Q&A with PXUX 2016 Keynote Speaker Chris Laping, Former CIO of Red Robin Gourmet Burgers

ppl before things

Chris Laping will be headlining PXUX (August 24 – 25, Boston) this year, as he speaks to the topic of “Inspiring Crazy Loyalty.” From 2011 to 2015, Chris Laping led business transformation at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, and was principally accountable for enabling and driving all change and innovation for the brand. His success was highlighted by a collaborative effort with marketing and operations to design and implement a loyalty program.

The Red Robin team acquired 5 million members in the Red Robin loyalty program, a huge success that contributed to the company’s highly-publicized turnaround of an $8 stock price to $89. In this interactive session full of storytelling, Chris will present concepts from his newly released book, People Before Things:  Change Isn’t An End-User Problem—highlighting what it takes to effectively enable and activate people for change and loyalty program success.

We sat down with Chris to learn a bit more about what he’ll be sharing with Paytronix users at the conference this year, and to capture a few highlights of what attendees will learn.


PX: Chris, in reading your book you mention that for loyalty, the mission really begins with a restaurant or retailer’s employees, rather than the guests you’re enrolling in a loyalty program. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Every company wants one thing – to have their customers love them. But here’s the thing: customers will never love you, or your loyalty program, if your team members don’t love you first. Loyalty begins with your employees. This particularly applies to loyalty programs, where the team members are your brand ambassadors; the ones ultimately responsible for selling the program to your guests.  Therefore, to be successful, a restaurant needs its servers and other supporting team members to love the program first. When this happens, they naturally share their excitement to engage guests. At this year’s PXUX, I’ll share some stories from the book that are specific to the loyalty lessons we learned at Red Robin when rolling out our program.


PX: When you rolled out your loyalty program at Red Robin, you’ve mentioned that the biggest lesson you learned was about how you engaged team members to talk about and promote the loyalty program. What was the challenge you faced, and did you alter your program for better results?

When you attack a loyalty program, you have this intersection of brand, experience and transaction, with everything going on at once. It’s really easy for a project team charged with deploying or overhauling a loyalty program to get overly focused on any one element, like the features and functionality of a mobile app, the rewards, how to market, or how to capture and give credit for a visit. But when we get too focused on any one of these concepts, it’s easy to miss the importance team members have on long-term program success. It’s critical that leaders give their team members the necessary tools to be brand ambassadors, which positions them to sell the loyalty program as comfortably as they sell (for instance) the menu items.

Over the years, I’ve learned there are three states that team members must go through to end up loving any kind of program or initiative. At Red Robin, we began focusing on only the first two, which are awareness and understanding. We educated our staff about the program (awareness), and trained them on how it works (understanding).  But initially, we missed the third state, which is preference – and that’s what really drives team member excitement and leads them to engage and enroll guests in the program. We learned that, even if servers and supporting team members had knowledge and understanding, they still had to grow to a state of “care” before they effectively promoted the program – the final and hardest step.


PX: You speak in your book about seven conditions of loyalty and engagement that are necessary to succeed. Which of those items are most important to Paytronix users, and what can they expect to learn when you speak at the user conference this fall?

The seven conditions that must exist for successful loyalty play together as a concert of activities. It requires a diversity of tactics, not just training and communications. Typically organizations begin with these concepts because they understand them … but they aren’t enough. Other conditions are needed to fully enable and activate team member and program success. For instance, I’ll talk with Paytronix users about the importance of a loyalty program’s Design, a key enablement condition. This is about the importance of creating a program that’s easy to understand and use – for both guests and team members. The program can’t require too much work (for guests or team members), or it won’t be loved, adopted or used. But it’s not like anyone sets out to design a difficult solution. So, we’ll talk about how to prevent that from happening.

One of the most important and overlooked conditions is Capacity. This includes giving team members the time to practice and master what we want them to promote. Loyalty has a huge profitability impact. But too often we don’t give our team members the time of day they need to adapt to and adopt the program. Instead, we throw loyalty information at a server as they walk on a shift and expect they will comply with an effort to drive loyalty. But if we don’t give them the time, on the job, to understand the loyalty program, we most likely won’t get the desired behavior change we’re looking for from our brand ambassadors. Again, it comes back to how we engage our team members first.


PX: Thank you Chris. We look forward to your keynote at PXUX 2016.  We hope to see you all there.

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The Author
Listening to the market, making recommendations for scalable product requirements, and developing useful content are the services that Michelle’s group brings to Paytronix users. Her constant thirst for marketing results is underpinned by a BS in marketing from Plymouth State University and an MBA from UIC.

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