Three Steps to Improving Customer Loyalty During the Pandemic 

With new health and safety guidelines and constantly-evolving regulations, restaurant owners are faced with unique challenges to continue delivering a positive dining experience to customers. And while the pressures of the pandemic continue, customer loyalty can play a role in whether or not restaurants will sink or swim. 

It's reported that with as little as a five percent increase in customer retention, a business can improve its overall profits by up to 25 percent. In order to survive, restaurateurs must welcome returning customers and also strengthen new relationships to grow their customer base. Below, we’ll explore three steps to building relationships and an effective customer loyalty program.

Consider Your Customer’s Safety and Privacy

It’s no secret among bar and restaurant owners that customer experience is key. Especially today, as customers become accustomed to new dine-in protocols, take-out options and longer wait times due to capacity limitations, restaurant owners must go above and beyond to make their customers feel comfortable and welcome. A loyalty program should cater to the customer’s convenience and peace of mind — so keep safety and security at the forefront.

First, consider adopting a touchless loyalty system. Many businesses have introduced touch-free payment options and menus to improve customer experience during the pandemic. A similar approach can work well for loyalty program enrollment to improve sanitation and safety. Cardless programs reduce the number of high-touch surfaces for customers and staff and serve the additional benefit of eliminating issues related to card replacement. 

Customer safety for the modern restaurateur goes beyond the traditional health concerns. McKinsey & Co. has reported that as U.S. consumers increasingly adopt digital technology, they have also become more selective about the personal data they are willing to share. While customer loyalty apps offer the benefit of being touch-free, they often require extensive personal information such as names, email addresses and birth dates. To reduce the risk of a privacy breach, restaurants can opt for text-to-join loyalty programs that are both entirely touch-free and require little to no identifying information.  

Important to note is the timely need for easy take-out options. In many areas, normal restaurant operations are at a standstill and business owners must appeal to their loyal customer bases with fast, easy service. Touchless programs and app-free sign-ups can reduce the time it takes to join your reward community and make signing up more attractive at the takeout register. 

Keep it Simple

A customer loyalty program can be a reliable, trackable and scalable way to maintain your customer relationships. When establishing a new loyalty program, the process should be simple and easy for employees to learn and for customers to use. 

Common barriers to customer loyalty program acquisition are associated join fees, data privacy concerns, and convoluted sign-up processes. No one wants to fill out a 10-minute application when they’re out for a relaxing dinner or frantically search for a coupon or member loyalty card when they’re running errands. A quick and simple approach can increase new member sign-ups and encourage returning customers to cash in on earned benefits. 

The most successful loyalty programs are clearly defined with very few rules or limitations. For customers to see an immediate benefit, the restaurant’s loyalty program should offer frequent rewards without expiration dates or redemption restrictions.  

For staff, a new customer loyalty program should require little employee training or program management. Once implemented, businesses can leverage a reward system to boost sales during slow periods, with adjustments like bonus point periods or special offers for diners.

Emphasize Community

Your customer base is unique and the allure of owning a local restaurant is your ability to connect with the surrounding community. Take to heart the relationships you form and highlight the role they play in the local economy. To be successful, restaurant owners should customize their loyalty program and marketing strategies to address customer needs and show genuine care. 

A text message or buildable rewards system can go a long way with making regulars feel appreciated. To improve retention, restaurateurs should engage with customers and help them stay connected with easy-to-access rewards updates. 

Customers want to support the small businesses that make their communities shine, especially in the pandemic economy. To leverage unique offerings as part of your loyalty program, owners can create a simple points system. Set reward levels relevant to your retention goals and customer interactions. 

A rewards program should tout the things that make a restaurant stand out from competitors, while also fostering a sense of community. That element of community-building can improve retention and help a restaurant, bar or cafe become a local favorite. By prioritizing customer safety and privacy, taking a simplified approach to loyalty programs and adding a community-building touch, restaurateurs can truly strengthen their businesses.