September 11, 2012

The Bare Necessities Of Brand Loyalty

Over the past few months, I've become something of a regular at The Bald Barista in Dublin. It's a handy place to prepare for my nearby meeting, the staff there are very friendly and the coffee's pretty good too.

But, despite my growing habit, I resisted their offer of a loyalty card, as I didn't want to add to the clutter in my wallet. Meaning I missed out on an occasional complimentary coffee and the Bald Barista missed out on my becoming part of their loyal customer group.

That's until I noticed someone ahead of me in the queue retrieving their card from a small rolodex behind the counter and handing it to the barista. She endorsed it, then returned it to the customer, who in turn replaced it in the rolodex. Problem solved!

When it came to my turn, I said 'yes' to the usual offer of a loyalty card, quickly wrote my name at the top, and added it to the rolodex under 'T'. All the while, feeling strangely pleased with myself as I did so.

As I sipped my coffee, I compared this apparently unsophisticated system with those employed by the larger coffee chains, who have typically adopted electronic technologies to track custom and keep coffee drinkers sweet.

And I concluded that, whilst the Bald Barista's system was a little cumbersome, and technically very old-fashioned, there was something quite appealing about knowing that 'my card' sat behind the counter (rather than in my wallet) waiting for my next visit. Something very personal too.

The more I thought about it, the more ingenious this unsophisticated system seemed to me. In making it personal, the Bald Barista was getting much closer to the heart of loyalty than many of his more technologically advanced competitors. For me, the simple knowledge that my card, with my name scrawled on it, enjoyed pride of place in the rolodex behind the counter, made the loyalty card much more than just a system to rack up points towards a free beverage. Instead, I felt myself to be a card-carrying member of the Bald Barista community of coffee-drinkers, something that the shiny plastic systems on offer elsewhere had failed to do.

I'm unlikely to be alone in feeling this way. Sometimes, the simpler approach is best, and brand-owners are better advised to choose those systems that bring them closer to their customer rather than just enable them to manage a process more efficiently.

Now, I'm quite sure that economics played a part in the Bald Barista's decision to stick with a 'pen and paper' system, and I'm fairly sure the system isn't fool-proof, but for me the unadorned simplicity of an approach which puts you right at the heart of a business is irresistible.

Over To You: What do you think? Have you experienced slick loyalty systems that leave you feeling cold when compared with those that offer something of the human touch?