Ana Guzman wasn’t sure what to expect when TGI Fridays started texting its guests in September. On one hand, the director of loyalty and customer engagement had a hunch that there were certain customers who wanted more direct communication with the bar and grill brand. On the other, there was the chance that texts from a restaurant chain could be disruptive.
“SMS seems like a very direct channel that not a lot of people, in my opinion, would want to be connected to,” she said. Success for the initiative, which pings users with product news and promotions, would be measured against the chain’s traditional loyalty program, Fridays Rewards. That channel was averaging 20,000 signups each month during the pandemic, down from 40,000 previously.
“We figured, OK, if we are able to get the same as the loyalty program, this is worth the effort,” Guzman said.
Four and a half months since it launched SMS marketing with software provider Attentive, the program has far exceeded that benchmark. The initiative is now averaging 62,000 signups a month, Guzman said, and generating better conversion rates than some of the chain’s other marketing channels. After four months, it had 300,000 users.
The chain sends about two or three texts a month with “very strategic news” about new products, special offers or bundles. (“Our users love learning about new products,” Guzman said.) Signups are driven via a popup on TGI Fridays’ website that offers 10% off the customer’s first purchase if they join.
Messages are accompanied by a link leading to an ordering page. About 15% of users click through those links, and 84% of that group order the item, Guzman said, a rate that is “absolutely” better than its email marketing conversion.
Because SMS is such a direct channel, “you’re very prone as a user to go and read it” as opposed to email, she said.
Overall, the SMS program has a 4.5% conversion rate, while email is between 0.5% and 0.9%, Guzman said.
Dallas-based TGI Fridays, which has about 380 U.S. locations, had been planning to do a text program since 2019. But for many restaurants, the pandemic has been a catalyst for adopting the new form of communication, said Amir Zamanian, general manager of Attentive’s food and beverage division.
“If you’re relying on your foot traffic and nothing else to get in front of your consumers, that’s not possible anymore” with dining rooms closed or limited for significant chunks of the past year, he said.
Many restaurants had previously used SMS for transactional purposes, like letting someone know their table was ready. Now, they are using it in particular to drive signups for other platforms such as an app or loyalty program, Zamanian said.
New York-based Attentive works with “a couple hundred” clients across the restaurant, grocery and food delivery industries.
For TGI Fridays, the next step is to integrate the texting pool with Fridays Rewards so it can analyze the data and see how users behave and where they overlap. One initial takeaway has been that SMS users are more likely to be in-store customers. They use the texts to “understand what is new at TGI Fridays and then go to Fridays,” Guzman said.
She considers the channel another form of loyalty, one focused more on engagement than earning points or rewards.
“For me, the definition of loyalty is understanding your known users,” she said. “End of the day, if somebody doesn’t want to be part of loyalty and wants to be an SMS user, that’s fine. ... We still have a communication channel with them, we’re still encouraging that frequency.”