Speaking of customer loyalty

The topic of customer loyalty comes up quite a bit, so I thought I would offer my opinion on the topic.
The type of loyalty program that the industry needs is one that is integrated within the stores own customer database, with no action required by the store owner other than to be notified of this very important customer.
Some examples, (I guess the timer starts…. NOW, to see which franchise/meal prep software vendor, implements some of these ideas. Hey we aren’t just here to watch, we want to help too)
1. Every customer that comes in and does a minimum of X number of meals for 3 months in a row should automatically get a free meal on their order. It should just pop up on the screen “Hey thanks for your loyalty, you have earned a free meal, please make your additional meal selection” then for each subsequent month, they should get that free meal. If they skip a month, they have to come in for 3 months again to get on that free meal program.

2. Want to run a promotion? How about using promotion codes, every other eCommerce site on the internet does it. Want to reward special customers, give them a code. Put it in your magazine ads, whatever. Don’t want the “special” codes to get out? Make them expire after a certain amount of time. Make them unique. It’s very easy to do. The key here is that when the customer is placing the order, they enter the code and it gives them a free meal (or whatever) automatically, no further action required on the store owners part. It shows up in their order, you know how much extra food you need. It would be in the database for your reporting of promo/giveaway items that you should be tracking for accounting purposes.

3. Giving out items to the customers doesn’t create loyalty, it creates a mentality of “what do I get this month”. Giving out free meals, makes sense, the problem was that it isn’t consistent, and it isn’t AUTOMATIC.
Other businesses need customer loyalty cards to track purchases because their customers can purchase anonymously (does Skippy behind the register at the local sub shop know who you are? No, so they need a loyalty card/key ring etc to keep track) the meal assembly industry already has that tracking system in place; they just don’t use it, effectively.

4. Past purchase tie-ins. You know that the last time you had your super braided dream steak, it was a hit, and you know exactly who purchased that item. Now 3 months later you are A. putting it on the menu again or B. doing something similar. You could query the database and send out an email notifying everyone that purchased that item that it’s back or that “if you liked the super braided dream steak you’ll love the next months even more super dreamy steak”

5. Give the customer a free meal, automatically in their order if they sign up for next month, within the first few days of this month. Again, simple to do, give them a big notice on the screen thanking them for their loyalty, and ordering early.

6. Have some customers that have been in several times but now have been absent for a couple of months? Put a free meal in their account; send them an email saying that as an incentive to come back, you are offering them a free meal on their next purchase.

7. Send out surveys that the customer can fill out and earn a free meal on their next order. Have that free meal show up automatically and remind why they are getting the free meal. “Hi, don’t forget you earned a free meal for filling out our survey back in January and helping us better serve you”

8. Are you running some type of fundraiser where the customer might prefer to donate their free meal credit to some other school/family in need etc? If it’s in the database, it can happen automatically

9. Have a refer a friend program? If it’s in the database, the friend could refer a customer via a email web link, if the friend uses the link to sign up, the referring friend would earn a free meal on the next order and it would show up automatically. Be sure to put a comment on their order of why they got the free meal and send them an email to let them know they earned it.

10. Private party or sample party host earning a free meal(s) have it in the database so that the meal just show up in their next order.

Make these things happen automatically, and REMIND your customer why they are getting the free meal. Print it on their order put it on the printout they use in the store while they are making the meals. Make sure they see it and are reminded of it.

These are just a few things off the top of my head, I’m sure there are dozens of more great ideas out there.

By having these items shows up automatically, (you have noticed I keep mentioning automatically right?) you know how much extra food you need. You are less likely to get caught on Saturday night running low on an item. You spend less time making manual adjustments to orders/inventory/spreadsheets/note cards etc. It would be in the database for your reporting of promo/giveaway items that you should be tracking for accounting purposes.

Should you use all of these promotions at the same time? No, but a mixture of them would probably help.

I’m sure someone somewhere in the industry has done one of two of these things, or are about to, some I claim as my own ideas, the issue is, why haven’t they been doing this all along? It’s not like this is such a difficult thing to figure out. You’ve got a giant database of customers, and you know what they like to eat, why not use it effectively? Also remember that these are things the franchisor or the independent software vendors need to do, not something the individual store owners can do. We certainly don’t expect the store owners to know how to work with the database, but they should have the tools needed to run their business in the most efficient manner.

You are probably saying “well we do some of these things it’s just not automatic” Well then you are spending too much money on the promotion. A free meal the customer earns which requires no further intervention on your part costs very little. Taking10 minutes, or even 5 minutes of your time to enter a free meal onto your customers account multiplied by 100 loyal (hopefully more) customers a month is costing your some real money. Your time is money too. Don’t ever forget that.

There may be all kinds of incentives offered to your customers, but how many of those happen automatically? Please don’t comment about “knowing your customer” etc. Making this process automatic would help you spend more time with the customer, marketing your business etc, and knowing that your loyal customers ARE being rewarded without any manual intervention on your part.

The Meal Blogger

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10 Responses to “Speaking of customer loyalty”

  • indie owner:

    I’ll tell you why…franchises are interested in selling franchises, period. There is a “let’s get it while we can” mentality in this business. I have seen franchise stores popping up in towns/cities/locations that could never, in a million years, support a store. The franchisor knows this, but they sell the location anyway. And they are so busy selling stores right now that they can’t be bothered to invest in a really good loyalty system for their current owners.

  • URWhatUEat:

    Indie owner – “I’ll tell you why…franchises are interested in selling franchises, period.”

    I don’t agree with this as a blanket statement. I think some franchises, yes. But, not all.

    We have excellent support from our franchise in this matter. We have e-meetings where all of our owners call in and are helped along with how to utilize our databases to their full potential. Our franchise also sends out corporate e-mails announcing programs that will be coming up and available to our guests.

    I guess from what people are saying if you are going to franchise you need to research long and hard and make sure your franchise is going to support you. There are a lot of franchises out there that just want the money, but not all of them are that way and it’s not fair to say they are.

  • mealblogger:

    Hi URWhatUEat.
    I wish I could agree that the blanket statement is unfair. Unfortunately I have not seen any substantiative evidence to dispute this statement.

    I’m glad that you have excellent support from your franchise. That’s good to hear but what I also hear you saying is that your franchise is holding “e-meetings” helping you to utilize your database. Does that mean they are providing you with the tools needed to make your job easier? Or does it mean they are giving you some tips that tell you to send had written postcards to the customer that haven’t been in for a while?

    People should take a long look at the industry before deciding to get into this industry. That’s what we’re here for, and that’s what you are here for too!

    The Meal Blogger

  • URWhatUEat:

    No handwriting going on here . . plenty of wonderful tools to use. Thanks!

    Just curious, what evidence are you talking about? Have you, in fact, gone through the interview processes with these two franchises so that you can boldly say that they both are selling to anyone and everyone that comes along (because of course they were willing to sell to you). =-)

    I have seen and heard several people talking about one of these franchises doing that but it’s not ours. Yes, we are one of the top franchises in this industry as far as outlets is concerned but perhaps we are doing it right while the other one is doing whatever they can to keep up with us.

    I just don’t understand what all this blogging is based on. Fact, fiction or opinion?

  • BTDTgotdebills:

    Uh…unless you’ve completely missed the boat, the stores closing/on sale nationwide, should clue you in to “what all this blogging is based on.” The handwritting you should be concerning yourself with is on the wall. Spend five minutes checking out business listings anywhere in the country and maybe you’ll be able to stop drinking the kool-aid the home office is sending you. In our state alone we’ve seen stores open and close in less than a year!! All the other owners I am talking to (across the brands) are PANICKED. The fact that you aren’t doesn’t mean you have great tools, just that you are one.
    Makes you wonder what your post is all about. Naivity, indifference, or Propaganda?

    Jeez if mb helps one person avoid the situation I know MANY people are in right now, great. If it’s through tips on keeping customers, great (I do like the one on codes…stealing that). If it’s simply through saying what everyone is thinking, even better.
    And don’t be such a noob about blogging. If you only want to hear good stuff, get off the computer. Familiarize yourself with google and you’ll find other blogs saying the same stuff.

  • mealblogger:

    Hi URWhatUEat

    What I am saying is, unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any evidence to show that the franchise companies don’t just try to sell as many stores as they possibly can. It does appear that this is what they are doing. If you say yours doesn’t then I’ll take that at face value.
    As for what all this blogging is based on, it’s experience in the industry. Remember a blog is an opinion piece, we here at Meal Assembly Watch have an opinion, and we welcome the opinion of others.
    Since this has tuned into more of a discussion, would you mind continuing it on our discussion forum http://www./forum/
    The general discussion forum would be fine.
    Please continue to make comments on our posts, but it’s much easier to keep track of a discussion in the actual forum.
    The Meal Blogger

  • indie owner:

    As an independent, I get calls ALL THE TIME from people looking into buying a franchise. They are typically calling from towns of 24-45K people, cities with median incomes under $45,000. And these aren’t suburbs of large cities that will draw from other suburbs. It about breaks my heart to hear them explain how they will use $100K from retirement funds and home equity and take the rest out in loans. No one I’ve spoken with has ever been turned down based on demographics. My location is exactly the opposit–high income, county of 500K people–but horribly oversturated–and yet there are still more stores “coming soon.” As the first in, it’s been appalling to watch store after store open.

    And about loyalty programs, databases, etc…I spent $2000 on my website and it is fully functional with everything mentioned except past purchase tie-ins. That’s do-able, but time consuming so not worth it.

    Going to look at forums now…sorry!

  • URWhatUEat:

    BTDTgotdebills –

    It’s very interested because my comments were a little experiment to see how the site reacted to being asked to back up some of it’s blogging. You’ve reacted perfectly and made my point rather well. It’s what I expected. Overally emotional, hurling insults, less than professional and not willing to take another’s opinion. Blog away!

    Meal blogger – nice segway to get me off the site. At least you handled it professionally, which I appreciate.

  • BTDTgotdebills:

    URwhatUEat –
    MealBlogger didn’t “get you off the site,” but instead she redirected you to the forums. You are hypersensitive to the least bit of criticism, and should actually be open to hearing the negative with the positive. It’s nice to have some place to “vent” the frustrations over what actually is happening.

    Back your claims up with facts. Head over to the forums and post your profit and loss statements for the life of your store. Then we’ll have no choice but to drink the corporate kool-aid with you. See ya there!

  • indie owner:

    Actually, the Independent Association has an ongoing benchmarking study where they compile all pertinent data–rent, labor, food, sales, etc. in order to come up with some hard data. I’m not sure, but they may be willing to include franchised store info. It’s all confidential, with no stores listed, just the high and low of each category, along with an average. If you’re interested in including your store’s numbers, email me and I’ll send you contact info. Only people who participate are allowed to see the data. By the way, I am in no way associated with the association, other than being a former member.

    As for facts, evidence, etc. —very hard to come by, because who is willing to share profit and loss statements? I can look around and see what’s happening–I don’t need hard evidence, I just need to trace the lifecycle of my store and those of a group of other store owners I know well.

    URWhatUEat–do you own a store or work for the corporate office?

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