Something genius at the local coffee shop to improve customer loyalty.

I saw something the other day that really impressed me on how a coffee shop near me has stepped up the game of their loyalty program. If you have customers who you’d like to be more loyal, I think we can learn a lot from this.

Your typical loyalty program at a cafe is your average punch card. Buy 10. Get 1 free. Who doesn’t have one these days? They’re all the same. A punch card is a bit of a start into using psychology to help influence customers. Usually companies stop there.

“Do we have a punch card? Check. Let’s hope people keep coming back.”

What’s funny about these cafes and their loyalty programs is that I’m completely disloyal to all of them.

There’s a never ending supply of coffee shops near me. I can go to Starbucks, of course, or to Intelligentsia. I have oodles of others. It’s really hard to be loyal. I really like coffee.

And as much of a creature of habit as I am, I do like the coffee-getting opportunity to leave the office or home and take a nice walk somewhere different. So the coffee shop I visit is usually just a function of whichever direction I haven’t walked in awhile.

So I’m at this cafe I’ve been going to off an on.

Of course, I have their punch card.

On this particular day, I order a small mocha. What happens next sticks in my mind, because it seems so rare.

The guy behind the counter takes my order and I give him my punch card. He then proceeds to punch my card, but then he announces to me: “Here have another.” And he punches my card twice instead of once.

Furthermore, he ends up upgrading my coffee to a medium.

All of this was random. I hadn’t completed a loyalty card yet. Just randomly got some free upgrades and pleasant rewards. In the scheme of things his upgrades cost very little to him and his business.

But what he just took advatage of is something more powerful than just the loyalty card. He ended up tapping into the thing that makes so many things around us enjoyable and addictive: the variable interval reinforcement schedule. A well researched psychological phenomenon.

It’s the reason people enjoy gambling so much even though they know they’ll lose. The expectation of an unpredictable win is very awesome to our brains.

It’s maybe the reason we get addicted to email and text messaging more than talking on the phone with people. A verbal conversation is usually pretty predictable. A text message conversation is much less so. When will the next message arrive? Will they find what I say funny or helpful? I can’t wait to find out when I hear that ding on my phone…

Our brain’s love of unpredictable reinforcement, may have evolved to keep us from sitting around without any ambition to hunt or gather. Makes the anticipation and chase of something much more fun. So we keep going at it, even when the going is tough.

The barrista probably didn’t realize he was doing something that’s been so well proven in psychology, but he nailed it.

Today I returned to that same cafe. Totally fixated on his hole puncher to see if I might just get an extra one. Nope. And was a little disappointed to see a small cup of coffee when I ordered a small :) But you better believe I’m going back tomorrow to see what happens.

If the manager wants what’s good for business, he’ll keep this game going.

P.S. If you enjoyed this, there’s a real good chance you’ll dig following me on Twitter: here

 
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