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Q&A: Church’s Chicken Embraces Technology for Customer Engagement

churchs chicken customer engagementChurch’s Chicken has gained a committed and very loyal customer following for the past 63 years. Customer engagement methods have drastically changed since 1952, but as Adam Tabachnikoff, VP Marketing Activation and Product Innovation at Church’s Chicken, tells Loyalty360 that the third-largest chicken quick-service restaurant chain in the country has embraced technology to better serve its guests.

Church’s Chicken has about 1,200 restaurants in 29 states and, internationally, it has 480 restaurants in 23 countries where it operates under the names Church’s Chicken and Texas Chicken.

Loyalty360 caught up with Tabachnikoff for an intriguing interview.

Are challenges today engaging with customers different from five to 10 years ago?

Tabachnikoff: It’s absolutely different. If you look back at where we were 60 years ago with a simple offering of fried chicken, a biscuit, and jalapenos and look at where we’ve evolved to now with our product offerings and how we interact with our consumers, it’s a totally new world.

Now it’s about how technology has come into our space, people with smartphones have more and more information, and we’re able to integrate into our consumer’s lifestyle.

One of the recent innovations we engaged with is the launch of a mobile app. It allows us to interact and communicate, communicate and establish meaningful relationships with our customers. That’s something that never would’ve happened 15 years ago.

When you look at where we’ve come, technology is a huge enabler for us. We’ve embraced it and leaned into it.

How do you define customer loyalty?

Tabachnikoff: We define loyalty as our ability to bring previous customers back for incremental visits. At the end of the day, we’re all creatures of habit and a loyalty program reinforces those habits. Having a robust loyalty program allows us to connect with our consumers and is something we take very seriously.

How do you get your metrics and how do you see loyalty changing for you?

Tabachnikoff: It goes right back to the technology. The ubiquity of the Internet has made more information widely available, concurrently creating more challenges, and producing more platforms to communicate, educate and engage with consumers. At Church’s Chicken, we have recently launched a new Mobile App, we redesigned our web page, and we have a dedicated team focused on our social activity.

On the back end, there are data opportunities every time we engage with consumers. Every time we touch our guests online or via our mobile app we are learning more about our guests and how they interact with us as a brand, and how we can provide meaningful, relevant solutions for our guests.

Truly listening to customers, how do you put that into play?

Tabachnikoff: At the forefront is understanding how important the guest is. At Church’s Chicken, we’re always putting the guest experience first. We create respectful relationships and then, over time, increase the efficacy of these relationships.

Recovery becomes a key piece of the loyalty equation. Naturally, we want to hear all about the positive stories, and there are a lot of positive stories out there. But, too, we want to hear about misses. We like to say, “Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.” Every time we hear about a missed opportunity we have a teachable moment where we can learn. Customers can send us receipts so we know exactly what and when they ordered, what went wrong, and most importantly, what we can do to respond to them and make it up to them.

We can take what otherwise would’ve been an unpleasant guest experience and turn that into a positive experience. We can give them a coded coupon so a manager can see it’s a recovery coupon, so that guest experience becomes targeted and we know how important this experience is.

The relationship with our brand has to be a two-way dialogue. We care about our guests and the experience. At Church’s Chicken, it’s all about the chicken, but the guest experience is about more than just the product. We take the guest experience right on our shoulders.

How do you gauge the efficacy of your program?

Tabachnikoff: We look at the data. As important as the emotional connection is, at the end of the day, we want data-driven decisions. We believe we will improve what we measure. We measure how many people are engaging with our loyalty program, how many new people have downloaded our app, and we monitor these metrics month by month. We also pay close attention to conversations on social media. We care about what people are saying about us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Our single biggest opportunity is to learn how to connect with our guests and attract new guests by bringing solutions to peoples’ lives. With an effective loyalty program, we are looking to build relationships, increase our brand consideration, and learn more about the relationships we share with our guests. But, at the end of the day, it is about driving profitable sales and incremental traffic. That has to be the goal.

What is the state of marketing today and what does it mean to Church’s Chicken?

Tabachnikoff: For Church’s Chicken, it’s the opportunity to be innovative, to develop creative, provocative communications, and, importantly, to be relevant to our consumers. We are working on becoming more responsive to our guests and activating the guest relationship through engagement. When done right, engagement in a loyalty program leads to increased frequency, increased check average and even an increased consumer base.

People matter. We are constantly looking to make sure we are working to develop our talent and make smart hires to ensure we have the best talent on our team. We need to drive innovation and keep our activation fresh, relevant, and on brand strategy.  

Now, to view any one of these initiatives in the traditional one-dimensional marketing ethos would be ineffective at best. Optimizing the potential capacity available to drive engagement and continuity requires the business to consider the power of true, dynamic collaboration. Loyalty should be viewed as a long-term investment into the health of the guest experience, not a short-term investment to gain new guests immediately. Our goal is to amplify ideas through cohesion, rather than compromise them through integration alone.

What can we at Loyalty360 do to make your job easier?

Tabachnikoff: That’s a wonderful question. I wish more people would ask us that.

For us, it’s all about staying on top of current trends. The quicker we learn about those trends, the more runway we have to develop budgets and hire the right people.

About the Author: Mark Johnson

Mark is CEO & CMO of Loyalty360. He has significant experience in selling, designing and administering prepaid, loyalty/CRM programs, as well as data-driven marketing communication programs.

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