Your customers are driven to your brand by two main factors — practicality and emotion. Practical purchases are based on things like price, convenience, speedy service, etc., and emotional purchases are driven by intangibles like mood, emotional attraction, good memories and the like. When you get customers returning to your restaurant because they’re motivated by both, you’ve got a lifetime patron.
Take my loyalty to Lexus, for example. Its cars are well-built, extremely reliable and, while not inexpensive, they’re a great value for the money. Those characteristics led me to shop for my first one 14 years ago. It didn’t hurt that Lexus cars are aesthetically pleasing and when you need them to perform, they respond. However, beyond the car’s looks and performance, what keeps me coming back and spending so much on mere transportation is the long-term connection I have to the dealership, where I bought it and the people who work there. They ultimately made me fall for the brand as a whole.
They know me at the Lexus dealership, not because I’m rich or famous, but because they engage me in order to learn my preferences. They help me take care of my car, which shows they care about my safety and satisfaction. They connect with me on multiple levels—at the head and the heart – practically and emotionally. That level of service creates nearly unbreakable loyalty that leads me to tell others how good a brand it is. Lexus knows that if I—a loyal and emotionally attached customer—tell a friend, “You’ve got to have one of these,” it’s far more powerful than any flashy TV ad.
Such a high level of service is more common than ever at restaurants—especially pricey ones, but increasingly so in casual and fast casual operations as well. These operators are combining technology and personal engagement to turn average customers into hardcore loyalists.
Through cloud-based applications tied to guests’ smartphones, brands are learning how to cater to their guests’ preferences by monitoring their purchases. They help them celebrate personal milestones (birthdays, anniversaries) with discounts, deals or freebies and they invite those regulars to return to special, even exclusive, events. Best of all, they reward those customers for their patronage by giving them more of what they’ve demonstrated they want. Generic “free spicy chicken sandwich” offers? Not at these places—well unless they’re loyalists who repeatedly order the spicy chicken.
When diners know you’re out to please them as if they were your only customers, they talk about your restaurant and more importantly, they refer others to your restaurant who become drawn in by that enthusiasm. Soon their attachment goes well beyond their favorite drink or dessert, they’re in love with the brand. And that presents the greatest opportunity: to wow them with the feeling of exclusivity.
Great brewpubs reward regular drinkers with their own personal mug hung on a wall and at the ready. When they see their mugs on a wall with hundreds of others, they feel part of an exclusive community. Some fast casual operations let loyalty club members skip the line and go straight to the pickup counter and fine restaurants often give special access to premium wine lists or private rooms where only their best customers are allowed to enter.
Great food and service are like a well-built luxury vehicle: customers already expect them to be good. But what makes them loyal is your company’s ability to make them feel like they are a VIP guest. In other words, to get into their wallets, you’ve got to enter through both their heads and their hearts.
/ Vic Mahadevan is CEO of Punchh, a mobile CRM suite that includes branded mobile apps for campaigns, games, loyalty, online ordering, payments, referrals, reviews, gift cards, surveys, and integrates with social networks and operators’ POS systems to gather 360° customer insights. Punchh helps restaurants increase same store sales and profitability by driving repeat visits, word of mouth, new customer referrals, and higher returns from marketing campaigns.