I was having lunch recently with a Boston restaurant investor in one of his restaurants. He was visibly enjoying his investment and happy to be involved in the restaurant business. We talked about how the restaurant had many of the right ingredients for success, like the menu’s attention to local sourcing and sustainability whenever possible. We commentated on the open, modern but relaxed décor and its very visible kitchen. He then mentioned a general manager who stayed by the kitchen line to organize and track the orders, making sure everything was on target. And then he asked, point blank, whether she should be out in the restaurant connecting with the guests and getting their opinions.
I answered, “Absolutely yes,” and we discussed why I felt so strongly about that.
How Customer Engagement Can Drive Sales
I had my own experience with a restaurant chain and saw directly how customer engagement helped to drive a successful sales turnaround. Our strategic focus on guest or customer engagement was a key element to our success. We reordered the operations team’s priorities and procedures―and bonuses―to make sure each restaurant manager spent time “out front” with the guests strengthening customer engagement and their guest relationships.
The benefits were threefold: the guests experienced firsthand how we cared about their satisfaction, the guests felt the brand’s personality, and the managers heard what their guests liked and did not like, helping to make the staff more committed to their guests! The sales resurgence, driven by guest service scores that increased by more than 75% in one year, delivered a +50% AUV growth over five years.
When we strategically focused on the brand’s core values and personality, refocused the menu to be fresher and more nutritious, and improved operations, our customer engagement got stronger and sales took off. Customer loyalty shot up 10% in the first year because we went beyond great food and service to engagement. We connected with our guests so our frequent customers became even more loyal (and more profitable). By being more personal and connecting emotionally, we made their experiences positively memorable, which led to increased visits and sales.
Not sure how that works? For one very basic thing, the human brain is “wired” to remember and act on events with an emotional connection. Millennials, in particular, seem to be even more concerned about emotional connections as they search for transparency and authenticism.
Research Supports Link between Emotion and Customer Engagement
I have pushed for the importance of emotion to connect with customers and build customer engagement throughout my career (my blog post, “Your Brand and Emotion: The Key to Customer Loyalty,” is close to two years old), but the following Harvard Business Review piece on “The New Science of Customer Emotions” adds more logic and research.
- When a major bank introduced a credit card to connect emotionally to Millennials,
card use increased by 70% and accounts grew by 40%.
- When a nationwide retailer focused merchandise and the customer experience on emotionally connected customer segments, sales growth accelerated significantly.
- Based on research and interviews with experts in anthropology and the social sciences, three Harvard Business School professors managed assembled a list of 300 emotional motivators and recognized that “even a cleaning product or canned food can forge powerful connections.”
- Most importantly, they traced how customers or guests became more loyal and valuable (more sales) as they traveled along an “emotional connection pathway” from being “unconnected” to “satisfied” to “brand differentiators” to “fully connected.”
- The biggest surprise to me was the “fully (emotionally) connected” customers or guests were 52% more valuable (loyal) than those who are just one step away. Turning dissatisfied customers into satisfied ones helps. Moving any customer one step up along the path to “fully connected” is beneficial. But it’s the final step to fully connected and dynamic customer engagement that has the greatest impact, making it clearly worth the effort!
If you are running a retail store or restaurant and cannot spend tens of thousands of dollars on research, what can you do? My suggestion is to start with the basics―and start now:
- Make sure there is a connecting, emotional element like your core values and personality in your brand platform.
- Make sure your band platform is communicated, over and over, to your business teams. Find ways to motivate their understanding and commitment to it (think Apple, L. L. Bean, Zappo’s…). Do they really “get it” and understand its importance?
- Take the extra step of talking to your guests and understanding their needs, both tangible and emotional. Share this learning as a team and culture. You can do this through social media, research, and talking to your guests in your store or restaurant.
- Don’t be afraid of the details. Great execution takes great attention to detail, and this will be worth the effort. Remember Thomas Edison’s “Strategy without execution is hallucination.”
Those are the reasons I believe a general manager sharing his guests’ experiences is an important step toward creating the best customer engagement.