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Customer Engagement? Create Real Loyalty through Emotion and Hospitality.

May 6, 2016


I was having lunch recently with a Boston restaurant investor in one of his restaurants.  He was visibly enjoying his “part-time” move into the restaurant business and happy to be involved.

We talked about how the restaurant had many of the right ingredients for success, like the menu’s attention to local sourcing and sustainability whenever possible.  We commentated positively on the open, modern but relaxed décor and its very visible kitchen. He then asked me about a manager who stayed by the kitchen line to organize and track the orders, making sure everything was moving properly.  And then he asked, point blank, whether that manager should be out in the restaurant connecting with the guests and getting their opinions.

I answered, “Absolutely yes,” and we discussed why I felt so strongly about that. 

How Customer Engagement Can Drive Sales

I had my own direct experience on a restaurant chain management team that drove a very successful sales turnaround.  Our strategic focus on customer—or guest―engagement was a key element to that success.  We reordered the operations team’s priorities and procedures and restructured bonuses to make sure each restaurant manager spent time “out front” with the guests.

The benefits were threefold:  the guests experienced firsthand how we cared about our service, the guests witnessed the brand’s personality first hand, and the managers heard what their guests liked and did not like, helping to make the staff more committed to their guests!  The sales resurgence, driven by guest service scores that increased by more than 75% in one year, delivered a +50% AUV growth over five years.

When we strategically focused on the brand’s core values and personality, refocused the Customer Enegagment on Maxmenu to be fresher and more nutritious, and improved operations, sales took off.  Customer loyalty shot up 10% in the first year because we went beyond great food and service to engagement.  We connected with our guests so our frequent customers became our most loyal (and most profitable).  By being more personal and connecting emotionally, we made their experiences positively memorable, which increased visits and sales.

Not sure how that works?   Most basically, the human brain is wired to remember and act on events with an emotional connection.  Millennials, in particular, seem to be even more concerned about these emotional connections as they search for transparency and authenticity.  

Research Supports the Link between Emotion and Customer Engagement

I have believed in the importance of emotion to truly connect with guests throughout my career (my blog post, “Your Brand and Emotion:  The Key to Customer Loyalty,” is close to two years old), but the following Harvard Business Review article on “The New Science of Customer Emotions” adds more logic and research.

  • When a major bank introduced a credit card to connect emotionally to Millennials,
    card use increased by 70% and accounts grew by 40%.
  • When a nationwide retailer focused merchandise and the customer experience on emotionally connected customer segments, sales growth accelerated significantly.
  • Based on research and interviews with experts in anthropology and the social sciences, the three Harvard Business School professors assembled a list of 300 emotional motivators and recognized that “even a cleaning product or canned food can forge powerful connections.”
  • Most importantly, they traced how customers or guests became more loyal and valuable (more sales) as they traveled along an “emotional connection pathway” from being “unconnected” to “satisfied” to “brand differentiators” to “fully connected.”
    • The “fully (emotionally) connected” were a full 52% more valuable than those who were highly satisfied, which was the baseline.
    • The “fully (emotionally) connected” ranked 39 percentage points higher than those who perceived brand differentiation and were satisfied, the next lower category, but not fully connected.

If you are running a retail store or restaurant and cannot spend tens of thousands of dollars on research, what can you do?  My suggestion is to start with the basics―and start now:

  1. Make sure there is a connecting, emotional element like your core values and Customer Engagement Is Key!personality in your brand platform.
  2. Make sure your customer engagement brand platform and customer-centric values are communicated, over and over, to your business teams. Find ways to motivate their understanding and commitment (think Apple, L. L. Bean, Zappo’s…).  Do they really “get it” and embrace its importance?
  3. Take the extra step of talking to your guests and understanding their needs, both tangible and emotional. Share this learning as a team and culture.  You can do this through social media, research, and talking to your guests in your store or restaurant.
  4. Don’t be afraid of the details. Great execution takes great attention to detail, and is well worth the effort.  Remember Thomas Edison’s “Strategy without execution is hallucination.”

Those are the reasons I believe a general manager sharing his guests’ experiences is fundamental to creating the best customer engagement.

[This article was originally presented as a MENG Blog Post on March 10, 2016 for the Marketing Executives Networking Group.]

My five links relating to the blog post are:



One Comment leave one →
  1. October 16, 2017 7:00 pm

    @jim, thanks for a great post! I can corroborate your point that any product or service will be used by customers to create emotion. Economists and other business executives still subscribe to the point of view that people are rational, but that’s a mass hallucination. Neuro and behavioral economics research consistently shows that people decide based on the reptilian brain (survival) and/or the limbic brain (emotion), and we use the cortex to wrap the decision in a pretty logical package. Most people want to think they are rational. Of course, it’s not zero-sum, but emotion and survival wear the pants for decision-making. The first marketer who got me thinking about this was Clotaire Rapaille, whom I met in 2006. I reviewed his presentation here:

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