Taco Bell Takes Its Mobile Customer Service App to the Next Level

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Known for quick service at low prices, most fast-food chains haven’t evolved their customer service strategies in decades. The last major innovation came in 1948, when In-N-Out Burger opened the nation’s first drive-through window in California. But a lot has changed since then. Smartphone adoption has revolutionized the way consumers connect with brands, yet few fast-food companies have succeeded at meeting their customers on their preferred channel, the mobile device. Chipotle, Domino’s, and Taco Bell vowed to change that with the introduction of mobile  ordering and payment apps, and earlier this week Taco Bell raised the ante with a new mobile loyalty program.

Launched in October 2014, Taco Bell’s app is poised to become the first of its kind in the quick-service restaurant space. Like Chipotle’s or Domino’s apps, Taco Bell’s app enables users to place orders through their mobile devices, and like Starbucks, Taco Bell will be bringing its loyalty program to mobile devices. However, the company is the first to bring both functions together to form a more holistic customer experience.

"We're thinking of our experience as more of a game and less your traditional punch card," Tressie Lieberman, senior director of digital platforms and social engagement, told Bloomberg News, but the ultimate goal will still be to keep customers “coming back time and time again,” she added. The company hasn’t shared many details yet, but did file a U.S. trademark application for a customer-loyalty program under the name "Taco Baller."

Since its debut, the app has been downloaded more than 2.5 million times, and led to a 6 percent same-store sales growth in the fourth quarter last year. Its success, analysts agree, is a testament to Taco Bell’s effort to equip it with a far-reaching breadth of services that customers rely on. In addition to mobile ordering and payment, the app also gives customers access to nutritional information, uses geoloation to provide maps of nearby locations with hours of operation, offers an FAQ section for support, and gives customers the option to send e-gift cards.

“Taco Bell’s demographic skews younger, so this has been a brilliant move on their part,” Shep Hyken, customer service speaker and expert, says. “They know their customers are constantly on their mobile devices, and they expect to be able to receive service through those devices. From a customer service standpoint, anything that makes it easier for customers to do business with a company is going to be a win for that company. It has to do with meeting customers where they are,” he adds.

With the introduction of the new loyalty program, Taco Bell’s app is now being compared to that of Starbucks, which has experienced “a tremendous amount of success” with its mobile app, Hyken says. For comparison, Starbucks’ mobile app currently has about 13 million registered users. “Everyone loves the Starbucks app. They’ve been among the first to successfully implement mobile payments on a large scale, and the tie-in with their loyalty program gives customers an incentive to keep using the app. But there’s more to customer service than just the payment,” Hyken says. From a service perspective, Taco Bell’s app does more, he maintains.

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