The Current State Of Customer Engagement Strategies

Every restaurant in the world has had the same exact thought – wouldn’t it be awesome if we were this busy all the time? Well, Pickleman’s Gourmet Cafe decided to do something about it.

Pickleman’s Gourmet Cafe, a fast-casual franchise serving delicious toasted subs, has 19 locations throughout the Midwest. Many of these locations serve college campuses where weekend traffic spikes with hungry students looking for a place to relax and hang out.

At the other end of the spectrum, Wednesday traffic tends to register far below other days. So, Pickleman’s marketing team put together its collective heads to figure out what to do. The result? Double Progress Wednesdays – which ended up transforming the entire identity of a Wednesday.

The Challenge Of Slow Traffic

One of my favorite classes in graduate school was Operations. To be honest, I didn’t really get it fully until we started talking about airport security lines. With some (not that fancy, but seemed so to me) math, we looked at the difference between two scenarios for 10 people going through a metal detector over the course of 10 minutes:

  1. All individuals come at the same time
  2. Individuals come one minute apart

With scenario #1, all he-doubleHockeySticks breaks loose (heaven forbid that the first person is your slowest person, as the entire line might miss their respective flights). With scenario #2, the TSA governing body can actually hire fewer people (my professor even showed me that the best mathematical way to deal with painful airport security lines is to have a slow lane and a fast lane – which would never work in practice of course).

Now, for restaurants and retailers, the mechanics are the same. If every customer came on the same day, restaurants would lose money. Long lines cause people to go elsewhere. Customer service suffers, as employees can’t give everyone the same level of attention. Plus, think about all the operational issues that come from inconsistent traffic. Without a steady stream of customers, buying and storing ingredients becomes more problematic. Light bills have to get paid even though they are not actually lighting up anything.

Unfortunately, there are few options for businesses that want to change customer behavior. Coupons and social media get thrown out as solutions, but they’re quasi-impossible to track and rarely motivate new behavior. Businesses can close altogether on their slowest day, but then they’re definitely not making any money.

Such was the reality facing Pickleman’s Gourmet Cafe. The company had tried everything to get more traffic on Wednesday, its slowest day. Certainly, customers could be convinced – but how?

How To Attract Customers To Slow Days

Pickleman’s biggest innovation was using existing customers as the focal point for driving traffic to a new day. Many marketers might look at a slow day and think, “We need more customers!”, as the only way to fill up a lesser-trafficked day is with new bodies.

Huge logic flaw. If you can’t get existing customers to do to something, why will new customers – who know nothing about the brand experience – want to do something nobody else does? By starting with existing customers – who have friends and can actually advocate on behalf of the brand – creating a groundswell has much more substance.

Pickleman’s second innovation was figuring out a way to integrate its brand experience into its desired customer behavior. Management didn’t try to come up with a brand new incentive that wouldn’t make sense; instead, management used its existing incentives program as a way to influence customers.

Such was the thought process that led to “Double Progress Wednesdays.” Every purchase on Wednesday counted double toward customers earning a reward. Almost like putting a money ball on the rack in the three-point contest.

Pretty soon, Wednesday started performing better than every other weekday – college students who previously came on the weekends now also started coming during the middle of the week. Pickleman’s had successfully changed customer behavior.

Cool, right?

Oh, and Pickleman’s also increased revenue – by roughly 30%. Read the case study for all the details (and a big shout to the Pickelman’s marketing team for showing us all how it’s done and how to attract customers to slow days).

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