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    A Cheap Way to Try Out a Customer Loyalty Platform

    By Adrienne Burke | Yahoo Small Business

    The Huzzah Loyalty platform in use at a cafe

    Perhaps you’ve noticed: Customer retention has been a frequent theme of this blog lately. We’ve reported on how customer loyalty programs are slowly gaining traction, about the big data science to keeping your customers, and on how companies have scaled up by focusing on existing customers.

    If your business is a retail shop, restaurant, spa, car wash, or similar consumer-facing merchant, then you already know that you could stand to benefit from getting more of your current customers to come back for more. But in a recent survey, 70 percent of small business owners told Huzzah Media that they simply don’t have the time or resources to improve their online presence, let alone initiate a customer loyalty program or set up a mobile app to keep those customers connected.

    So Huzzah came up with an offer that seems too good to be true. For just $1, the mobile app developer will set you up with a turnkey customer loyalty program. The company is offering to send any small business a wifi-enabled iPad and stand, as well as a stack of 300 loyalty cards in a holder, and to have one of its digital coaches set up Web and mobile app access to run a customer loyalty program for six months. It includes a digital rewards platform that can be customized for the business and controlled by the business owner. And the business’s customers can use the app to schedule appointments, pay invoices, receive coupons, and find out about deals.

    When Huzzah introduced the offer two months ago, California dentist Frank Hernandez was among the first to sign up. He saw the Huzzah loyalty program as a way to engage with his patients. He uses it to reward parents for bringing their children in for checkups; three visits gets Mom a $15 Starbucks card. Hernandez says the program has resulted in “increased enthusiasm” for the practice, and that “patients are thinking about us differently and are excited to come in to get the rewards."

    Drue Kitchens, a roofing contractor in Oklahoma, had already tried building his own mobile app to drum up business. “When I heard about Huzzah, I jumped at the chance to have the work done for me and have been really pleased with the results,” he says in a testimonial. “It’s driving more business and is making it easier for me to connect with customers on the go.”

    Huzzah’s VP of Marketing, Greg Garrick, and VP of Product Development, Lance Brown, say they ask participating businesses to give a $1 credit card deposit as insurance that they will return the iPad if they choose not to extend the trial. But Huzzah execs are really betting that 6 months will be enough time for any small business to see the benefits of the program and agree to buy in at $69 per month. “We believe the product is so fantastic for these small businesses that we're willing to take all of the risk off of them,” Garrick says.

    Huzzah’s parent company, User Friendly Media, in The Woodlands, Tex., has been in the phone book business since 1999. Creating Yellow Pages listings has taught them a lot about what small business owners want and need, Brown and Garrick say. One feature they say customers and merchants alike will appreciate is that customers need only enter an email address to register for the loyalty program. Customers get to maintain privacy—no need to enter a date of birth or other personal information—while businesses get an easy, organized way to collect customers’ contact information. To collect and redeem reward coins on their purchases, customers can scan a key-fob card at the iPad, or, if they’ve downloaded the Android or iPhone app, scan the mobile QR code embedded there.

    Another benefit to businesses is that they will be promoted as Huzzah rewards businesses to the app's users. For instance, say a customer uses the app to collect coins upon payment at the dry cleaner down the street and notices there’s a dog groomer nearby that also offers loyalty rewards. Though coins are merchant specific, that groomer just got free advertising, and possibly a new customer.

    Brown and Garrick believe trying out the platform will be a no-brainer for a lot of merchants. Set up takes no time, and there’s no cost. New users will train employees on the system, and then get customers to start adopting it. And Huzzah’s digital coach will help the business develop a strategy and hone their rewards to get the best participation.

    Huzzah, of course, will be able to collect loads of data that could be valuable to users. “We know where your customers are, where they’ve been, and how many times they’ve been there,” Brown says. “It’s a big data collection database we haven’t combed through yet. But the goal is to return that to the merchants so they know something about their customers.”

    Already more than 200 businesses have registered to try out the loyalty program. And Garrick says Huzzah has more than 600 iPads waiting to be shipped for $1.

    Yahoo Small Business Services