How Carl’s Jr.® and Hardee's® deliver old school hospitality with new school tools

After partnering with mParticle, the international restaurant brand CKE had the data foundation to completely modernize the digital experience of their brand, and position themselves for a technological transformation that will continue well into the future.

On July 17th, 1941, Carl Karcher used $15 in savings and $311 borrowed against his Plymouth Super Deluxe to purchase a hot dog cart. That summer, Carl and his wife Margaret began selling hot dogs, chili dogs, and tamales to hungry passers-by at the corner of Florence and Central Avenues in Los Angeles. On their first day of business, their sales totaled $14.75, and the enterprise grew rapidly from there. Less than four years later, Carl opened a restaurant in Anaheim, CA, called Carl’s Drive-In Barbecue. Noticing that burgers were becoming the restaurant’s best-selling item, Karcher decided to establish a separate group of small burger joints that he dubbed Carl’s Jr, and an icon in American restaurants was born. 

Movies like Grease and Jersey Boys might give us some idea of what it was like to dine at a Carl’s Jr. during the franchise’s early days in post-war America––a jukebox plays Buddy Holly and Elvis songs as local teens scarf down burgers and fries, leather jacket-clad teenagers hang out in the parking lot next to their souped up muscle cars, and the chef and cashier greet everyone who walks in by name. You don’t have to say extra bacon, hold the onions, or double the pickles––the chef knows your usual. 

As the decades went by, Carl’s Jr. expanded its footprint and grew into an international institution in quick service dining. Now, CKE Restaurant Holdings Inc. (CKE), which oversees both the Carl’s Jr. and Hardees brands, with more than 3,800 franchised or company-operated restaurants in more than 35 countries around the world. 

This period also saw the global expansion of another force––one with almost as much power to bring people together as delicious hamburgers: the internet. The digital revolution transformed nearly every aspect of how customers interact with brands, and quick service restaurants were no exception. Now, guests are just as likely to order their food using a delivery app as they are to visit a brick-and-mortar location. When diners do physically travel to an in-person store, they’ll often place their order at the drive-through window, and never actually set foot inside the restaurant. 

Despite all the changes that have occurred since Carl’s Jr. first opened its doors, customers’ fundamental needs are very much the same. While today’s consumers have come to expect all the speed and flexibility that digital technology can afford, they still value personalization, and expect to be treated like an individual when they interact with brands. For companies like CKE, this presents a challenge: 

How do you deliver the convenience of 2022 with the personal touch of 1956? 

Writing the recipe for a frictionless guest experience

The fact that today’s consumers often opt to place their orders on digital channels rather than in-person does not mean that personalized service is a thing of the past. By putting the right data systems and processes in place, fast food brands can still deliver the warmth and personal touch that diners experienced in the days when the chef knew your usual order by heart. Prior to September of 2020, CKE had not yet begun to deliver the kind of personalized and frictionless digital customer experiences that other brands in the QSR industry were serving up. While the potential was there, the brand had not yet put the right tools in place to unlock it. 

In September of 2020, Phil Crawford joined CKE as the brand’s Chief Technology Officer. Immediately, he knew that one of his first undertakings would be to adopt modern tools capable of unlocking the power of the brand’s customer data so the brand could modernize their digital experience. First and foremost, Phil and his team wanted everyone who interacts with the brands––whether on their branded websites, a mobile app, or at a brick-and-mortar location––to have a personalized and seamless experience across all of these channels. They also knew they wanted to launch a loyalty program to turn casual diners into repeat customers, and further elevate the value and level of convenience that all customers experience. Finally, they knew that they wanted to remain flexible in their customer engagement strategy and have the ability to roll out new programs and campaigns as business initiatives evolved. 

After carefully surveying the landscape of data tools that could potentially help them achieve their desired outcomes, CKE decided that the mParticle Customer Data Platform (CDP) was the platform that best aligned with their goals. mParticle was the ideal tool for CKE for several reasons. First, mParticle allows teams to collect and send data to CKE systems with one integration and unify this data into a single view of the customer. CKE’s team saw this unified view as a “catalyst for change,” as Phil put it, that would allow the brand to transform and modernize its entire customer engagement practice. Additionally, by providing out-of-the-box connections with downstream activation tools, mParticle also enables CKE’s growth teams to leverage their customer data to power impactful experiences themselves, without relying on engineering support. This means their growth teams could quickly act on data use cases and maintain flexibility in their digital campaigns. 

“We knew that mParticle would give us the tools and avenues to engage with consumers in a way that we never could before,” Phil said of CKE’s decision to adopt mParticle. “We were very excited about all the ways in which mParticle could help us remove friction from the guest experience.” 

Serving up a best-in-class loyalty program

Once implemented, the CKE team was immediately able to unlock the potential of their existing customer data, and seamlessly collect high-quality data across all their touchpoints. Additionally, by unifying cross-channel data into a single customer profile, mParticle immediately opened new ways for CKE to provide their guests with a frictionless experience and continuity between their digital and in-person interactions.

MyRewards Loyalty Program

With mParticle at the heart of their customer data stack, CKE had the data foundation it needed to roll out its My Rewards Loyalty Program––an initiative aimed at providing loyal Hardees and Carl’s Jr. customers with a wide range of promotions and easier access to the menu items they love. The program includes access to exclusive offers, discounts on digital orders, BOGO deals, and a variety of perks and surprises throughout the year. For each dollar a user spends, they accumulate 10 stars. The more stars users accumulate, the more menu items and deals they unlock. 

With mParticle acting as the central infrastructure in CKE’s data stack, the CKE team is now able to seamlessly collect data from customer interactions within the loyalty program and unify this information with data collected across all other digital channels. Thanks to mParticle’s catalog of platform existing integrations and robust APIs, CKE’s marketing team can power personalization campaigns across many other platforms and touchpoints. In turn, data from these campaigns can flow back into mParticle, where growth teams can use it to further refine and improve the experience of the loyalty program. In short, mParticle’s ability to unify data to a single view of the customer and connect customer data to tools across the tech stack powers a virtuous cycle that continuously improves CKE’s customer experiences.

This loyalty program has been an extremely successful way for CKE to both accelerate their sales and increase customer loyalty and lifetime value by delivering a digital experience that exceeds customer expectations. Without the data efficiencies, unlocked use cases, and reduced time to value that CKE realized as a result of placing mParticle at the heart of their data stack, a cross-channel loyalty program like this would not have been possible. Since rolling out this program, CKE has seen a 5% increase in their overall number of digital transactions, and a 20% increase in the average check amount. 

Results since launching MyRewards

  • 5%
  • Increase in overall number of digital transactions.
  • 20%
  • Increase in average check amount.

Going together like a burger with fries

CKE’s standout experiences with mParticle’s customer success team was another key factor that influenced their decision to select mParticle as the tool for transforming their guest experience. From their earliest interactions with the mParticle team, CKE felt as though mParticle’s customer success managers fully understood their market situation and future goals. 

For CKE, it was important to find a partner that could not only help them implement a solution and solve technical challenges when they arise, but that could also act as a full-fledged consultant to aid in strategizing around data and customer engagement.

“Since working with mParticle, we’ve found their account managers have really gone above and beyond,” Phil says. “They immediately set us up for success during the onboarding process, then did a great job in helping us identify the best way to leverage our existing customer data to accomplish our goals.” 

Leveraging data to deliver standout customer experiences is not a set-it-and-forget-it activity–– especially for a multichannel brand like CKE. The QSR vertical is highly dynamic, and brands in this space are constantly innovating on new ways to provide value to their customers. CKE’s ultimate goal is to consistently deliver guest experiences that go above and beyond expectations and stand out amongst the competition, and mParticle’s customer success managers have been a key partner in helping the brand’s team strategize and innovate around data. 

Ushering in a holistic transformation

This loyalty program is just one initiative within a wholesale digital and physical transformation that CKE intends to roll out over the next six years, which will elevate not only the guest experience, but franchisee and team member experiences as well. In order to continue delivering customer experiences that keep up with the highly innovative QSR market, CKE realizes that maintaining efficiency, flexibility, and scalability in its data practices will be essential. 

“We know that we have to position ourselves to continue innovating with data and using it to deliver even more value to our customers,” Phil says. “While we may not know exactly what challenges or new expectations the market will throw at us tomorrow, we’re confident that mParticle will give us the flexibility and agility to use our customer data to meet and exceed them.” 

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