There are so many factors in whether your food and beverage company will be successful, it is hard to know where to start. Sourcing, marketing and distribution done poorly can be the demise of your business. However, even if these aspects are taken care of, without customer loyalty, long term success might be out of reach.
With the vast amount of competition, you need to ensure you customers not only come to you, but keep coming back. This is the nature of providing consumables and perishables. Constant turnover is needed to keep profitability. Maintaining loyal customers means providing a product or service which warrants repeat custom.
While it can be difficult to know what to do to build customer loyalty in the food and beverage industry, Social&Loyal can at the very least provide lessons on what not to do.
Build a Sustainable Loyalty Program
Don’t go too big too soon
With the hyper-competitive nature of the food and beverage industry, you want to stand out. Sometimes this means providing a big gesture, something which customers will covet. Your customer loyalty program might be based on a system where the rewards for using a service or providing referrals give the customer a free product or experience.
While you can try to control your overheads, if you give away too much too soon, you won’t have a sustainable customer loyalty program in the future.
Learn from Chipotle
Take a look at Chipotle who provided a great incentive for their loyalty program. Buying 12 burritos over a 3 month period means customers involved in the loyalty program will get 4 free burritos. This was a great way to encourage diners to come to them rather than competitors, but it also meant giving away $70 million of free food coupons. This couldn’t last and their reputation was seriously dented when they withdrew the program. If you’re going to implement a rewards program then plan on it being successful, plan on people engaging and participating and do the math to ensure you can sustain this program and avoid angry, loyalty customers.
Simplicity is key
Don’t complicate the reward
Don’t make customer loyalty rewards too complicated. We have already written on this blog about examples of the best loyalty programs in the food and beverage industry. On a small scale, you can be more creative with your loyalty program. Customers who spend regularly in your restaurant or buy from your distributor can be given a reward card to encourage repeat custom
The type of reward you provide can be varied, from free product, merchandise, entry to special events or anything you are comfortable providing. On a large scale, this can be problematic. If you have too many rewards on offer, customers can get confused and lose interest quickly.
Learn from Subway
Take a look at a program like the one provided by Subway sandwiches. While we miss the simplicity of their initial reward card – get 6 Subway sandwich stamps and get your next sandwich free – their newer system still keeps it simple. It is a points based system where the amount of points you get translates to a certain product in the shop; a hot drink, cookie, full sub, etc. This means if they want to provide other incentives with points earned in the future, they can. Until then, free food always speaks volumes in terms of customer loyalty.
Don’t make it too difficult to redeem your offer. With Subway and many other card based reward systems, you hand over your card and after a quick scan you can see what you are able to redeem. If you use physical coupons to redeem rewards, this can be frustrating for the customer. Remembering to bring the coupon with you can be difficult, especially if you have to collect a lot of them.
Even remembering your card is not always easy, especially if you want to use a particular service on a whim. A better way is to incorporate your loyalty program in an app. As most people carry their smartphones everywhere they go, this way you’ll make it easier for the customer.
Use the Power of Social
Be active on social media
Don’t neglect social media. With the amount of time people spend on social media networks, more and more people are looking for inspiration over what to eat and drink through them. If you don’t have any presence on social media, you are neglecting a big opportunity which could affect your success or failure as a business.
Learn from Chick-fil-A
Customer’s don’t merely want a discount or even something free any longer. They want something which reflects their lifestyle choices. This can go one of two ways and Chick-fil-A is a good sample lesson. Buying their product became a political statement over support of same sex marriage. While it arguably fostered customer loyalty on one side of the debate, it also alienated other market segments.
Be part of a lifestyle
As many of us now use social media as a means to display a certain lifestyle (even if it is not how we actually live), making your food and beverage business fit into popular lifestyles will encourage customer loyalty. This is because customer loyalty in and of itself is a commodity. It is subject to the same market changes and trends as any other. Staying relevant means making your brand fit in with the idea of living a successful lifestyle.
Don’t be selfish. While you may want to be number one in your field, the food and beverage industry has particular difficulties other businesses don’t. You may get your gas from the same station every time, but it is much less likely you want to eat or drink the same thing everyday.
Your product or service is likely to be part of a larger integrated experience. If you sell yourself as part of a lifestyle, then you can help support other businesses which can in turn support you. This might mean liking and showing love on social media. It could also mean a more direct link by joining up with another company for events or promotions.
Don’t copy. While you want to work in an integrated marketplace, you also need to differentiate yourself. This is because the food and beverage industry is over-saturated in terms of competition. If you look like you are a follower rather than helping the industry to forge ahead, you will not be rewarded with customer loyalty.
Getting creative with both actual product and related marketing strategies has value in itself. If you can find ways to make yourself stand out, then people will come to you. If you have the quality of product and service to back it up, hopefully you will keep them loyal.
Don’t ignore the data. Use your customer loyalty program to monitor customer behavior. Tailor your correspondence and marketing strategies to the type of customer who will likely become loyal. This will help foster the idea that you understand how you fit into their lifestyle and provide incentive in using you in the first place. This also involves being transparent in how you operate as consumers are becoming increasingly savvy to false promotion.