3 ways to keeping customers loyal in the off-season

By Gary Edwards, chief customer officer at Empathica

The off-season is finally here. After splurging at the end of 2012, consumers are taking a closer look at their post-holiday bank accounts and reducing their spending on restaurant experiences.

Over the next few months, consumers will visit restaurants at the lowest frequency since February 2009. When they do treat themselves to a dining out experience, consumers say they intend to spend less on main meals.

Maintaining revenue during a down period is important, but it doesn't make sense to completely revamp your restaurant or develop a new brand concept for a few months of the year. So how can your restaurant compete and leverage customer loyalty to drive sales during the off-season?

3 tips for maintaining off-season restaurant loyalty

It's no secret that customer loyalty can carry a restaurant through off-seasons and cyclical slow periods. But rather than crossing your fingers and hoping for the best, there are several things you can do to proactively encourage repeat business and promote higher levels of customer loyalty.

1. Focus on a few key drivers.

Restaurant loyalty is determined by many different factors including product, service, speed, environment, location, price and perceived value. From a practical standpoint, it's impossible to outperform your competitors in every category. So rather than trying (and failing) to be the best at everything, narrow your focus to a few elements that have the potential to make the biggest impact on loyalty levels. By completely owning one or two competitive categories that are crucial to your brand, you can significantly improve repeat business.

2. Amplify customer feedback.

During the off-season, it's important for restaurants to aggressively monitor customer feedback through structured surveys as well as unsolicited reviews posted via social media channels. Utilizing listening and monitoring technologies, positive customer feedback can be identified and amplified to promote repeat business – even when consumers are scaling back their dining out budgets. Responsive, offline treatment of negative messages or concerns can even encourage dissatisfied customers to give your restaurant a second chance.

3. Forge emotional connections.

Successful restaurants sell more than great food. In addition to offering first-class menus, the best food service providers excel in creating memorable experiences for their customers. When the crowds dwindle, re-examine the elements and characteristics that differentiate your establishment from the competition, and then leverage those elements to forge emotional connections with patrons who have previously enjoyed your restaurant. With the right strategy, you can motivate customers to escape the winter doldrums by reliving satisfying memories of restaurant events they experienced over the past twelve months.

Well-executed loyalty initiatives and customer experience management strategies will increase restaurant traffic. But incentivizing a previous customer to return for an off-season dining experience is just the tip of the iceberg.

The real goal in implementing loyalty strategies is to transition satisfied customers into passionate brand advocates. By taking the extra step of utilizing social media advocacy solutions and other technologies, you can multiply the impact of your off-season loyalty efforts and maintain high levels of revenue during the slowest months of the year. 

Read more about loyalty.

Dr. Gary Edwards, chief customer officer at Empathica, is responsible for oversight of sales, marketing, client strategy, marketing science and retail insights. Gary is involved in solving business challenges with research and technology solutions. He has served a key leadership role during program development, implementation, and follow-up with clients for the past eight years at Empathica. For over 15 years prior, Gary led worldwide and domestic research projects in customer and employee research.

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