It’s no small secret that loyal customers are a huge driving factor in the success of many businesses. In fact, loyal customers will spend 67% more than occasional customers, proving exactly how necessary it is to nurture them. But how exactly do you do that? Creating loyal customers is more than just providing them with the service or product that they expect. Can you think of a business where you were a repeat customer? What motivated you to return the 2nd, 3rd, or 48th time? It was likely a mix of many factors that contributed to your entire experience.

Five crucial ways you can encourage customer loyalty is to prioritize your customer service, reward your customers, ask for their advice and take it seriously, exceed their expectations, and avoid always asking for money unnecessarily. Continue reading to learn more about how and why you should implement these tactics into your restaurants strategy.

1. Prioritize Customer Service – Especially on Social Media

Most business owners know that prioritizing customer service is an absolute necessity, but one very important customer service touchpoint is unfortunately often overlooked – customer service online. Many customers will take to your social media in order to ask questions, air their grievances, or to learn about other customers’ experiences with your business. When a customer comments on a social media post or makes a review on a search engine, the way you respond is absolutely critical. Sorry, no snark or sarcasm allowed, respond kindly and courteously to ensure you create a positive and professional narrative.

One final thing to remember is that it is not only how you respond online that is very important, but so is how quickly you respond. In this digital age most customers expect a quick response – usually within an hour – so don’t leave them left on read!

2. Reward Your Customers

If your restaurant doesn’t have a rewards program this is your friendly reminder to make one right now. One of the absolute best ways to get your customers to come back, again and again, is to set up a rewards program. Rewards programs can be based on points, purchases, the day of the week, the longevity of their patronage, and more.

The great thing about rewards programs is that you can also choose how to reward your patrons – and you can get creative! Besides the usual rewards that most of us are used to like discounts or free services, you can offer them exclusive merchandise, access to a secret menu, or a VIP table.

3. Ask for Advice & Take It Seriously

Have you ever had a friend who came to you specifically for advice about a tough situation, so you conjured up your very wisest and most thoughtful advice, only for this friend to disregard it entirely? Sometimes businesses can act like this friend – don’t be that friend!

Give your patrons plenty of opportunities to reflect on their experience and give you feedback. Be open and receptive to feedback, including feedback left on napkins, evaluation cards (always keep some handy in the guest checkbook or on the table), or an offhand remark. If a grumpy customer is complaining about the layout of your dining room under their breath, don’t disregard this. It’s very likely that other customers are having the same experience and a layout review is in order.

Don’t forget that once you implement these changes that you should let your customers know about it. Post signage about your new layout and why it happened. When customers see that you take their opinions seriously they will feel valued and appreciated.

4. Exceed Their Expectations

Remember that feeling you had when you found those last few french fries at the bottom of the bag? Delight your customers by finding different ways to exceed their expectations. As long as you meet their initial expectations AND find ways to go above and beyond to exceed them, your customers are going to be seriously impressed.

One way some restaurants do this is by recognizing customers’ special occasions or events, like birthdays or anniversaries. Your business might already offer customers a free drink or complimentary dessert on their special day, but not every customer is always comfortable or forward with sharing these life events. One great way you can discreetly acknowledge these occasions is by emailing them coupons or gift cards that they can use at their convenience.

5. Don’t Just Ask For Money

We understand, making sales is high on your priority list. If it wasn’t, you likely wouldn’t still be in business. However, if you only connect with your customers in order to ask them to buy something, you will have a hard time keeping them loyal forever. Remember that often it’s not always about what you sell, but the experience and story that your business invites them to share with you.

Some great ways to connect with your customers are to host a customer appreciation event, an ice cream social, a behind-the-scenes tour, a movie night, or other local community events. Consider the sort of activities that your customers appreciate and partake in. Is your branding centered around the outdoors, with many of your regulars being avid outdoor enthusiasts? Consider hosting a gear exchange event, or the local climbers’ coalition meetings. By connecting to your customers often with valuable and relevant information, you avoid annoying them with sales pitches while still staying at the top of their inbox.

Implementing all five of these tips at once to increase your customer loyalty may feel a bit overwhelming. Start with one or two of these and be sure to take your time implementing these strategies to ensure you are being thoughtful about how they impact your customer experience in order to create the best response possible.

How will I know if someone talks about my business on social media?

Hopefully, you already have social media accounts on most platforms, which will notify you if someone messages you or comments on your content. Other ways to monitor for conversations surrounding your business are to routinely search within the social media platform, set up Google alerts, or subscribe to a monitoring tool like Mention.

Do I have to implement all customer feedback that I receive?

Definitely not, it is important to deeply consider how the changes will affect your workflow and branding as a whole, and how the changes will affect your customers as well.