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Turn First-Time Buyers into Loyal Customers

Great food is only one part of a successful food business. The rest lies in operational efficiencies, stand-out marketing, and exceptional customer experiences – even if you don’t have a physical storefront, every touch point you have with customers, whether it’s an email, social media post, or online order, needs to be well thought-out and positive. In this blog post we'll explore different strategies any small business can use to create memorable customer experiences that turn first-timers into loyal brand followers.

While increasing your brand exposure and audience is important, once you’ve established a solid customer base, there are many reasons why you should focus on fostering customer loyalty:

  • More spending. Increase customer lifetime value (the potential revenue you can expect a customer to generate over time). The longer you keep a customer, the more money they will spend with you.

  • Beat the competition. When customers are loyal to your brand or product, they develop a sense of familiarity and comfort. Humans are creatures of habit, and once they trust your brand, they will be less likely to turn to your competitors for a product they already know and trust.

  • Brand recognition. With loyal customers, you are able to mobilize a group of unofficial brand ambassadors to talk about your product, post pictures online, and share it with their networks, all because they love your brand. The more loyal your customers are, the more likely they are to refer new customers to you.

  • Cost efficiency. Building customer loyalty is more cost-effective than always trying to attract new customers. Loyal customers spend more over time, refer friends, and provide useful feedback. This steady stream of repeat purchases costs less than constantly seeking new customers. By focusing on existing relationships, businesses can boost revenue and growth more efficiently.


Know your customers. Every customer is unique, and their experience with your brand should feel that way, too. Making your interactions personal ensures that your customers feel valued and will keep them coming back.

butler serving V.I.P. sign on a tray to man wearing crown

Basic personalization can be as simple as handwriting a quick thank-you note to throw into your orders. Hand-written notes emphasize to customers that there’s a person behind the business and a simple thank you can make them feel extra good about supporting small businesses. 

When you’re the cook, packager, and accountant, hand-written thank-you’s might not be feasible as a small business owner. More efficient personalization can be done with simple automations, using technology platforms that allow you to gather and save basic customer information such as first names, birth dates, and number of orders. Saving this information in your customer database will allow you to create tailored experiences, like birthday freebies or VIP offers.

When your customer service is memorable, whether it’s good or (hopefully not) bad, people are more likely to talk about their experience with your brand. Even if you don’t have time to make something custom for every order, at the end of the day it’s important that you make sure that the individuals who are engaging with your brand feel seen, appreciated, and view your brand in a positive light!

Loyalty Programs

The psychology behind reward systems is based on positive reinforcement: attaching a desirable outcome to a specific action, driving the subject to repeat said action to receive the desirable outcome again. When someone places an order with you, they not only receive your product but also a bonus item or service, and will be more inclined to do it all again. 

Whether you create your own points system, stamp card, or an exclusive memberships program, your main incentive should be to entice customers to continue buying your products. Make sure your rewards are cost-efficient, but also enticing enough to actually inspire those follow-up purchases.

man holding gift box and hands holding loyalty card

You’ll also want to make sure your rewards system is engaging, entertaining and visual to enhance people’s experiences of using your loyalty program. Stamp cards are physical examples, but can be a burden to carry around and not effective if you don’t have an actual storefront. Points systems that are immediately responsive upon a purchase, animated, and highly visual will make purchases “fun” and engaging, even if the reward received isn’t tangible.

If you don’t have the technology for an app-based loyalty program, follow-up discounts are a simple alternative that are effective in the short term. Using the order confirmation message as your mode of delivery, keep in touch with first-time customers with a limited-time discount code on their next purchase. Businesses have a 60-70% chance of selling to an existing customer while selling to a new customer is just 5-20%.

Rewarding loyalty is a powerful strategy. An effective and well-thought-out loyalty program will not only increase your chances of returning customers but also establish your brand as polished and experienced.

Create a Community

Social media is the best channel to foster a community of past, existing, and potential customers. Being a small business owner is something you can capitalize on when posting about your brand online. When people see the human behind the business, whether it’s a behind-the-scenes reel or a post about the owner, you can tap into the empathy of consumers who are more inclined to support another human instead of a massive corporate brand. 

Social media is not only about what you post. It’s also about creating a space for your audience to engage with you: post about your products, comment on your posts, or send you a DM. Respond to everything, including the good and the bad, to ensure your audience feels seen and heard, build the credibility of your brand, and reinforce that there is a human on the other side of the account they’re interacting with.

hands holding phones with thumbs up emojis

Collaborating with other brands is another method to grow your community, both digitally and physically. Doing food pairings, pop-ups, or special menu items with companies that have a similar clientele will not only increase your brand exposure but also give your past customers something new and exciting to try and look forward to. Strategic partnerships can take time to nurture, but cross-promotions will help you reach a wider audience while strengthening community ties.

Embrace Customer Feedback

Customer feedback is an essential tool to build customer loyalty and also improve the overall quality of your brand. Remember that nobody is perfect, and every piece of feedback is an opportunity for improvement.

Aside from ordering, feedback is your customer’s main form of communication with your business. Customers can deliver feedback via email, social media posts, or online reviews. You can also encourage feedback by sending customer surveys after they have made a purchase. Any channel where feedback can be posted should be monitored so that every comment can be acknowledged with a response.

When responding to feedback, it’s important that any response embodies your company’s values. Whether it’s a positive or negative comment, responding promptly, gracefully, and genuinely, will show customers that you are listening. You will also want to thank any customers for their opinions and emphasize your commitment to improving your products and services.

Beyond publicly acknowledging feedback, treating customer comments as opportunities for product development and service enhancement will keep your brand on a competitive edge. While you don’t need to implement all the feedback you receive, be sure to follow through with adjustments as you see fit, especially if there are recurring themes. 

Once you’ve made the improvements, let your customers know! This will show that their opinion is valued by you and that their input directly influences your business. You can also go the extra mile and follow up with customers to see if the improvements meet their expectations. 

woman holding five star review sign

By embracing feedback, you'll not only enhance your offerings but also build trust amongst your customer base, increasing the likelihood of them supporting you in the future. Make feedback collection and analysis a continuous process to show that you are loyal to your customers, who will be loyal to you in return.

The Long Haul

Building customer loyalty is a demanding business practice, but rewarding over the long haul when done with care. As you navigate customer experiences, loyalty programs, building a community, and customer feedback, remember that every interaction is an opportunity to create a lasting memory with your brand. And in the end, your food will be more than just food – it will be an experience that keeps them coming back for more!


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