know feedback is critical so I said not great and why and was told that’s how we always do it.

As we drove away we agreed not to return.

An example of good practice

But a loyalty card can work well.  The restaurant we visit most often does several things right.

First it has a starting stamp on the card, research indicates people are more likely to return if they feel they have already started on the journey to a reward.  Next they use it as a means of attracting people in on a quiet day. Tuesdays you get double stamps so if you were thinking maybe, it sways you. And they make it clear that they offer a card and ask if you have one, most of the time – you can’t always be perfect.

Much of marketing is common sense and about building relationships yet even something so simple can go wrong. Let me know your examples of any promotion that has had the opposite effect to that intended - click here to email me your examples of marketing that didn't work