Does it really mean anything to be a Foursquare Mayor?

I currently hold 6 mayorships on Foursquare. I wouldn’t consider myself a super user but I have a large friend network so this isn’t too bad considering. It’s fun to walk into a place that you frequent and then receive a unique offer simply because they want to give you a little something extra. In New Orleans, a place I called home for 5 years, they have a saying for this called lagniappe. A French Creole word used almost exclusively in Louisiana that means “a little something extra.” This may come in the form of something you receive at the time of purchase, like the extra donut in a bakers dozen, or even a compliment, something for good measure.

In Foursquare, lagniappe is typically extended at the time of purchase. At Starbucks this means $1 off a Frappuccino, while Pizza Hut rewards mayors with free breadsticks. This is different than rewards you earn for checking-in. In Manhattan many of the bars and restaurants on Third Avenue reward users with a free draft beer the first time they check-in, while mayors receive 15% off their tab. There is a clear distinction between a reward you receive for checking-in and a reward you receive for achieving mayor status. Greater rewards are extended to mayors as these are the people who return most frequently – the regulars.

Foursquare, in their 3.0 release a few months ago, created a “Specials” section in the main nav where users can search nearby destinations based on whether or not they offer rewards for check-ins or for mayors. This update came in response to critics who said brands had no way to clearly monetize the LBS and “Specials” is a feature loyalty programs can be built upon. Clearly this is something that Foursquare wants to emphasize and it’s not surprising that so many brands want to participate. It’s really a win-win situation for both user and brand if executed properly. The user receives a tangible reward for their loyalty (lagniappe) and the brand receives ongoing customer loyalty and social props that will probably come in the form of evangelism on the social web.

This all sounds good in theory, but unfortunately in reality, it’s not so simple. I was at BLT Fish in Manhattan just last Friday. I have held onto the mayor title for the last 6 weeks and I’ve been anxious to redeem my reward, which is pretty generous – a free lobster roll. I shared my excitement with Twitter and I even got a couple of responses from @BLTFish as you can see below.

I went Friday night at around 6:00 before any real dinner rush had formed. I beelined it to the bar for a few drinks and to show the bartender my mayor status as instructed by Foursquare.

After a few drinks I sat down to order and then showed the server my phone before he put the order in.  The server, who was clearly channeling Todd from Wedding Crashers and probably shouldn’t have been in the service industry to begin with says, “Ohhhh yeahhh I’m like so sorrrry, this is like only good at like the barrrr.”   His insincerity and cloying tone immediately prompted me to ask for the manager who then told me the same thing. Knowing this was wrong, I referred to the above tweet and offered the phone up, twitter message clearly displayed, for validation.  The manager said he would check with corporate before shuffling off.  Unfortunately he never returned.

I guess I was most disappointed with the fact that the manager never came back to apologize, or even to inform me the roll wouldn’t be on my tab. My server also disappeared and sent 3 other people to bring out my food and drink. Good or even decent customer service would dictate an apology or at least an explanation, especially considering the whole reason I hold the mayorship in the first place – I’m a regular. I go there, I check-in, I spend money.

My point is this, if you are going to run a Special on Foursquare then all the details need to be communicated from the top down. Starbucks uses a “Need to Know” sheet that is posted next to the cash register. This includes detailed information on Foursquare promotions and rewards, as well as the promotional code the server should be using when tabulating the bill in the system.

Many brands that run Specials fail to do this and it is an unfortunate, albeit common problem. The main objective, when offering a Foursquare Special, is to promote positive experiences and increased loyalty.  So when the mayor, or whoever else is checking-in  receives their reward, they will then evangelize their experience on the social web and via word of mouth.

Even though BLT Fish begrudgingly honored my mayorship, I am left with a bad taste in mouth – the fish was good but the service and overall experience were terrible. The question I posed to the Twitterati is this: “Is my one measly lobster roll really worth losing me as a customer and even more importantly, the negative sentiment that will be amplified throughout my social network?”

Sadder still is how some words are lost in translation across a thousand mile divide. The only lagniappe I received was a headache followed by a stomachache. That’s a little something extra I would have cared to avoid.