Flirting with PR clouds Pret’s customer loyalty campaign

27 April 2015 / Mike Hepburn

By now you will probably have heard how a number of different journalists have managed to blag a free coffee or croissant through charm, flirting and sheer begging.

This is all because of a recent interview with the Pret a Manger’s CEO, Clive Schlee, who explained that instead of a customer loyalty scheme he has given his employees the freedom to hand out free drinks to customers they like best. Pret has calculated that 28 per cent of customers will receive something for free.

On the day this interview was reported in the newspapers I was over charged for my small white Amerciano at Pret. My self-esteem hasn’t quite recovered.

My personal disappointment aside, I think this is a really innovative approach to customer engagement. Pret has devolved their customer advocacy approach by empowering their employees to decide who deserves a free treat. The Pret management are allowing their frontline baristas to start and nurture customer relationships from the shop floor. It’s new and different. My fat wallet is bulging with plastic loyalty cards – it doesn’t need another one. And for the lucky (or deserving) 28 per cent, it leads to a more special and personal attachment to the brand. In the coffee shop battle for building customer loyalty – it certainly beats drinking a coffee with your name scrawled on the cup.

But it leaves me in a bit of a quandary. Why did Pret feel the need to tell the world? Sure it has won them masses of column inches and valuable PR. People are talking about it. But for how long? Has a short-term PR tactic hampered a long-term customer loyalty marketing strategy? Was it actually just a PR stunt and not about customer loyalty at all?

Perhaps it would have been better to keep quiet about it? If you didn’t know it was company policy, would you feel more special if you received a free coffee? And, would it make you more likely to go again and tell your friends about your special and personal experience if you didn’t know they gave out a quota of free food and drink?

Now that the cat is out the bag, the 72 per cent of paying customers may feel a little under appreciated and the chosen 28 per cent may start to develop a dark sense of entitlement.

But questions and concerns aside, I admire their drive to do something different.