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Josh Phillips
July 06, 2018

Want repeat customers? Here's three ways to get people coming back for more.

Getting new customers costs more than keeping return customers. That’s a fact.


It holds true from the smallest one-shop cafes to the biggest of multinationals: it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one.


Think about it:


You don’t need to sell or market as much to existing customers, who already trust you and your cafe to give them a good experience. They don’t need to be enticed in quite as much.
And new customers don’t spend as much. A study by Bain & Co., one of the world’s largest consultancies, found that a 5% increase in customer retention rates — the number of customers who come back again — led to a 25 to 95% increase in profit depending on the type of business.


It makes sense:


You go into a shop, and you don’t know the place. You might just buy a coffee to test the waters rather than launching into a full-on lunch. But the next time, you’re far more likely to go for the cafe’s cakes and sandwiches.


But, even though return customers cost you less in marketing than fresh ones, you still need to work at it.


Here’s three tried-and-tested ways of getting return customers.


#1. Reward loyalty for repeat customers

8276 - NotepadWithout customer loyalty, you don’t have repeat customers. Period.

You need to give customers a reason to keep coming back.

Loyal customers are the lifeblood of any good business. Not only do they pay more, but they are more likely to bring others and point new customers in your direction. They act like ambassadors for your business.

And you can’t take these customers for granted. You need to give them reasons to keep coming back, to keep spending time in your shop, to keep talking about you.

That doesn’t just mean offering the same stellar quality food and drink as you normally do, but going the extra mile to provide your repeat customers with truly memorable service.

One way to do this is to upsell.

This isn’t just asking customers if they’d like to supersize. Upselling can be a good way of making customers feel appreciated.

For instance, if you have a customer who comes in every few afternoons to read the paper and always buys a coffee, but buys a slice of cake maybe one in every four visits, asking them if they’d like a slice of cake with their coffee will make them appreciated — and might just convince them to go for that slice of lemon drizzle.

Another way to snag loyal customers is to offer them a quick freebie.

yesOne of the worst-kept secrets in the hospitality industry is that each Pret has a budget for free coffee for customers who “are in need of cheering up” — they gave away 1.7 million coffees in 2016. That’s a lot of customers who needed cheering up.

You don’t need to hand out millions of pounds worth of free coffee in order to reap the benefits of a well-placed freebie, though. Everyone likes getting something for nothing, and you might well find that those coffees prove a valuable investment.

That said, you’re far more likely to get customers coming in if you give them a reason to do so.

This is where loyalty schemes come into play.

These can be as simple as a stamp card, with a free coffee at the end. Stamp-cards are cheap to implement, but they have their downsides. There’s no way of telling how many you’ve given out, and it can be hard to track how many people are filling them in and how many people just have them sitting around, gathering dust.

Instead, a new breed of smart loyalty app allows you to track what you’re giving out, as well as who you’re giving goodies out to.

Check out Flok, a smartphone-based app that mimics the functionality of a stamp card, but has some added extras.


Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 17.32.21

Sure, customers can use it as a punch card, but you can also use it to “push” notifications to customers’ phones, reminding them about you, or chat to customers using the app. From your end, you can use it to manage customer data and find out precisely what customers are doing with those punch cards.

#2. Keep in touch with repeat customers

online-testimonialsOne of the reasons that one-time customers become return customers is that you offer something that other places don’t.

This isn’t necessarily something tangible, like cheaper coffee, bigger sandwiches, or jazzier salads — although that can certainly help.

Instead, engagement creates repeat customers. A study found that customers who are highly engaged with a brand are 90% more likely to buy from that brand more frequently, and 60% more likely to spend more.

If people love you and your brand, they’ll pick you over the competition every time.

There’s a lot you can do in your shop to create customer goodwill and improve your brand. One very simple tweak is to get the time to get to know your customers: to start a conversation.

When you do this you are turning your coffee shop from a place to get a coffee into somewhere to get an experience. And customers value experience. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that businesses that offer stellar customer experiences raked in 2.4 times more revenue per customer than those that offered so-so service.

But this conversation doesn’t need to stop once the customer leaves your cafe.

It’s getting easier and easier to keep in touch with your customers using social media and email marketing services. mail-feedback

We’ve talked before about how to choose the right social media channels for your cafe, as well as how to take advantage of them. When thinking about social media, your thoughts might turn quickly to Facebook — it’s the biggest social platform by a long way, and Facebook business pages are really useful. However, it doesn’t necessarily drive engagement in the same way that other platforms might.

Instead, platforms like Instagram and Twitter might prove more useful for making customers feel like they’re really engaging with you.

Twitter is great for spontaneous conversation, while Instagram is great for bringing your coffee shop’s brand to life and giving your fans an insight into how you work.

Another weapon in your arsenal is email marketing — if you get it right, that is.

If you do email marketing badly, at best you’ll not see any return on the time and money you’re putting into it. At worst, you’ll actively drive people away.

Do it well, though, and you’ll create something that people on your mailing list actively look forward to, and that entices customers back into your cafe to spend their hard-earned cash.

In fact, US-based marketing specialists WebpageFX report that every $1 spent on email marketing generates $44 in return.

Getting started isn’t hard either. Simply sign up with a mail service and start building your mailing list.

There are as many email marketing services out there as there are people who use them, but equally, every mail service will perform the same basic functions — it will let you schedule emails and provide a handy editor for creating professional-looking emails. And any service worth its salt will offer analytics and reporting services and the ability to segment your mailing list, letting you tailor your mailshots.

Mailchimp is far and away the most popular mailing service, but it is a complicated system that’s really designed for marketing pros. If simplicity is key then you might want to check out GetResponse, a beginner-friendly alternative with an emphasis on ease of use.


There are several ways to build your mailing list. You might consider asking customers directly or taking business cards, but this can be a tedious business. That said, it is hard to ignore it when someone asks you in person, and you can make the job easier by providing an iPad with a Google Forms or TypeForm survey.

You can also encourage people to sign up on your website.

WordPress users can choose from a variety of different plugins, including Ninja Forms and Formidable Forms, that will do just this.  These come with readymade templates so that you can get started quickly, as well as drag-and-drop form creators for those looking to make  something unique.

That said, there is a fine line between the right amount of contact and too much.

Send too many emails and update your Facebook too much, and you risk exasperating your customers and driving away the very people you’re hoping to court.

#3. Get customers to do the work for you

thumbs-upIt takes two, you know.

You don’t have to do all the legwork in your relationship with your customers. In fact, asking customers to do a bit of your work can be a great way of creating engagement and keeping customers coming back time and time again.

That doesn’t mean chucking your customers a dishcloth, though, or getting them to man the milk frother.

Instead, it means making use of user-generated content in your social media marketing campaigns to create a dialogue.

User-generated content acts like word of mouth on steroids, amplifying your content and your product. It’s especially good on Instagram, which is a highly visual platform.

Sharing user-generated content on Instagram is trickier than on Twitter. There’s no direct way to share other users’ posts, like Twitter’s Retweet button, although there are rumours that the company is planning to do this sooner or later.

This is where apps like Repost, for iOS, come in handy. They re-post other users’ photos to your Instagram feed along with a credit to the original photographer.

Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 17.40.53

Alternatively, you can save images manually by taking a screenshot of the photo and uploading that. Social media software company Hootsuite has a handy guide on how to do this.

If you choose to repost user-generated content, no matter how you do it, make sure you credit the original photographer and that you have their permission to repost it.

When you ask users to post as part of a user-generated content strategy, you should encourage them to use a specific hashtags or a geo-tag. That way finding user-generated content is a snip.

You don’t have to sit and wait around for customers to snap photos and post tweets, though. One way to encourage customers to post content is to give them an incentive.

8283 - Coffee Machine-1For instance, an in-store photo contest can be ideal for starting a dialogue with repeat customers. They’re simple to set up:

Just create a hashtag unique to your contest and ask customers to share photos taken in your cafe with that hashtag. Then you either draw winners out a hat, or the best photo wins.

Contests like this get customers engaged not just with your Instagram feed, but with your cafe. It brings customers in through the door and makes them more likely to come back. And, as a bonus, all of a contestant’s followers see their photo of your cafe.

Working on getting those return customers through the door can take work, but you’ll definitely see a return on your investment.