A FOUR-PART SERIES
Last time, we looked at how integrating your business within the community better facilitated bonds between your business and your customers by allowing your business to become a source of local support. The next step in the process of reevaluating your business is getting your customers more involved. When people feel as though they belong and are a part of something, they are more likely to remain loyal. Utilizing this premise in your own business not only allows you to maintain your customer base, but also gives your customers a reason to remain excited about your business.
Grow Your Relationship in the Social Media Space
A growing trend is utilizing social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, to network and engage your customers. Food trucks use Twitter to inform customers where their truck will be to gain excitement and publicity, while some restaurants use Facebook to announce upcoming events or specials. For example, Kenna McHugh, editor for the online social media news site, Social Times, explains how social media has affected back-to-school purchasing. In a survey of 1,000 parents, “Of those surveyed, 69 percent plan to use social media sites to find out about promotions on back-to-school products. Another 44 percent plan to browse for back-to-school products on social media sites. And 28 percent plan to use the sites to read product reviews and recommendations to help make decisions on what to buy.” If you apply this example to your own business, you realize that a large portion of consumers are utilizing social media for their needs not just teens and twenty-somethings. If social media promotions can have such an impact on back-to-school shopping, think about how they could benefit your own business.
Though some still express resistance to using social media, the fact is that people are constantly connected online, which can translate to the most efficient and cost-effective way to keep customers informed. This is also an opportunity to give your customers a voice – they can comment on the specials, events, make suggestions and more. When customers tell you they want to have a say, there is no better way to allow them that chance than through social media; it shows customers that you care about what they want and are willing to cater to their needs. A helpful tip however – if you plan to engage your customers in a social space, you have to be responsive and helpful with a short turn around time to avoid negative publicity.
Let Them Make an Impact
If you have a business that rotates products or flavors (such as a gelateria, coffee shop or bakery), let your customers participate in new flavor or product development. On the road, I often see shops that hold flavor contests, and the winner is allowed to name the new flavor. The customer takes pride in developing something that is publicly recognized and championed at one of their favorite businesses, and in many cases, you get a winning flavor or treat to add to your lineup.
Offer a Behind-the-Scenes Experience
More than likely, many of your customers are food enthusiasts and are interested in learning more about the food they consume. While you don’t want to give away all of your secrets, holding small educational courses are a great way to involve your customers in your business and build a culinary community. If you are a gelato shop, I wouldn’t necessarily give away the secrets of your bread-and-butter business, but if you sell coffee, you could do a short demo explaining how to make the perfect espresso, the perfect latte or even allow the customer to create a new flavor with you. If you are a bakery, you have the ability to show how to make a great pie crust, a great chocolate chip cookie, etc. The point of the demo is to not share your trade secrets but to give your customers another reason to visit your business and feel like a part of the process. Food education is a hot topic right now, so being able to get your customers involved in this way not only gets them into your business but engages them on a different level they might not otherwise be able to experience.
It’s in the Details
Sometimes it’s the little details that make a huge difference. Passively involve your customers by including elements of their personalities into your business. For example, one of my customers develops gelato flavors specifically for ethnic and religious holidays. Because he has a large Jewish clientele, traditional Passover flavors were included in his gelato case, such as matzo gelato. Paying attention to details about your customers demonstrates that not only do you appreciate their business, but that you are also interested in them on a personal level, not just a business level. Talk and listen to your customers to determine what details you can include in your business to tailor some of your products, décor or events to them.
No matter how you decide to include customers into your business, remember that it is all about building relationships. When a customer feels as though you are interested in them as a person, you are creating a bond and a reason for them to remain loyal and invested in your business.
Note: To learn more about integrating social media into your business, check out the article, “Social Media: Finding Its Way into Your Business Strategy and Culture,” authored by Dr. Patrick Dailey, who holds a Ph.D. in industrial psychology and has worked in technology and consumer products for such companies as Hewlett-Packard and PepsiCo.
Dailey, Dr. Patrick. “Social Media: Finding Its Way into Your Business
Strategy and Culture.” http://www.linkageinc.com/thinking/linkageleader/
McHugh, Kenna. “More Back-to-School Shoppers.” http://socialtimes.com/more-back-to-school-shoppers-are-going-online_b72479. 2 Aug, 2011.