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In February, food service and facilities company Sodexo launched its first loyalty app for the contract catering industry, and has since reported on the programme's outstanding success thanks to carefully planned and implemented feedback tools and metrics. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

The Reward Tree app, which acts as a virtual loyalty card on a smartphone, was developed to meet a growing appetite among customers for discounts & promotions. So far, Reward Tree has been introduced at over 400 Sodexo-run workplaces, hospitals and university restaurants across the UK and Ireland, with two offerings being available: one for food, and one for drinks.

In addition to these loyalty offers, a news page and a feedback tool, the app has an additional 'gift stamps' feature that allows users to transfer stamps they have collected to friends as a gift, encouraging more consumers to download and use the app and ultimately drive sales.

Sodexo had previously run a number of loyalty initiatives, but had also recognised the need to adapt to newer technologies and changing consumer behaviour. Critical to the development of the new mobile loyalty programme was an understanding of how many customers were visiting their restaurants at least once a day.

Sodexo's own market research revealed that around 30% visited the restaurant at least once a day with a further 15% visiting more than once. This suggested that there was sufficient consumer demand for a loyalty scheme.

Research by the Chief Marketing Officer Council showed that two out of three mobile phone users own a smartphone, and that a smartphone loyalty scheme would indeed encourage them to use a restaurant more often.

Crucially, Sodexo measures penetration rates and mobile loyalty usage as a percentage of the total daily audience, which allows the company to monitor Reward Tree's performance against its original business goals and assumptions. So, rather than relying on market research, the company's understanding of its audience is now based on actual sales generated by the programme, measured against potential sales.

Without an understanding of total audience figures, other similar loyalty programmes would be unable to attribute usage rates to overall customer numbers. Instead, they would have to measure loyalty scheme performance against sales data or, in some cases, their social media followers.

In addition to driving sales, The Reward Tree app, developed in association with Stampfeet, provides Sodexo with consumer insight information and sales trends. Valuable as these are, it is this ability to link programme usage rates with total customer numbers which allows Sodexo to determine the programme's overall performance based on actual sales.