When C-store owners are making the decision to add a loyalty program into their mix, it can be a wise choice for them to take it for a "test drive" before rolling it out to all of their stores. Sometimes, there are operational issues to consider, like whether the technology will work as intended with their POS systems. Other times, owners are more interested in testing the effectiveness of the program, whether their consumers will respond to it, and what types of rewards they'd most use and appreciate. A test run allows them to tweak the program into perfection before rolling it out. Here's a look at both reasons for a test drive, and the keys to making them successful.
When customers want to test out the program to discover if any operational issues need to be handled before roll out, we call this a soft launch. Much like a soft launch restaurant opening, in which there's no great fanfare or marketing but simply an opening of the doors to get the staff up to speed, this is a test period of trying out the program in a few select stores to iron out any operational bugs. Bugs can include technical or POS issues or customer experience snafus. Best practices for a soft launch:
Keep it small. Since you're looking for bugs in the system, you only need to involve a couple of stores.
Keep it short. 30 to 90 days will tell you whether the technology is working or if there are glitches in your system.
Don't expect huge program results during the soft launch. Since you're only involving a handful of stores, don't expect to see big returns from this. It's simply a way to iron out any problems before rolling it out to all of your stores.
Sometimes, customers want to start small to determine the effectiveness of the loyalty program. Will customers use it? Will employees get on board and promote it? It's almost like testing a food item on a restaurant menu. If enough customers like and respond to it, the new item goes on the menu permanently. This trial period allows C-store owners to tweak the program, adjust the offers and giveaways based on consumer preferences and reactions, and hit just the right mix that offers value before rolling it out to all of their stores.
Best practices that are critical to the success of the test run:
Use the program at all stores in one market. That way, a consumer who lives by one C-store in your chain and works by another can use the program in both places she frequents. If it's not available to all customers, it won't give you the results you want. But, a word to the wise, if the market is too small, the test might not yield the results you're looking for.
Train staff. Staff enthusiasm is crucial to the success of the program.
Be patient. Loyalty programs give excellent results, but it takes some time for the program to ramp up, reach customers and reap rewards. We counsel customers to plan on a three-to-six-month test period. Giving up because it doesn't produce your desired results right out of the gate is a mistake.
Critical success factors for either test drive
The stores that conduct test drives of our loyalty program, whether they're doing it for operational or effectiveness purposes, have two critical success factors in common: Owner commitment and employee engagement.
Commitment. It's critical to be committed to the program going in, rather than adopt a more "wait and see" attitude. Test drive or full roll out, loyalty programs require focus and commitment from the owner on down in order to be successful. Without that commitment, people won't put the focus into the program to make it successful.
Employee engagement. Employees can make or break your loyalty program, so it's absolutely vital to train your people not only in the program itself, how it works and how customers can use it, but also in how best to tell your customers that the program exists. If your customers don't know about it, they won't use it, and your loyalty program won't be successful. Employees are that critical to the process. The question then becomes, how do you engage and motivate your employees? You can give incentives to employees for numbers of sign-ups on their shifts or create some friendly competition between stores. It's also useful to have a "program champion," someone who really believes in the program and is enthusiastic about promoting it to customers.
Interested in taking a loyalty program for a test drive? Contact us today to learn more.