Our Brisbane Coffee Professional and former-cafe-owner, Ron Brink, shares his tried and tested strategies for gaining new customers and keeping them for life.
As our coffee culture becomes more sophisticated, customers have more choice than ever before. While that’s nice for our customers, as competition becomes more fierce it makes owning and running a cafe even harder. And the challenge isn’t only in finding new customers, it’s actually in keeping them coming back – day in and day out.
It’s why, sometimes in the industry, we can hear business and marketing jargon like ‘customer lifetime value’ and ‘customer acquisition and retention’ thrown around.
But what exactly is ‘customer acquisition and retention’? And is it worth focusing on?
It can seem like a big, daunting business concept that need thousands of dollars of investment and an economics degree to understand. But, simply put, customer acquisition and retention is getting people to buy your product and then keep coming back.
This concept is the basis of growing any successful business — and in the cafe industry it can be done inexpensively and effectively. All you have to do is give simple incentives, build personal bonds with your customers and listen to them.
Incentivising your customers
New customers: The first priority is building a good customer base — but how do you get there? Industry veteran Peter Baskerville recommends the simple, yet effective ‘Three Coffees’ concept, which basically says, if you can find a reason to give someone three free coffees, they’ll be yours for life (or as long as conveniently possible). While I’ve paraphrased this, in my opinion, the concept still stands.
So, if you have a new customer, you can incentivise them with a ‘first-timer deal’, extra stamps on their new loyalty card or one of those ‘Three Coffees’ during their first weeks of visiting you.
Regulars: Once someone is coming for their strong cap every morning like clockwork, it’s just as important to incentivise them to ensure they keep coming back every day.
When I was a cafe-owner, I always tried to keep track of my regulars who had been sharing the word about my cafe and find ways to make them feel extra special. For example, I’d ask them to sample new menu items we were developing and give their feedback on the fly. Or other times, I’d unexpectedly refuse to charge them, just as a ‘thank you’ for being a loyal customer.
And while these may be seemingly small gestures, they’re the type that can create loyalty that’s unbreakable.
Building lasting relationships
We all love feeling special (come on, who doesn’t?) Well, our customers are no different. There’s a saying that ‘People like doing business with people they like’ — and I think it’s true of cafes too. Developing genuine relationships with your customers can help you stand the test of time, regardless of how many new competitors crop up.
So, those ‘basics’ are important to not slack off on — a genuine smile, remembering their name and how they take their latte, and asking how their big meeting went. It’s this kind of stuff that’ll keep them returning, simply because you’re making them feel special.
You can also help facilitate relationships within your community of customers by utilising the fact that, like all humans, customers are creatures of habit.
As we know, a cafe is now so much more than a place to get a coffee and a muffin: it becomes a second home, a satellite office or a starting point for the day ahead. Cafes are also where customers can make incidental friends who become part of their lives without even realising it.
You can help facilitate this by finding out what your customers interests are outside of work. Then you can introduce them to other customers who share that pastime and, before you know it, they’ll be coming in for a coffee together and staying longer to have breakfast. Look at that: you’ve indirectly created an upsell!
Listen to your customers
Another important factor in retaining your customers is to make sure you’re always hitting the bullseye with your them, so they have no reason to change.
Firstly, it’s worth being honest with yourself about the customers you’re wanting and serving. Maybe it’s a young corporate crowd, uni students or mums with small children. Whoever it is, ask yourself how you’re doing with attracting and retaining them. How are you going at meeting their needs and how can you improve?
You can find this valuable information by asking your regulars for their honest feedback. Not only will you likely gain some new insights, it can help cement your customers’ loyalty: your regulars will appreciate you valuing their opinion (remember ‘making people feel special’?). Then seeing changes they recommended being made can make them feel a sense of ownership in your cafe, which reinforces it being ‘theirs’.
It’s also important to stay aware of relevant industry trends. For example, with the recent surge in popularity of reusable coffee cups, you could introduce branded KeepCups or offer a small discount to customers who bring their own cup. This in itself can be a way of attracting and retaining new customers.
Social media; connecting with customers (even when they’re not there!)
We know our customers are increasingly online throughout their day. Heck! Leave most people alone, myself included, for less than a minute and the phone’s already out! So you can also tap into the power of social media to help gain and retain customers.
Visual platforms like Instagram and Facebook can be powerful for cafes in developing their brand and gaining awareness. They can also continue your engagement with customers long after they’ve finished their flat white — whether it’s by intriguing them with a limited-edition varietal or ‘liking’ their photo of latte art (that you created!)
And social media can also be effective in reaching new customers — potentially even thousands of them simply through some great photos, witty captions and comments or using #hashtags effectively. (Now that’s customer acquisition at its finest, and it’s — arguably — FREE!)
However, social media can be a minefield at times and has the potential to be a distraction from the real aim of the game: gaining and retaining customers in order to grow and sustain your business. So, the key things I’d recommend keeping in mind are:
- Quality over quantity: It’s better to post a few engaging posts per week than potentially boring your customers with near-identical posts every few hours.
- Stay ‘on brand’: Translated from marketing lingo, this means making sure the images and words you use always look, feel and sound like your cafe. By being consistent, distinctive and authentic it’s easier for your customers to remember and fall in love with your cafe and identify it as ‘theirs’.
- Customer experience is still king: No matter how great your social media and brand are, they won’t ever replace an exceptional coffee delivered with brilliant service. You just can’t fake that stuff.
If you’re wanting to learn more about how to use social media platforms effectively, a quick Google can teach you the basics needed to get started. From there, it can be worth chatting to a marketing specialist who knows their stuff.
As we’ve discussed, with every customer you acquire, you then have to work to retain them. One good strategy to get going can be to focus on the two parts — acquisition and retention — separately. For example, you could do an acquisition campaign one month and the following month focus on cementing these new customers as your loyal regulars.
But before doing something like this, it’s worth sitting down and doing some planning — even things like ensuring you have the infrastructure to support a sudden influx of new customers is important to consider. But that’s a different blog post altogether.
Most importantly, have fun! Even though being a cafe-owner has its challenges, you’re living thousands of people’s dream — and loving what you’re doing and making their day is infectious.
If you’re wanting to learn more about customer acquisition and retention or marketing your cafe, you can tap into our Coffee Professionals’ wealth of industry experience — from both behind the espresso machine and as part of a roastery. To find your local Coffee Professional, just drop us a line.