After completing an online customer satisfaction survey, restaurant patrons who received a sincere, well-timed “thank you” email from the restaurant’s president increased their patronage to the restaurant by more than 50 percent, according to new research led by Michigan State University (MSU).
“In the restaurant industry, where five percent is a big deal, 50 percent blew our minds,” said lead author Clay Voorhees, MSU associate professor of marketing.
For the large field experiment, researchers tracked both the attitudes and behaviors of highly satisfied customers of an upscale sit-down restaurant for a 12-month period.
After filling out the survey, satisfied customers who received an acknowledgement of their comments increased their visits to the restaurant by more than 50 percent. Furthermore, it significantly enhanced the communal relationship with female customers.
In fact, the simple gesture of a “thank you” was just as effective (and less expensive) as acknowledgements that included rewards in the form of gift cards and guaranteed reservations.
“Sweetening the pot with rewards really didn’t matter,” said Voorhees. “These findings suggest that simple, sincere gestures are enough to drive feelings of gratitude among consumers.”
Voorhees and a research team tracked patrons’ attitudes and behaviors for a year after they gave the restaurant high marks. Although many companies routinely collect customer feedback, few act on this information. Further, little attention is given to managing feedback from highly satisfied customers.
Within a week of filling out the online satisfaction survey, the company president sent the happy customers an email thanking them for their positive remarks on the survey. Over the following 12 months, the number of repeat visits increased 50 percent for men and 57 percent for women.
Another interesting finding was that the average size of the customers’ party increased significantly. “So it wasn’t just that they came back,” he said, “but that they came back and brought more people with them.” The increase in party size was particularly striking among women: a 79 percent increase (compared to a 42 percent increase among men).
The study shows that managers can easily forge stronger relationships with their highly satisfied customers. When customers receive a simple acknowledgment of their positive feedback, it can lead to substantial gains in the strength of customer relationships and repeat business.
Finally, the findings suggest that replying to all survey responses immediately with a generic thank you message may not provide any value to the company. The message needs to feel personal and genuine.
Source: Michigan State University