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The Softer Side of Loyalty

Apr 5, 2024

In the bustling world of hospitality, where the clinking of glasses and the aroma of fresh cuisine fill the air, loyalty extends far beyond a simple transaction or a fleeting visit. 

Loyalty, in its essence, is the emotional bond that ties customers to their favourite restaurants and cafes, compelling them to return time and again, not just for the food but for the experience. Every hospitality business strives to achieve this emotional connection, yet the path to loyalty is often misunderstood and mismanaged.

Defining Loyalty in Hospitality

Loyalty in the hospitality industry is multifaceted. It’s not just about repeat business; it's about creating a sense of belonging among customers. A loyal customer chooses your establishment not because it’s convenient but because they share an emotional connection with your brand, food, and the memories they create within your walls. This relationship is built on consistent positive experiences, trust in quality, and feeling valued and recognized.

Measuring Loyalty: Beyond the Numbers

Traditionally, loyalty has been measured through repeat visits or the amount a customer spends. While these metrics offer surface-level insights, they fail to capture the depth of a customer’s emotional attachment to a brand. 

True loyalty should be measured through engagement: how often customers interact with your brand on social media, their participation in feedback surveys, and their willingness to recommend your establishment to friends and family. These behaviours indicate a customer's true sentiment and attachment to your brand.

#1 Misstep in Traditional Loyalty Programs

Many restaurants and cafes fall into the trap of equating loyalty with rewards programs that focus solely on transactions that occur at the moment. Essentially, they offer a discount on a current purchase - the idea being that the more you repeat that purchase, the more you step toward getting something in return - think about the traditional points on paper coffee cards. 

“All this does is create a discount mindset and relate the consumer to a specific item on the menu - say a cup of coffee,” said Andy Lark, Chief Customer Officer, Liven. “What hospitality brands must do to differentiate and grow is incentivise every purchase with a reward that enables and excites the customer to return and explore the menu. And the more they do that, the more you benefit from higher visit frequency and higher order value - and more data. Customers become super fans and members of your community, and not discount shoppers.”

Rethinking Loyalty Programs for Today’s World

To foster true loyalty, hospitality businesses need to reimagine their approach to loyalty programs, focusing on personalisation and emotional engagement. Rather than discounting the current transaction, they must shift to rewarding with their currency that incentivises the customer to spend and do more. 

Here’s a few thoughts to get you going:

  1. Brand and own your loyalty currency: Provide incentives that drive upsell and visit frequency. Ensure you own your program and brand it your way. Make it a feature and benefit of your venue by actively promoting it.
  2. Emphasise Personalisation: Connect your loyalty offering to your CRM (Liven Engage is a great place to start) and Magic App (check out Liven Nomnie). Use customer data to tailor experiences, remembering favourite orders or celebrating personal milestones. This approach shows customers that they are valued as individuals and creates experiences.
  3. Create Community: Using Liven Moments, encourage customers to engage in various experiences in your venue. Building a community around your brand can deepen emotional connections.
  4. Focus on Experience: Enhance the overall customer experience by training staff to provide exceptional service, create a welcoming ambience, and consistently deliver high-quality food and drinks. Then, track those experiences through regular digital check-ins with your customers. This is simple and easy with Liven Engage connected to your Abacus POS data.
  5. Seek Feedback and Act on It: Show that you value customers' opinions by soliciting feedback and making visible changes based on their suggestions. This demonstrates respect for their input and a commitment to improvement.
  6. Reward Engagement, Not Just Spending: Develop a loyalty program that rewards customers for engaging with your brand in meaningful ways, such as social media shares, referrals, or participating in sustainability initiatives.

Loyalty in hospitality should be nurtured through emotional connections, personalised experiences, and community building rather than relying on transaction-based, in-the-moment reward programs that don’t relate to your brand's currency. By redefining loyalty programs to focus on engagement and personal connections, restaurants and cafes can create a devoted customer base that supports their business with their wallets and their hearts.

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