Hear Me Out: Talking &
Listening to Your Current Guests May Be The Best Way To Get More Of
Them Through the Door
by Rick Hendrie
According to conventional wisdom, the best way to get
new customers is to go out and
advertise to the consumers
that you do not currently have.
That is a falsehood.
count visits and bank
dollars. Why not look to the guests you already have to market your
Does advertising have a place?
Of course, in the same way that charcoal starter fluid does in
getting briquettes to burn. But the most powerful, long-term form of
marketing is to focus on current customers.
know who you are and what you
do. They already have shown a predisposition to like you.
Farming vs. hunting
focus on your current guests to build the business, you move into
the paradigm I call “farming”. Its polar opposite, ”hunting,” is
using such things as print ads, TV commercials or coupons that
bag a small percentage
of the customers at whom you‘re
shooting. We live in a consumer
society where the hunters
rule. The reason you don’t feel their bullets is that you have
developed a impenetrable hide of steel and are
oblivious of the thousands of
aimed at you every single day.
“Farming” posits that you
cultivate with current guests relationships that, as they deepen,
create both an unbreakable bond and unvarnished, enthusiastic "wordof-mouth"
marketing. Is there a better, more compelling, more cost-effective
form of advertising.
For those of you who still pine
for the elusive guest you haven’t got, consider this: As a rule, 10
percent to 15 percent of your current guests are new. They never
have been to your location before but have stumbled in by
happenstance or some local contact.
are a mobile society, in which populations not only grow but also
change over time. Even if you are
in a city
where there is little
net-population gain, consumers are still moving in and out because
of job or life changes. That means the guest you don‘t have, you do
have! So maximize the quality and quantity of interactions with
people you already know. Orchestrate word-of-mouth marketing that
self-perpetuates your business.
Focus on your core relationships. How well do you
your guests? If
you have done your research, you know the breakout of first-time,
light, medium and heavy users of your restaurant. That data allows
you to calculate the total number of unique visits guests pay in an
average year. I suggest, for most restaurants, the number will range
in the thousands. Do you know each of the guest‘ names? Where they
live? Where they work and what they do? If they are married, have
kids, have significant others? In studying the concept, I have found
that most restaurateurs know less than 10 percent of their guests in
this intimate way, and I‘m being generous.
Why does it matter? We live in
an age when Americans seek human community, authentic relationships
and real connections with each other. Starbuck‘s appeal comes,
in part, because the
company has tapped into that
for a “third place” between home
and work or school. When you commit to a
guest-relationship-marketing focus, you will be able to tap into the
conversations. Now the paradigm shifts: GuestRelationship marketing
gains its power as a consequences of the momentum created by dozens
of relevant conversations between you and the guest. No one
conversation is a magic bullet designed to bring the masses in —
although there are very effective promotional components to that
concept. The guest gains trust
in you and your
sincerity over time. In the book “Engaging Customers in e-Business”
authors Jeffery Farriss and Laura Langendorf stated, “Consumers will
tune out sales information once they’ve grown to trust a brand or
You need to create
opportunities to converse with the guest that feel human and
natural. See it as a 24-7 proposition. Here are some suggestions:
Think as the guest thinks. Garrulous chitchat instead of simple
service is not worthwhile conversation.
Find out what is
of interest to the guest. Simply
him things of interest to you is boring.
View the conversation “as virtual.” It takes place not only on the
premises but also online.
Solicit feedback as a means to start a relationship.
Respond to feedback quickly and solicit more.
That’s all easier
said than done. We take guest’ temperature
regularly. We have
comment cards and mystery shops to gauge performance. We train
managers to survey the dining room and “touch every table.” That‘s
all good, but it is the gradual, natural, conversation between you
and your guest that acts as the connective tissue and perpetuates
following tactics, which work together,
guest-relationship marketing program.
Create an e-mail
VIP club in which guests opt in. Reward them. Communicate
frequently on topics
interest to them and relevant to you.
most frequent guests and offer them the
— and incentive — of referring friends to you.
aggressive e-feedback system that
and answers it immediately. Use the
a kind of virtual focus group and training
aid to reward the right behavior of your staff of actors and
correct what is inconsistent with your values.
debit card or swipe system that allows you to identify guests as
they enter and reward them
patronage. Sell gift certificates via
those cards and enjoy the magic of “breakage” and the beauty of
“the float” without the fraud found with paper.
marketing does not discount advertising. It focuses the majority of
your marketing resources
against the target
most likely to respond – the guests currently coming through your
Rick Hendrie is
President and CEO (Chief Experience Officer) of
Link Inc - Method Marketing, a Boston-based consultancy
specializing in creating and marketing memorable restaurant
experiences. He can be reached at: