Starbucks invests in digital relationships to keep in front of customers during pandemic, says loyalty expert

QSRs are set to transform in 2021 through an emphasis on digital components and strong customer experience efforts and Starbucks, in particular, continues to see record-high program participation, says Kate Hogenson, senior loyalty and CX consultant at Kobie

“Like all QSRs right now, Starbucks will continue to have lower traffic and huge pressure on their operational margins until social distancing is no longer needed. That’s where their strong digital membership strategies can help – they dramatically expanded the reach of Starbucks Rewards in September by enabling any form of payment instead of requiring members to maintain a balance in their mobile wallet. Then, they followed up with the “Starbucks for Life” game which had been successful in 2019 for keeping both new and ongoing members engaged through the holidays. What Starbucks has learned is that driving engagement – even without a purchase for initial game play – increases purchases and active membership over time, reinforcing the Starbucks habit.  

“Starbucks recently announced that they are lending operational expertise to COVID-19 vaccination efforts – while this is not immediately a customer-facing initiative, it is certainly a message they can send to members to show commitment to the broader community. And those members will be primed to open those messages, because Starbucks has invested in maintaining digital relationships that keep their brand in front of customers even when they aren’t literally in front of a barista.”

Commenting on McDonald’s and Burger King’s latest loyalty initiatives, Dave Andreadakis, chief innovation officer at Kobie, said: “We’re glad to see this loyalty-centric shift in the QSR industry by McDonald’s and Burger King. For as long as I can remember, the main way for fast dining to engage with customers on a personal level was through its employees. But given the rate at which employee turnover occurs, along with the speed at which customers expect to be served, truly connecting with customers has been a longstanding challenge.

“Implementing digital interaction into your strategy is one thing, but adding it in a permissioned environment – like a loyalty program – is game changing. This allows brands to keep up with their service times and employee rotations, all while providing the ability to interact with customers between visits in a meaningful way. What’s more, those interactions can happen at a pace that is more suited to engaging and learning, so we’re a big fan of this new loyalty-driven push. 

“Burger King’s program is coupled with a significant investment in interactive technology, while McDonald’s program pinpoints the employee-customer relationship. Other brands have similar strategies, but what we particularly like about Burger King’s approach is its ability to capture a lot more data and personalize experiences in real-time – relying less on the employees to land the message. 

“As payments, loyalty and service technologies converge, we’ll begin to see even more advances from industries that were once heading to commoditization, rise up and return their brands to personalized, meaningful experiences.”