Ask any industry veteran about why they got into hospitality, and after joking about the highly sociable hours and fantastic profit margins, the answer becomes fairly consistent — for the connections.
Restaurateur and industry legend, Bianca Welsh, describes this connection as a special kind of passion that exists within the industry. “There is just so much energy in hospitality, and we want to share it with the world”.
As large parts of metropolitan Australia are currently under lockdown, engaging in those meaningful connections with customers has become challenging.
With the future finally looking a little brighter thanks to an increasingly rapid vaccination rollout, now is the perfect time to think about new ways to connect with your customers, so you’re ready to welcome them back with a bang when the time comes.
We sat down with some industry experts to talk about the best ways businesses can get closer to their customers from afar. Read on for some of their top ideas.
Run a virtual focus group
As restaurateurs, publicans, cafe owners, and food nerds, it’s the hundreds of incidental conversations with customers that usually give you an idea of ‘what’s hot’ and what will do well on your menu each month.
With these day-to-day interactions stifled by lockdowns, keeping your finger on the pulse can be tricky.
“Your customers are going to be changing, as will what they need from you, or what you can supply them to meet their new environment in this post-pandemic era,” says David Koch.
While some of your customers may have become amateur sommeliers, others may have cut out drinking altogether — so how do you know how many mocktail options you need on the menu?
One way is to safely recreate that face to face time in a virtual environment.
“It’s as simple as talking to your customers: getting them together on Zoom and chatting to them,” says David.
Whether you run a one-off chat or choose to make it a regular session in the lead up to reopening, this time with your customers will provide invaluable insight, and will also make your customers feel pretty special to know you’re thinking about them.
Open your direct messages on social media
Whether your business has a strong social media presence or you only post every now and then, Instagram or Facebook can be a really helpful way to stay connected with your loyal regulars.
For Shaun Christie-David from Colombo Social, social channels are his go-to way of engaging with his community when he can’t connect with them in person.
“Socials are a great way to keep that connection” Says Shaun. “We often get direct messages from people and we’re able to engage with them through really nice social campaigns.”
From looking for fresh ideas to simply having meaningful one-to-one conversations, letting your customers know your DMs are open for a chat can bring you closer to your customers, and let them know they are front of mind.
Make the precious pick-up minutes count
If you’re operating a business that is still able to safely offer a pick-up service to your customers, those brief interactions are priceless.
“There is no more important time,” says Shaun. “People go to that barista, or whoever that person is, to have that human connection.”
While it may only be a few minutes, as David Koch recounts, it was enough time for his local cafe owner to learn something from each customer.
With a ‘little sheet of questions’ in hand, the business owner asked his customers how their life had changed, what they needed from his cafe, and what he could do to help.
“It was really smart to use that time to learn more about me and all the customers coming in and supporting him and the business going forward,” says David.
Some last food for thought from David Koch in case you had any reservations about reaching out to your community:
“As a customer, we want our local businesses to succeed. We realise what an important part cafes and restaurants play in our lives, and we want everybody to succeed as a customer.”
So what are you waiting for?
This content is part of the Keeping Businesses Together series for hospitality businesses. You can find the full event on-demand here.