Mary is an epicurean; it says so on her Opus card application.
Every day she takes the No. 168 bus to Nun’s Island. Ten minutes before her stop Mary receives a text from the IGA where she shops telling her that they’ve just received a shipment of oysters from PEI and they’d like to offer her a discount if she stops in on her way home.
John’s No. 10 bus has a 15-minute delay. He knows this because he received a text message from the transit authority. He also received a message from the Starbucks at the bus stop inviting him to come in for a free cup of coffee.
The STM—Montreal’s transit provider—moves more than one million passengers every day. By 2020 the company wants to increase ridership by 40% and it plans to implement a revolutionary new loyalty program to help it meet this goal.
Four years ago STM introduced the Opus card giving passengers the ability to load their tickets and monthly passes on a smart card and receive rewards in return for basic information.
Pierre Bourbonniere, director of marketing, says there are now three million cards in circulation, one-third of which are used on a daily basis.
“We want to untap the potential of those Opus cards and the potential of this eco-system of customers that take public transit every day,” he said.
STM also wanted to introduce something unique for its customers and take loyalty marketing to a whole new level.
Bourbonniere spent 28 years at Air Canada’s Aeroplan, and he didn’t want another loyalty card that collected points. Research revealed that transit riders, particularly youth, wanted immediate gratification.
“We wanted to reward our customers on the spot, we wanted to be able to surprise and create excitement for our customers, and we wanted to generate loyalty to the STM,” he said.
Using the Opus card as its foundation, Bourbonniere is working with SAP Canada to build the technology that can pinpoint the exact location of a customer on the transit system and make them a relevant offer in real time.
At the same time, recognizing the importance of customer privacy, SAP has created a firewall so that marketing does not know the identity of any one customer.
Called Apollo, the reward and recognition pilot program will launch in the next couple of months.
Bourbonniere says he plans to have retail partners in everything from supermarkets and coffee shops to the opera and car rentals outfits that offer his customers discounts, freebies or product samples while they are riding transit.
In return his customers will provide information about their interests and preferences for activities like the arts, sports, entertainment and dining.
Bourbonniere sees Apollo as a retention program for STM’s most valued customers, and a way of moving the occasional transit user up into a monthly or annual pass holder. Apollo can potentially smooth out peak travel by advising customers of better options, and then reward them for changing behavior.
Both Bourbonniere and Doug Shirra, director enterprise marketing for SAP, say it’s the first time anything like this has been used for transportation and they believe it has the potential to transform retail.
“We know through research that the priorities of the CEO and the CMO are in lock step and they have both flagged big data as an area of immediate focus,” said Shirra. “The problem is big data is such an intangible that many of them don’t know how to start to build a strategy.”
But SAP has tools and processes to help clients like STM build practical and actionable strategies to improve their business, says Shirra.
“STM will be able to talk to any one of their customers at any time and know based on a triangulation of material where they are, where the retailer is and what offers they are interested in.”