Loyalty360 Q&A with HungerRush on Supporting Loyalty Programs, Point-of-Sale Technology, and Enhancing Customer Experiences

HungerRush partners with restaurants, offering Point-Of-Sale (POS) Technology and software solutions to enhance both in-store and online transactions, elevating the customer service experience. Since 2003, HungerRush has expanded its support for restaurants throughout the United States, with nearly 7,000 establishments leveraging the brand's technology, software, and solutions.

Loyalty360 engaged Shannon Chirone, Senior Vice President of Marketing at HungerRush, to discuss loyalty personalization, quick wins for customer loyalty programs, and what's next for the restaurant industry.

Tell us a little more about you, all that you do at HungerRush, and maybe a fun fact about yourself or a passion that you have.
Chirone: I am the Senior Vice President of Marketing at HungerRush. Before joining the company, I ran the B2B2C product marketing team at Slice. I have been working in marketing, operations, and business development for more than 20 years, with experience across entertainment, finance, social media, and technology. I live in NYC with my husband and two boys.

For those who may not be familiar, can you give us a brief overview of HungerRush — what you do and how you do it?
Chirone: HungerRush started years ago, designing one of the strongest Pizza POS systems on the market. Today, we provide integrated restaurant technology solutions not only for pizza but for all quick-service and fast-casual restaurants and more. We've built an all-in-one cloud POS system called HungerRush 360 that integrates digital ordering, delivery, customer engagement, restaurant management, and payment processing features to make it easier to delight guests, drive loyalty, and manage restaurants from anywhere. We work with a variety of restaurants, mainly quick-service and fast-casual, and some of our customers include Jet's Pizza, Uncle Andy's, Fajita Pete's, and Papa Joe's.

At HungerRush our vision is the Connected Restaurant Experience, where every part of the customer experience is fully connected to every aspect of the restaurant.  We focus on innovation, problem-solving, and asking ourselves how we can help restaurant operations run more smoothly and drive customer growth and loyalty. One of our latest products is OrderAI Talk and Text, an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered offering that helps prevent longer wait times and resolve staffing issues, as well as focusing on new and creative ways to increase customer loyalty to quick-service restaurants. It's been great to integrate AI into our system and to build out a technology that helps not only restaurant owners and operators but also customers.

Can you provide a brief overview of your automated loyalty program platform? How does the platform work, and how does it benefit the restaurants you work with? How does the product integrate with existing technologies?
Chirone: HungerRush 360 allows individual restaurant owners to customize all aspects of their loyalty program to ensure it best fits customer needs while providing helpful benefits. Restaurants that fully integrate an online ordering system with a loyalty program have the added benefit of collecting customer data easily and efficiently.

Data is king when it comes to creating a loyalty program that customers will engage with. Leveraging this data is essential to restaurant marketers and owners as when customers see useful benefits in a rewards program and reap the benefits of membership, their likelihood of returning increases.

Loyalty and rewards programs are an effective strategy to increase foot traffic at restaurants. Customers feel more comfortable about providing their information if it means they will receive more relevant discounts and offerings tailored to their likes and preferences. Having an efficient loyalty program is vital to help restaurant owners keep their current and new loyal customers returning while staying ahead of the competition.

HungerRush's survey data indicates that rewards programs increase the frequency of visits by members, improve customer loyalty, and provide restaurant owners with the opportunity to gather important data needed to personalize and tailor future offers.

How are you able to leverage these findings to create better customer loyalty for clients?
Chirone: We recently surveyed 1,000 U.S. diners to garner greater insights into their overall attitude towards loyalty and rewards programs. That data showed that 55% of consumers visit restaurants where they earn rewards at least twice per month once signed up, and 51% said they wouldn't stop going to the restaurant if the program was changed or devalued. Investing in a good loyalty program is key to ensuring repeat business, increasing word-of-mouth referrals, and higher volume orders. Garnering new customers is costly and can be challenging, so having deeper insights into what keeps a customer loyal and coming back for more is essential.

At HungerRush we're able to offer a loyalty program directly integrated into our HungerRush 360 POS system. The restaurants own their customer data and can leverage it to configure their own programs to engage with customers through mobile, online, and in-store.

What does personalization mean to HungerRush, and how are you looking at leveraging personalization to further engagement with your client's consumers?
Chirone: Effective and personalized communication is non-negotiable in this day and age. Customers want to feel heard, valued, and understood. The future of marketing relies on customized messaging, as consumers prefer a more personalized response rather than broad messaging. Restaurant owners should customize their loyalty program emails, texts, mailers, and coupons to customer's unique preferences. A great way to do this is by using order histories to offer discounts or freebies based on what that customer tends to order the most, and sending congratulations when they earn a reward or move up to a higher tier in your program.

A two-way relationship with customers is key to success and engaging with customers is highly influential. These efforts work in harmony with the restaurant’s loyalty program to personalize and strengthen the restaurant-to-customer relationships.

Another trend we've seen within rewards programs is a "sea of sameness." Is this something you've noted, and how can clients address this and stand out from the crowd?
Chirone: This is a trend marketers and restaurant owners need to watch. In today's highly competitive restaurant industry, it is imperative for restaurant owners to continuously evolve and adjust their strategies to meet the ever-changing demands of customers. That's why loyalty programs are at the forefront as they look for effective means to retain and increase repeat visits and orders while simultaneously driving profits.

Customers see the value in rewards programs, and marketers must seek different ways to create a program. Rewards programs are not a one-size-fits-all model. What works for one coffee shop (e.g., a punch card) might not work for another. A fast-food restaurant seeing success with a tiered model might not have the same success using a subscription-based model. When it comes to creating a program, marketers need to have a deep understanding of the customer base — what they do and do not value, where and when they redeem rewards, what coupons aren't used as often, and so on. To avoid being one in a million, restaurants need to lean into personalization and create an experience tailored to the customer's needs, wants, and preferences. It's okay to model something after what works but avoid developing a copy.

As marketers know, customer expectations are evolving, and loyalty programs and strategies need to adapt accordingly. How do you envision the future of loyalty programs in the restaurant industry, considering emerging technologies and changing consumer behaviors?
Chirone: Customers are fickle, and it's our job as marketers to anticipate their needs and ensure we are meeting those needs. Customers are still ordering (via phone and online) directly from the restaurant, which is great news for restaurant owners. A recent study revealed that 40% of customers prefer to order directly through a restaurant's website or app rather than relying on third-party delivery apps (13%).

The future of loyalty programs in the restaurant industry is poised for transformation, driven by emerging technologies and evolving consumer preferences. With the rise of AI and data analytics, personalized experiences will continue to take center stage. Mobile apps will continue to play a pivotal role, offering seamless ordering, payment, and rewards tracking. Augmented reality (AR) might enable interactive loyalty elements as well, which will enhance engagement on a different level. As consumers become more health-conscious, loyalty programs could incorporate incentives for nutritious choices. Sustainability will also gain prominence, with rewards for eco-friendly practices. In this dynamic landscape, successful loyalty programs will blend technology, personalization, and values to forge lasting connections with consumers.

Have you implemented, or do you plan to implement, changes to your program or data collection initiatives due to current or proposed privacy regulations emerging across the U.S.?
Chirone: As the implementation of new data regulations approaches, we remain committed to ensuring that our products are in full compliance. We will continue to evaluate and align our offerings accordingly to ensure that our customers can confidently rely on our services without any concerns regarding data privacy or security.

What is one piece of advice you would give to a client that seeks to adapt and innovate its customer loyalty program? What is the first step a restaurant should take, and are any "quick wins" possible early in the initiative?
Chirone: Restaurants are competing for data, and the biggest threats are third-party apps and delivery services. Restaurants must work toward keeping the data. Full integration allows for automated reward-earning and real-time data reporting, which not only simplifies the management process but also promotes customer satisfaction. By utilizing industry-built point-of-sale systems, restaurant operators can efficiently track customer data and tailor services accordingly, leading to increased customer retention and profitability. Loyalty can be hard to master; there are plenty of different models, from points to punch cards, and a well-executed loyalty program is essential and worth investing in.

Do you have any closing advice or thoughts? What's next for HungerRush in 2023?
Chirone: In 2023, we strive to stay on top of consumer behaviors and trends so our restaurant customers can provide a valuable experience that keeps their customers happy and loyal for years. Listening to customers, staying on top of current new technology, and continuing to build personalization and flexibility into our system are always a priority.

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