Keep your special offers SIMPLE

I have a dirty little secret. I am addicted to a chain of restaurants that sells junk food. Really cheap fast food.

No I don't mean MacDonalds, Burger King or Kentucky Fried Chicken. In fact you would NEVER see me in any of those places because I have been a strict vegetarian for the last 35 years.

The restaurant chain I am referring to is a place you might not have heard of, and you have have probably never visited. I am referring to the Tex-Mex fast food chain called Taco Bell.

There are only a few branches of Taco Bell in the entire UK. My nearest branch used to be in Manchester, meaning it was a 90 mile round drive for me to get my fix.

Recently a branch has opened up in Bradford, and I often make the 30 mile round trip there, purely to savour the wonders of their bean burritos, hard shell tacos, cheese quesadillas, and other yummy cheap Mexican delights.

I first became addicted to the Bell nearly 30 years ago when I was working in the USA. Travelling around small-town America as a vegetarian is not easy. There is a Big Mac and a Burger King on every street corner, all selling an array of meaty burgers.

But apart from Taco Bell, small-town America has very few options if you want to eat cheap fast vegetarian food.

Branches of Taco Bell are commonplace in the USA, and they offer a wide range of vegetarian and vegan options. Even better, they are prepared to make anything on their menu vegetarian for you, by simply substituting pinto beans for the meat. Perfect for a vegetarian Brit living in the backwaters of the United States.

When I returned to the UK, I spent 4 years working in London, and I was a very frequent visitor to their (sadly now closed) branch in Leicester Square. At the time it was the only branch in Britain. It was my Saturday night treat.

Aside from the USA, Taco Bell are also prevalent in other countries, especially Spain which has 21 branches. Although bizarrely, they have no branches at all in Mexico itself!

Here in the UK, there are only 9 branches throughout the whole country. I am sure that the reason for this is that British people are a little bit scared of trying something new.

Especially with cheap fast food, people want to eat something that is familiar to them. British people are also a bit frightened about not knowing what to order.

There is also the potential for embarrassment over pronunciation when placing your order. For example, how many pople know the correct pronunciation of "quesadillas" or "frijoles Mexicanos"?

So, in order to try to get people to try out their food, and keep coming back, Taco Bell has devised lots of customer loyalty offers and promotions

At recent visits, I have been given two different types of loyalty card that get stamped on each visit. For each alternative visit you then get a free item off the menu. In addition, I have also been given two discount voucher booklets with generous money-off coupons.

But it doesn't stop there. In some (but not all) branches they offer 10% discount for people who work in the same shopping mall. They also do occasional 10% discounts for students. But it doesn't seem to be at all the branches. And just to confuse you even more, on every till receipt is the offer of another 20% discount if you go online and do a short customer survey.

But it gets messy. Very messy. Even more messy than the food itself!

For some of these special discounts there is a minimum spend of £3.00. For other discounts the minimum spend is £2.50. If you do the online survey then you need to use your discount within 14 days. But the discount booklets seem to have a lifespan of several months. And the loyalty cards don't seem to have any closing date at all (unless I have missed something in the small print).

So can these offers be used in conjunction with each other? Erm...I'm not sure. And I don't think the staff know either.

I recently used my 20% customer survey discount at the Manchester branch in conjunction with my customer loyalty card. But when I tried to do the same thing at the Bradford branch a few days later, I was told that these two customer incentives couldn't be used together!!

I got into an argument with the staff member. Unfortunately he didn't speak very good English and he didn't understand what I was trying to explain to him about the small-print on the voucher. In the end I just gave up and paid full price. It was just easier to pay up, and in any case the food is great value, even without a discount.

But the point about all this is that Taco Bell  has so many different loyalty offers and discounts, that even their own staff don't seem to understand them! It wouldn't be so bad if the offers were consistent, but when you have an array of different closing dates and minimum spend levels, it's not surprising that people just give up and head for Big Mac.

Of course, this will never stop me from visiting my beloved Taco Bell. Their food is my drug. I just wish they would make all their various customer loyalty offers and incentives a bit more simple.

Moral of this Story

Customer incentives and discounts are a great way to get people to try out your company's products and become repeat purchasers. But these incentives need to be easy for the customer (and your staff) to understand. They also need to be fair and not contradictory. Finally, the closing dates of any offers need to be clearly pointed out and consistently applied.