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Pub customers… who needs them?

Yes, we as licensees have all joked that life would be brilliant if it was not for customers. We all believe, we could find plenty to keep ourselves busy and fill our day, even without the inconvenience of customers actually turning up.
But joking aside, customers are the lifeblood of our pubs - without them we would all fail - but do we fully understand their value? Do we know who they really are? Do we make them feel special? Do we communicate and stay in touch with our most valued ones?
Way back in 1984, Lauren and I bought our first pub. I was 26 and Lauren was just 23. I believed I was a very good chef and that people would flock to our door.
We actually didn't do too badly in our first year and we made a small profit, but a year in, I was invited to a marketing workshop. That day made me realise that while the quality of the product is very important to the success of our business, understanding the value of our existing customers and building a loyal and long-term trusted relationship with them, was the most important route to real success.
Since then, we have used this principle, to make all our pubs successful.
So what is the value of customers? A starting point is to look at why we lose them. Customer surveys say 68% of people do not return to a pub because of the attitude of the staff or the owner, while just 14% say it is because of dissatisfaction with the product.
So it seems simple; we and the staff we employ, must be good enough to make our customers enjoy what we offer them, so that they want to return and even, hopefully, recommend us to their friends and families.
This has to start with our pubs being totally "customer focused" - we need to offer excellent service, make the customers always feel welcome and important, make it easy for them to buy, make sure they want to return, make sure they remember who we are and ensure we know who they are.
Ever since that marketing workshop, way back in 1985, we have gathered the contact information of the most important commodity to the success of our pubs - our customers.
We now have a customer privilege club with more than 700 members. We make them feel special, give them preferential offers and reward vouchers, and keep in touch with them. At The Sun in the Wood we welcome over 40,000 customers a year, but those 700-plus club members bring in around 35% of our sales income.
Yes, we do need our customers, and we especially need to make sure we look after, keep in touch with and know who our best ones are.Phil Davison is host of the Sun in the Wood, Ashmore Green, Berkshire
2 Feb. 2011

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