Loyalty Live: vLoyalty on the Company’s Quick-Service Restaurants (QSRs) Study and Loyalty Program Automation at the Checkout Counter

Founded in 2009, vLoyalty is a privately held company headquartered in Dallas, Texas. The company combines the power of payments, card-linking loyalty and promotions, and text messaging to help companies easily enroll, engage, understand, and reward customers to drive repeat visits and sales.
vLoyalty offers clients a patented cloud-based suite of solutions that meets the needs of small businesses as well as large franchise enterprises. These solutions enable efficient and convenient loyalty program enrollment at the point of purchase. Clients can also take advantage of real-time access to historical purchasing data to optimize point-of-sale (POS) targeted offers and leverage compliant SMS text messaging to engage customers—all with seamless payment integration.
Loyalty360 spoke with Peter Vogel, Chief Revenue Officer at vLoyalty, about loyalty program automation at the checkout, vLoyalty’s recent quick-service restaurant study, and what’s coming next for the company in 2024.

Key Differentiator
vLoyalty’s key differentiator is designed around the process of remembering a member’s credit card. It’s a common practice for stores to leverage staff engaging with customers at the POS to ask if they are enrolled in the loyalty program. If the customer is a member, staff can follow up by asking for the customer’s phone number (or other appropriate loyalty member designation).
Customers—or the store associate—might then enter the phone number at the terminal, or the customer might display a mobile app with a bar or QR code for the employee to scan. This scenario involves many steps and requires the employee to remember to ask the customer if they are a member.
“Some of the studies we’ve completed show this process doesn’t happen quickly,” shares Vogel. “Our system enables a faster process. When a customer makes a purchase with a credit card, and if the system doesn’t recognize it, a prompt asks the customer if they would like to earn rewards.”
After the customer indicates yes and adds a phone number, the system has the data it needs to “remember” the customer when they return. The phone number becomes the unique identifier for the loyalty program account. At the same time, it creates a token for the customer’s credit card, and it remembers that token in the cloud.
This process can operate across a chain, too. If a restaurant has 200 locations and a customer joins a loyalty program at one, the credit card is again remembered with a token in the cloud. Any time a customer interacts at any of those locations, they will be automatically tracked simply by making a purchase with the credit card.
“The system will congratulate them, letting them know how many points were earned,” says Vogel. “The customer gets a text message immediately.”
The power of vLoyalty’s program is the automation right at the checkout. Stores are not dependent on the cashier to entice customers to enroll.
“The need for a human to ask is eliminated,” explains Vogel. “Depending on staff is especially tough in the QSR/fast food world where turnover is common, a younger staff is typical, and long lines are often present.”
Vogel nods to those hurdles as reasons why employees might not take the time to ask if a customer is enrolled in the loyalty program. vLoyalty is frequently engaged by brands that are having trouble earning loyalty program sign-ups or missing transactions. According to Vogel, these are signs that the brand needs technology like vLoyalty offers.
“We have a patent on that process,” shares Vogel. “One of the largest brands we work with is NAPA Auto Parts.”
vLoyalty has operated NAPA’s rewards program in the U.S. for nearly 11 years across 5,000 locations, which encompasses close to 15 million customers. More than two years ago, the company began running NAPA’s Canadian program, too.
For brands with an existing loyalty program, vLoyalty is poised to work with them as well.
“Almost every brand has a loyalty program these days,” agrees Vogel. “Some might only have a mobile app, while others run a full-blown program. Some even use punch cards.”
If a brand or company is already running a program—maybe through a website or with an existing infrastructure with points and rewards—vLoyalty’s technology can tie into the front end of the program. Vogel notes that vLoyalty’s solution can help an existing loyalty program potentially increase its size by 50%-100% because customers are prompted at every single transaction if they want to become a member.
vLoyalty also offers a mobile marketing platform. When a customer enters a phone number, a text is triggered immediately, inviting the person to reply to opt in to receive mobile messaging and special offers from the loyalty program.
The opt-in at the checkout terminal and through mobile phones enables brands using vLoyalty’s service to be Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) compliant. Vogel explains that the TCPA is similar to the CAN-SPAM Act, which was enacted to regulate commercial emails in an effort to reduce spam.
“That’s what some brands are doing now with texting,” says Vogel. “Many companies don’t get that opt-in. If you don’t, you simply can’t text people legally. You can be fined up to $1,500 per text in a class action lawsuit if you knowingly, as a business, send out text messages to people who did not give permission.”
Vogel points out that even when companies collect phone numbers, only about half of them ask for permission to communicate with those customers in the future. These companies simply use the phone number as a tracking identifier. He sees that as a huge gap—and where vLoyalty can assist.
“We can help a brand become a mobile marketing machine—doubling, tripling, and quadrupling the size of its mobile audience,” says Vogel. “And we’ll make sure the brand is compliant.”


Quick-Service Restaurants (QSRs) Study
vLoyalty conducted a study that looked at the top 15 quick-service restaurants (QSRs) and if they operated loyalty programs. Next, vLoyalty sought to learn if:
  • The program was automated
  • Joining was easy or if there were multiple steps for the employee to complete member enrollment
  • Customers could join at the POS
  • Program members could be tracked efficiently
  • Rewards were easily earned, or if there were hurdles
Overall, the study focused on loyalty program automation.
“Do customers get a reward automatically? Or must they log into an app or some other place and check a box to request a reward? That’s a big hurdle,” says Vogel.
If a customer earns a reward but doesn’t see it, they might not redeem it. The opportunity for the brand to create a positive customer experience is lost.
Early Findings
vLoyalty’s study was not yet complete at the time of the Loyalty360 interview, but early findings suggest that 90%-95% of the time, the employee at the counter did not ask if the customer was a loyalty program member during the purchase. Customers—secret shoppers—in five different cities, visiting QSRs multiple times and at various locations, reported they were not asked. Vogel reports that about 150 restaurant purchases were made.
“We also learned that 90%-95% of the loyalty programs required members to use a mobile app—they could not join with a phone number or online,” shares Vogel.
To earn points, customers either had to use the app when making a purchase or scan something—such as a receipt—with the mobile app afterward.
“Restaurant visits might be months apart, and by the time you are ready to use the app, you’re forced to refresh it because you haven’t used it in so long,” says Vogel.
Standing in line trying to download or refresh an app is a frustration customers do not need.
Again, Vogel reiterates that the study’s results are still being compiled, but he notes that all the restaurants visited had loyalty programs. In the field, vLoyalty’s secret shoppers made a purchase at the counter. If employees didn’t ask if the “customer” was in the restaurant’s loyalty program, after the purchase was completed, the secret shopper would inquire, “Do you have a program to earn points or rewards?”
“About 20% of the time, people said ‘no, we don’t have them’ when they actually did,” reveals Vogel. “Not only were employees not asking if the shoppers were loyalty program members, they told them—when asked—that the restaurant didn’t have one. Some of these restaurants had signage all through the restaurant—by the cash register, on the door—featuring their programs.”
For Vogel, this highlights why restaurants need something like what V-Loyalty offers, as people are not being asked to join. Furthermore, even if the customer is already a member, with so many customer loyalty programs, the person might forget—in the moment—that they are enrolled in one, and because the cashier didn’t ask, the transaction won’t be tracked.
“If they don’t ask you for your phone number, you’re probably not going to say a word,” adds Vogel. “Brands are missing out on these interaction opportunities because they’re not tracking, they’re not asking, and they’re not recognizing who their members are.”
Cultivating Employee Engagement
While it may be shocking for some brand marketers and loyalty professionals to learn that some frontline staff will mislead customers, vLoyalty’s early findings reveal the truth. This is why building and nurturing internal loyalty is critical. Getting employees to “buy in” to the brand’s program, engage with it, and see themselves as parts of the whole brand is vital. In the QSR industry, with its higher turnover, this can be a challenge.
Vogel acknowledges that ongoing employee training is crucial but also that it’s not what vLoyalty specializes in. He does see a huge gap, reinforced by the percentage of time secret shoppers were not told about the loyalty program or when employees said there was nothing to join.
“It’s very clear that they’re not being trained to ask regularly,” says Vogel. “However, there was one QSR where employees asked customers if they were program members almost every time: Panera Bread.”
In the Subway locations secret shoppers visited, customers were invited to join on the screen with a phone number, but no text was sent encouraging an opt-in to receive messages from the brand. While customers were prompted to join at the terminal, the credit card was not tracked from that point on.
“Subway does half of what we recommend that brands do,” Vogel says. “Subway was the only restaurant that let people join right there.”
A smart terminal ensures that even if an employee is not fully trained or engaged, the customer will still be invited to join the customer loyalty or rewards program.
Looking Ahead
vLoyalty is planning its next study, which will be more retail focused. The company plans to look at 15 to 20 of the largest retail brands in America and again determine how easy it is for customers to join and engage with their customer loyalty programs. vLoyalty will study how automated the programs are and whether retail is doing better than QSRs when it comes to customer loyalty.
“We’ll also balance some key partnerships with a variety of large financial institutions that essentially ‘sit’ in the middle of these transactions,” shares Vogel. “Many companies power the physical terminals, and we already partner with some like Ingenico, PAX Technology, and Verifone.”
With a couple of well-placed partnerships with bigger financial institutions that essentially power the devices and the money flowing through those systems, vLoyalty plans to make its solution available to hundreds more large tier-one and tier-two restaurants, as well as retail companies.
“We’ll be integrated into the systems they’re already using,” finishes Vogel. “This year, it’s all about integrations and partnerships.”

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