At least astrophysicists have the predictability of planetary movement and math going for them.
By comparison, restaurateurs have to convince humans, the most finicky and fickle creatures on the planet, to have a bite at their place.
And even when they do get them in the door, they have to persuade them and remind them to come back, even when customers have a good experience.
At least planets have the gravitational kindness to sling a satellite back the other way ... well, every few decades or so. But customers? They come back when they remember that good experience, get a nudge or invitation from a friend, or when the restaurant gives them a little, "Hey, we miss you," reminder.
The good news is a mastery of astrophysics isn't necessary to provide good customer experiences that:
Get customers telling friends, "Hey, you have to try that place!"
Remind customers, "Oh, yeah, I do like that place ... especially the burger."
Generate constant social buzz because a restaurant is haute, happening and hot.
To do that, restaurateurs have to help customers connect to others who, in turn, have a reason to reach out to others still and say, "I love that café. You should go there."
Evaluate, experience, share
Doubtless, word of mouth is still the best form of advertising. According to a Yankelovich study, consumers give friends almost three times the credibility they allow experts when it comes to product recommendations (65 percent vs. 27 percent). And in this "always on," "ever connected" society, the term "friend" means a whole lot more than a buddy you shoot hoops with. Friends in online communities are often persons bound only by vaguely shared interests and similar tastes—many times people who've never seen one another in the flesh.
And yet they trust each other almost implicitly. According to a study by myYearbook (published in Click Z), 81 percent of respondents had received advice from friends and followers relating to a product purchase through a social site—and an astonishing 74 percent of those who received such advice said it influenced their decisions!
So the question in 2012 becomes: How do restaurants generate such positive word-of-mouth interaction in electronic social channels—without it coming off as advertising?
No easy feat, to be sure, especially in a marketing environment where customers already are overwhelmed with messages.
The answer is multi-pronged: be genuine, not biased. Engage customers without being pushy, and give them the tools to engage your business.
When customers sense it's all about the restaurant, and not them, they tune out the message—just the opposite of what you want. Your goal is to get them and their friends gladly and willfully engaged with your brand.
Achieving that aim is not mysterious or magical. Successful efforts always are measured, meaningful and purposeful. And throughout my upcoming series of blogs, I'll deliver the details on how to acquire and retain those highly valued customers.
Jitendra Gupta is CEO of Punchh, the only mobile-centric marketing platform for restaurants that uses the power of mobile devices and social networks to drive and measure repeat visits, word of mouth, and referrals.