Posted on Friday, 6th November, 2020
Loyal customers are the lifeblood of any business but customer behaviour has been severely disrupted in 2020. In this edition of Trends On Plate, we look at ideas for building and maintaining loyalty, and show how the effective use of technology can make a difference in these exceptional times.
It is said acquiring a new customer costs around five times more than retaining an existing one, which makes a loyal customer base an incredibly valuable asset. But COVID-19 has dramatically changed the hospitality landscape, more often than not requiring new ideas and approaches.
So what affect have lockdowns and social distancing had on customer loyalty?
According to Buzz Consultants CEO Marianne Doyle, an expert in customer loyalty strategies for Australian hospitality venues, there is good and bad news.
On the plus side, people have been more receptive than ever to marketing materials. “Having an e-mail when they couldn’t physically visit a venue, that contact was important to them,” explains Doyle, adding that e-mail open rates have risen 15% amongst her clients.
Offsetting that is the boom in food delivery, which has challenged people’s loyalty by opening their eyes to alternatives. Says Doyle, “We’ll always remember that great takeaway burger we ordered from the pub — a meal we maybe only tried due to the shutdown.”
Against this unprecedented backdrop, here are 9 ways to build and maintain engagement with your customers.
Right now, we crave human interaction. But in many parts of the country, the ability to connect with others is limited. Your venue can maintain a familiar relationship with customers by featuring staff in social media posts, photos and videos.
“This is the power of social media,” says Doyle. “You can really build a rapport with customers and encourage engagement through your social media feeds.”
Help to humanise your business by sharing staff recommendations, much like book and music stores do, and constantly remind customers how much you appreciate seeing and serving them.
“Create posts that bring your venue to life — all that stuff is really powerful at this time,” says Doyle.
Personalisation has been a buzz word for some time now but many businesses still fail to appreciate its potency. In essence, personalisation is about providing customers with options that recognise their past buying behaviour and predict what they’ll do in the future.
An example is the way Domino’s shows returning customers what they purchased last time so those items can be quickly added to their order next time. Most online ordering systems have this capability built in so it’s simply a matter of deploying the functionality.
Customer relationship management (CRM) platforms can be added to website and point of sale systems to do much of the heavy lifting. That’s because they allow you to keep track of customer visits and meal preferences so that you can target personalised offers to customers, such as an annual birthday voucher, relevant upsell offer or a welcome back discount.
Don’t currently have a customer database? COVID has been responsible for the development of a clever contact tracing solution called VisitSafe that doubles as a de facto CRM alternative.
Explains Doyle, “It’s a product that has given venues who’ve never had a database the opportunity to build one and begin to understand the power of having that database.”
Customers sign into a venue by scanning a QR code and are offered the chance to opt in for marketing communications from that venue. In that way, VisitSafe helps venues comply with their responsibilities to record who has visited their venue and when, while also building a log of visitors who they can contact later.
“It’s free for businesses to register for it and there’s a tiny monthly fee if you want to send out e-mail using the database,” says Doyle.
Learn more here: visitsafe.at
A loyalty programme takes customer engagement to the next level by using rewards to encourage people to continue dining with you. And according to Doyle, setting one up could be easier than you think.
“My biggest piece of advice is keep it simple to start – don’t overthink or overcomplicate it. Your customers need to understand it from day one,” she says, adding that this also helps to keep your set up costs in check.
The main imperative, says Doyle, is to ensure people understand that if they spend a certain amount, they’re rewarded in some way. She says proven rewards include discounts and freebies, invitations to VIP nights and buy-one-get-one-free offers.
The benefits of a loyalty programme include reduced advertising and promotional costs, increased customer satisfaction and stronger relationships with customers that lead to more visits, sales and profitability.
Many businesses already have the hardware and software to run a loyalty programme. “Any point-of-sale system that has a scanner and an easy way to redeem offers will be the winner,” says Doyle. And if you can integrate your loyalty programme into your e-commerce platform, all the better for simplicity, customer buy-in and the likely success for your programme.
Consider expanding the functionality of your website by adding a “finder” tool that makes online ordering fun, interactive and efficient. A series of pull-down menus can help diners shortcut their way to the perfect meal suggestion by filtering options by cuisine, meal size, protein type and more.
If your website is built on the Wordpress platform, WooCommerce’s “Product Add Ons” plug-in will take care of the task. Users of Wix can add this functionality by employing the platform’s “Custom Filters”.
When you provide customers with a fuss-free ordering experience for delivered and takeaway meals, they are more likely to return to your venue again and again.
Sometimes, says Doyle, it’s the little things that make a big difference.
“Things like a handwritten note with a delivery saying to the customer, ‘hey, thanks for supporting us at this time’. It’s that extra little personal touch that people will always remember.”
Staff at burger chain Grill’d have gone a step further, writing positive messages and even creating small-scale artworks on takeaway bags.
For particularly loyal customers ordering an evening meal, consider throwing in a re-heatable dish they can consume for lunch the next day.
For most people, lockdowns have been a drag. Restaurants and cafés are uniquely placed to make a difference. Not only can we provide some of our customers’ favourite meals direct to their door, we can go the extra mile and make the dining experience a genuinely memorable one.
Use your customer relationship data to send out relevant recipes and video tutorials. Consider offering an ingredient service. Curate a Spotify playlist that helps to replicate the ambience of your venue. Offer a full week of evening meals that can be stowed in the fridge and simply heated by customers each night.
You can even team up with a local gym to provide a home workout plan for the week or a wine store that can offer sommelier-style advice on drinks to complement meals.
Formally known as post-funnel marketing, this strategy involves maintaining engagement with your customers after they’ve made their purchase. There are several ways to do this, each of which helps to build a stronger connection with customers.
It could as simple as sending customers a feedback link the day after, inviting them to write a Google review or to contact you directly with anything they’d like you to know about their meal. This can also give you the chance to rectify any problems before they turn into a negative review.
You could even invite diners to complete a short survey that will help to build your business intelligence. With the extra time on their hands that COVID-19 has created for many people, you just might get a valuable bounce in responses.
Businesses that have showed a selflessness, from assisting the elderly or immobile with delivered meals to banding together to support other businesses facing uncertainty, have been able to build trust and affection during this time. This will undoubtedly translate into loyalty as in-venue dining returns to normal.
“So many of the businesses I work with did so much in the community during the lockdown,” says Doyle.
“Whether it was at Easter and they delivered chocolates to charities and older people or left a care package for diggers on ANZAC Day, it was venues saying, ‘we can’t do what we normally do but we’re here and we’re thinking about you’.”
“People will always remember what happened during the COVID lockdown so I think these gestures will have a lasting effect on customer loyalty.”
“I really think the power of community at this time has come to the fore.”