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Barkback Expands Loyalty Rewards Program in Santa Barbara

Local businesses offer exclusive deals through mobile App that also provides feedback from customers

“What Can We Do Better?” signs are going up at businesses on the Central Coast as owners embrace Barkback, a new online platform that opens the line of communication between customers and the businesses they frequent. Barkback senior developer Safa Scott, left, and director of marketing Teddy Ho proudly wield the signs at the startup’s downtown Garden Street office.
“What Can We Do Better?” signs are going up at businesses on the Central Coast as owners embrace Barkback, a new online platform that opens the line of communication between customers and the businesses they frequent. Barkback senior developer Safa Scott, left, and director of marketing Teddy Ho proudly wield the signs at the startup’s downtown Garden Street office.                      (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

The days of carrying separate paper loyalty punch cards to earn deals at local businesses are gone — at least that’s the aim of a Santa Barbara company putting a modern twist on the once-popular promotional tactic.

Barkback, which since 2011 has bridged the gap between one-sided online commenters and business owners who can consider feedback, expanded its web platform last month to include a loyalty rewards program via a free mobile App.

Users can earn free ice cream at McConnell’s, a four-course dinner for two at Julienne or free tapas at milk & honey in downtown Santa Barbara.

All they have to do is download the App on iOS or Android and religiously visit some of the more than 150 businesses in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties offering freebies to customers who tally enough purchases.

And the first punch of any promotion is on Barkback.

“We’ve seen hundreds of punches already,” said Teddy Ho, the company’s director of marketing. “It’s very exciting.”

The tech startup views its latest offering as an extension of an original mission to provide customers with a direct private or anonymous line of communication to business owners who value opinions and suggestions.

Barkback is particularly popular with those who didn’t want to be blasted publicly on Yelp! without a way to defend themselves.

Customers who interacted with businesses — Barkback’s list has grown from 1,500 in 2013 to over 6,000 — by writing reviews or completing surveys could earn coupons or special offers.

More than just food and drinks, Ho said Barkback also hosts deals and feedback for accounting firms, doctor offices, gyms, car washes, salons and more.

Santa Barbara-based Barkback has created a new loyalty rewards program via its mobile App that allows users to essentially carry hundreds of rewards cards at once. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara-based Barkback has created a new loyalty rewards program via its mobile App that allows users to essentially carry hundreds of rewards cards at once.  (Barkback photo)

“We’re really trying to help businesses discover and engage their most valuable costumers,” he said.

“That is fundamentally our objective. We’re trying to integrate that into the whole customer relationship and look at it from a long-term perspective.”

When it comes to deals, locals might be more familiar with Groupon or Santa Barbara Axxess, which provide exclusive offers or discounts for some of the same services as Barkback.

Ho acknowledged a similarity but noted Barkback’s target is existing customers more than new ones.

Alvaro Royas, who owns milk & honey and the Mesa’s Alcazar Tapas Bar, said he’s probably communicated with 100 customers in the past year through Barkback.

Many comments are kudos for doing well, but Royas sometimes sees how something could be better clarified on a menu or elsewhere.

Royas, a 20-year veteran of the local restaurant industry, said the loyalty program has been a bonus.

“I would actually hope that more of these platforms would head this direction,” Royas said of feedback avenues.

“It’s a more constructive approach toward reviews. I personally don’t trust reviews from people because you don’t know how much they go out… When they’re constructive criticism, we take them to heart.”

Barkback, which was founded by Raja Jindal while he was studying for his Ph.D. at UC Santa Barbara, has since expanded into markets in Southern California, Denver and Phoenix.

The goal is to be in a dozen markets by the end of 2015, Ho said, with more new feature rollouts and a possible move into a larger downtown Santa Barbara office in the works.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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