New York City-based flok claims it has new a solution for businesses seeking a low-budget way to start loyalty programs or engage nearby customers.

Today it rolls out flok for Business, a customer engagement mobile app designed to help businesses to get closer to their customers and drive foot traffic to their doors.

Flok offers a mobile-focused technology platform to brick-and-mortar businesses looking to encourage customer loyalty. The new app puts a Customer News Feed, Foot Traffic Map and a suite of chat/messaging tools onto business managers' mobile devices to make business-to-consumer and consumer-to-business communication easier.

A customer, for example, can now message a restaurant manager directly to let her know a guest in a party is gluten free, or a business could message customers to let them know there are three bikes left for an evening spin class, explained Dave Heinzinger, VP of marketing communications at flok.

Build an App in a Snap

Heinzinger said flok is giving smaller businesses an easy way to build a loyalty app with some added customer relationship management capabilities. He said it takes about two minutes to build an app on its wizard — no programming required.

After creating the app, the business can create digital punch cards, send push notifications to members or send out rewards. The customer news feed shows business owners updates, such as who checked in at their stores, became loyalty members or sent messages. They can also manage and track campaigns and loyalty clubs to see what performed well and what didn’t.

Flok isn't the only customer app on the market, nor its it the only one offering drag-and-drop building and simple, quick deployment.

Others, like Urban Airship, deliver a more expansive marketing solution with the option to build member programs. There are a host of platforms for building loyalty program apps, from Belly to LevelUp, but they have higher costs for the added features, insights and native app capabilities. Flok starts at $16.58 a month for up to 250 club members.

Using Automated Chat, Geofencing to Engage Customers

Heinzinger said businesses can use the mobile app to reach customers anytime, as well as use geofencing — a feature that uses the global positioning system (GPS) or radio frequency identification (RFID) to define geographical boundaries — to engage with people in the area at that moment. Customers expect to have a conversation where it’s convenient and fits into their lives, he said. That often means texting or using social media to reach customers on their mobile devices.

“The world is kind of going towards [conversational user experience],” Heinzinger said.

“That high level mission for flok is to help the local guys to translate that really awesome customer experience into great user experience, and then to help the bigger guys tap into that local experience … I don’t know a franchise out there that doesn’t want to be a little more local.”

One of the new features, called Traffic Map, lets businesses send offers to members near their store, provided they opted in for those communications. Users can see on the map which members are close by and tailor those messages to incentivize people to come to the store.

In addition to geofencing, flok offers the option of setting up a beacon to trigger in-store messages and keep track of foot traffic. And once in store, the individual experience can continue with the information already on-hand in the platform.

The flok app uses artificial intelligence automated chat to personalize the engagement so owners can, for example, send a deal to a customer on his or her birthday or recommend a product similar to their favorite purchases. This saves time and money for organizations running without a marketing or sales teams to keep up with customer experiences full-time.

“Now with the app, all these businesses that are in flok can use the real-time person-to-person chat as assisted by AI, because you got to keep up with your customers around the clock,” Heinzinger said.

“The one-to-one communication becomes a lot easier.”

flok mobile screenshot

Heinzinger says a lot of virtual assistant tools are popular because they automate communications for the most optimal time, giving context and practical information. The trend has resulted in more brand bots for marketing, and even Google is pushing AI on the enterprise side. Facebook for Business’ marketing tool offers a similar function where business pages can post updates to customers in their vicinity.

Going Beyond Loyalty Programs

According to Heinzinger, flok has about 100,000 customers in the US and Canada and manages millions of customer interactions per month. A lot of its customers are fitness, dining and retail businesses, with several larger organizations like Subway and The Salvation Army.

Flok started in 2011 as a digital punch card app for customers to check in and earn rewards, but the company is undergoing what Heinzinger calls an “expansion of scope” to help businesses to do more than rewards programs. Flok was LoyalBlocks before it rebranded and expanded to include messaging solutions, Heinzinger said.

“Prior to that it was really hyper-focused on the digital loyalty card, which is still a big part of our offering,” Heinzinger told CMSWire.

“When people think of loyalty, they think of repeat patronage. There’s a lot more to a relationship than just getting you to come back to the store with the static offer. I like to think of it as, ‘OK, now I can text my dry cleaner.’”

Heinzinger said loyalty programs have to go beyond offering customers rewards and points. What distinguishes a business more is the interaction and experience people have around rewards, and chatting or texting is the benchmark for what we expect in customer service and engagement now, he said.