As a restaurant, bar or café owner you could be forgiven for assuming that new customers are the key to business growth. After all, you want to raise brand awareness and get more foot traffic through the door so it makes sense to always be trying new vastly different promotions and offers.
But what if you’re missing a step by ignoring the full potential of your business’s low hanging fruit, the customers that you’ve won over already?
Depending on the industry, acquiring a new customer can be anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining a customer.
You’re much more likely to be looking at a bigger promotional investment – and more risk – when trying to attract new types of customers.
It takes much less to get an existing customer to:
Statistics differ but, as an example, US business consultancy Bain & Company found across a wide range of businesses that customers generate increasing profits each year they remain loyal to a company. In the Financial Services sector, a 5% increase in customer retention can translate into a 25% increase in profit.
So maybe it’s time to think about how much your existing customers are worth to your business and how you can make that number go up.
Before you do anything, start trying to put a number on your repeat customers’ value to your business.
For example, one office worker who buys a $5 coffee every week day from the same cafe would be spending roughly $1400 a year there, give or take a few public holidays.
When a regular customer comes in:
This doesn’t have to be absolutely exhaustive, just a tally that’s representative of the regulars who really appreciate your business, their type and, their volume.
Here’s a record you can use:
But don’t stop there – remember, the most valuable customers are the ones that spread good word of mouth.
Word of mouth is very important, especially in the social media age when consumers overwhelmingly trust recommendations from friends and family above all forms of advertising.
In fact, Nielsen’s 2015 Global Trust in Advertising Report found that 83% of consumers take action on a recommendation from a friend.
Make a note every time:
If you can estimate how many recommendations on average a regular will make, and how many people follow up on that recommendation, you can add the value of those sales to your final figures.
A simple way to track word of mouth is to make a unique offer for recommending a friend. For example, print up some discount coupons explicitly designed and messaged to look like a gift card and give one to each customer in the target group.
In fact, here’s one you can download, add your details to, and get printed to save you time.
Some regulars will likely come back and use the discount cards themselves, but the margin of error will be low. And if you’re worried about customers downloading this card and printing it themselves, simply place a highlighter mark or your initials on the back of the cards you give out.
All you’ve got to do is track the discount cards that are then handed back in.
Once you’ve settled on an average value for a regular that you’re comfortable with you’ll be able to set an effective goal to reach.
For example, if you think your average regular is worth $1400 a year and you have 50 of them (representing $70,000 of business), increasing their individual spend by 5% and their numbers by 10% will increase business by about 13% (to $80,850).
Remember to be realistic with your goals. It’s always tempting to think big, but you want to avoid discouraging yourself with unrealistic expectations. You’re not going to transform your venue’s prospects overnight, but you may very well find trends you can build on over time for long-term success.
Once you know the baseline value of your regulars, the next step is to look at how to maximise that figure.
Ultimately, maximising value relies on building loyalty and trust. And achieving that relies on demonstrating that you share the same values and care about what your target market cares about.
You should already have more in-depth knowledge about your regulars compared to prospective customers, but always take the opportunity to ask. Market research isn’t just about building a picture of your targets, it’s about maintaining it too. Don’t forget, tastes always change.
There are many different ways to conduct market research, but for the time-strapped business owner you want to choose a method that’s quick, efficient and cost-effective.
Depending on how well you know your regulars, you may want to suggest an informal test group of four or five. You could get them together over some free food and drink as a “VIP testing night” or even just as a thank you for their repeat business, and just pick their brains.
You don’t have to use official-looking surveys or rigid test conditions, just keep a note of the salient points. In market research terms, you’re gathering qualitative or emotional responses (opinions, in other words).
Alternatively, at the point of sale you could incentivise joining a mailing group. If you already run a newsletter, think about putting quick incentivised written surveys in among your articles and news. Keep the survey as simple as possible. If you have heaps of questions think about making the survey a regular thing so the questions can be spread out across newsletter editions and be more digestible.
Once you’re confident that you know why your regulars are repeat customers, and you’ve talked to them to make sure you have evidence to back up your knowledge, it’s time to test out some tactics for offering them more of what they want.
“Test” is the operative word here. All marketing tactics cost money, so don’t bet big on one tactic. Test a few one after the other – so attributing results to a specific tactic is really easy – and make sure you do it on a very small scale before you consider increasing your spend.
Depending on what your regulars care about, you may want to look at tactics that add convenience, remove a barrier to more sales, or just delight the customer by making them feel special.
There’s a plethora of tactics you can use, from creating a VIP email list to access special offers and rewards, to packaging food and beverages more accurately to highlight products similar to the ones you now know your regulars already enjoy.
The key is knowing what they like and dislike with evidence to back up your thinking.
Once you have evidence of a positive trend you can trace back to a certain tactic, you’ll be able to build on that to increase the value of your regulars and encourage positive word of mouth to other people just like them.
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