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The Anti-Groupon: New App Lets Repeat Customers Say Thanks New App We&Co Lets Customers Say Thanks, Get Free Stuff

Part Yelp, part FourSquare, this new app will help you become a regular at local businesses by actually getting to know the people who work there.

People like to brag about where they go, and they dig the idea of competing to "check in" more: FourSquare grew 3,400 percent last year. A new app is betting people will want to say thanks as much as they like saying, "I'm here."

GOOD got a sneak peek at We&Co, which launches publicly today after a test run in Atlanta. “Instead of the check in, our central action is the thank you,” We&Co's Creative Director Meggan Wood tells GOOD. "We want to take the emphasis off the place and put it on the people." This one is for the employees, the beloved barista, inventive mixologist and dependable hairstylist. Now the people who make up one-tenth of the labor force finally have a public pedestal. There's even a thank-o-meter.

We&Co uses the same locations as FourSquare—exactly the same, since they're lifted from FourSquare's API—except you see the people who work there. If you like the service you get, or want other people to know there's a barista that makes a mean latte, you can pull up We&Co, find her profile, and hit "thanks."

Sound cheesy­­? Well, think of it this way: What makes you become a regular at a bar, the beer or the bartender­?

In the Atlanta pilot, small business owners loved the idea of a new way to promote their business through their staff, and the employees were keen on the recognition and extra data on their popularity with the customers. Imagine a sales associate with 100 thanks asking for a raise. Plus, who doesn't like being thanked; a little gratitude facilitation can go a long way. Employees can thank you back, and offer free stuff to the most gracious customers.

"This is a way to engage the employees, not just the customer," says Jared Malan, co-founder of We&Co. "It allows them to have their own side of the game." He points out that in many establishments, like Starbucks, employees are told not to check in on FourSquare because customers would never get to become the coveted "mayor" by being the one who checks in the most.

With We&Co, a waiter gets his own profile. He's competing with other servers to become the most thanked, or even with waiters in nearby restaurants. New customers can see how many times he's been thanked, and for what. But even more basic than that, they can see his name. They can identify with him as a person, based on whatever he puts in his profile.

“What we’re really looking to build is community around the place, through the community that work there,” Malan says. "This is meant to be a communication channel between the customer and the employee … an employee who doesn't have any work email." You can also see who your friends are thanking, which is one more prod to say hi to a service industry employee, because you have a mutual connection.

The hope is that a personal relationship with the people at a business—not just the place or the prices—will make you become a regular. We&Co ranks you based on your number of thank yous and encourages you to climb the scale up to the pinnacle status. Malan hopes companies will offer deals for We&Co official regulars, like discounts or free products. "An employee can send a thank you back, and say something like, 'come on back and I’ll give you a free drink,'" Malan suggests.

Malan calls this the anti-Groupon. With that site, price is the motivating factor for where to shop, with We&Co he wants it to be the people. A restaurant can make a policy that all regulars get an extra happy hour discount on Tuesdays. Or work out deals with partners to offer even more freebies.­ Whynatte, a latte energy drink, has already signed up for a pilot perks program, where restaurant and bar employees will be able to give the drink away for free to their favorite thankers. We&Co are in talks with some major national brands for similar promotions.

The business model is to keep the app free and fund it entirely by local advertising perks—and of course, by selling the data on who’s getting gratitude. "Through the data, we will have an understanding of who the most appreciated bartender is," Malan says. And liquor companies will pay for that knowledge ... he hopes.

For now, Atlanta is the only city on the app that is populated with employees at each establishment. So if you're an early adopter—by signing up here—you'll have to be the one to enter in your favorite service industry employees. Just another way to get to know them better.

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