By Megan Prevost
Every business wants to be loved on a level that makes its customers feel like family from the moment they walk in. But this doesn’t happen by accident; knowing where to start building that loyal relationship can be tough. How do you make your customers feel like family? Put a little work in, spend a little time, follow this advice, and you’ll watch your business bloom into a cornerstone of the community.
Cheers showcased it perfectly: a regular walk into the bar, and staff and guests joyfully exclaim, “Norm!”
Be more than a business
Nearly every town has a local calendar with things like high school football games or maybe a Christmas parade. Whatever the local happenings are, you can help bolster your business by being involved in the community. This might seem old-fashioned but making yourself a staple in local events will remind potential customers that you’re available and happy to be where you are.
Whenever possible, you should also consider fundraising and doing charity work. The extra time can be challenging for your workers to carve out but offering them the chance to do this work during off hours, it will help solidify your place in your local environment.
Remember that the point here is to try and give everything you can in a committed way to your local market. Giving genuinely is what will connect future customers to you, not grandstanding. Customers in the digital age can smell disingenuous efforts from a mile away, so find something you believe in and work at it. Making yourself a fixture of the local business scene is one of the best ways to build relationships, so take the time and do the work to create them.
You might spend all your waking hours working in your business, but you probably aren’t the only one. Most likely, your business employs others that interface with your customers regularly. If your employees have to force themselves to walk through the door every time they clock in, they won’t be able to provide community and closeness to your customers.
Bearing that in mind, treat your staff like family. Listen to them when they have problems at work or even problems outside of work that might make their situations more challenging. Treat them like human beings who are here to make a living. Offer good pay and benefits if you can, and make sure they understand that you value them. If you’re trying to create a community in your business, your staff needs to be invested, and ultimately, they’re working to make a living. By prioritizing that fact and caring for their needs, you help them feel like a vital part of your operations and give them something to take pride in. In short, treat your staff like family, and they’ll treat your customers the same way.
This doesn’t mean being a pushover – if a staff member consistently causes problems, they’re an investment that didn’t work out. But the folks that return your faith with dependability and positivity deserve to be treated like your highest priority. After all, they keep your business running the way you want it to.
Your staff is invaluable for assessing who your regulars are. The folks who work in the trenches every day are likely to remember faces they see most often. As a business owner or manager, you can capitalize on this recognition by creating a workplace culture of making a genuine connection.
No matter the field, every business has regular customers. They’re the lifeblood of your operations and the people your staff is most likely to connect with. Obviously, every staff member has responsibilities to maintain and manage during a given workday. But in the early stages of work – in training and during their first weeks – it’s critical to emphasize connecting with regular customers on a very human level. The sharpest arrow in your quiver is to lead by example, so get to know your regulars.
Learn their names and greet them personally when they walk in, whether it’s a surprise or an existing appointment. Ask how they’re doing, their families, and so on. This seems like simple, no-brainer advice, and to some extent, it is. But doing so can create relationships you can let your staff into as they become a part of your business. Extending that opportunity to new hires enables them to invest emotionally in your customers, which means keeping those local roots strong.
The golden rule
The truth is, that the easiest way to make your customers feel like family is to be closely connected to your community. But more than that? Actually treat them like family. If a beloved regular customer is having a hard time and you know about it, offer them a meal on the house. Cover their bill for the week. Do something to show that you’re aware of their life outside of your business and think of ways you can help them specifically. Marketing advice and business projections are important, and you’ll find no dismissal of that fact here. But if you want your customers to feel like your family, you must go beyond the trappings of the customer-business relationship and connect to the community.
Treat your customers like they are your own. It’s not the right solution for everyone all the time, but you likely have regulars whom you love, your staff love, and who love you and your business. These folks are your lifeblood as a business, but ultimately, they’re also a part of what tethers you to your place in the neighborhood. Take them seriously. Treat them like people.
Don’t always view them as a chance to sell something; they are people who feel impacted when they know that others care about them. Treat them as you would want to be treated. Sure, it’s a cliché, but some clichés exist for a good reason.
Megan Prevost is a contributing writer for RestoBiz and a Content Manager for MustHaveMenus. Her work has also appeared in App Institute, Bar Business, Modern Restaurant Management, Small Business Currents, PMQ, FSR, The Daily Fandom, and FanSided.