Force of Habits

habits, loyalty, customers, behavior, data

Heading into a new year, we tend to think a lot about our habits. Some are good, some less so. Some can be changed. Some we wish could be. Of course all restaurant brands would love to believe that visiting their locations a habit. It likely isn’t. Instead, think of habits as a behavior carried out repeatedly by individuals or groups of guest.

Customer acquisition is a huge investment of time and of money. Winning new customers is so hard, brands have to find ways to create reasons for repeat visits. We know that a small percentage of loyal customers can create the majority of revenue by having a higher lifetime value (LTV). But light and super light users make up 47% of customers on average according to NPD.

Some brands strive to create these repeat generating habits. But regular customers may already have habits that are closely integrated into their visits. These habits can become powerful reinforcement for positive experiences and almost a draw unto themselves. Watching consumers repeat these behaviors can unlock insights into what they like about the brand. Sharing these habits with light users can actually drive occasions.

Gathered together, individual quirks become trends.

A very common habit that has rituals attached to it is coffee. People have a thousand different types of orders and millions of ways to mix their coffee. Splenda, skim, Sweet N Low, cream, whole sugar, half and half, vanilla, stir. That preparation for coffee drinkers is a ritual behavior that is as much a part of the beverage as the actual consumption. Or more. Watch a person making coffee in a new environment or without their favorite additions try to reconcile the challenge.

At the QSR level, frequent visitors have a habit around their tray. Watch patrons closely and observe how each person organizes the items on the tray. Where they place the food, how they move the containers and wrappers, where they put their sauce. These habits are very telling. Tray set up shows how people prioritize and align the food.

For all restaurants an easy way to detect habits are by looking at custom orders. Are customers regularly removing an ingredient to an item or dish? This might be an opportunity to strike it permanently, or replace it with something they’ll like better.

Is there an odd component consistently being added to item? Coleslaw is now a common sandwich topping, but that came out from a small number of people who started the practice and shared it. Finding an item like that could unlock a new menu item, entree or hidden menu.

This behavior is particularly true with beverages. The Coca-Cola Freestyle machine has created a cult that allows people to truly customize their drink to the meal they’re having. Sonic has done a similar thing with their secret drink menu consisting of unique combos that keep people coming back and more importantly, talking.

A look at the purchase data can tell us which items lead to the purchase of other items. Identify uncombined products that groups of people order together. These are habitual meals that customers already enjoy. These can be offered together as a custom LTO through a loyalty program, or an item may be offered individually to drive purchase of it accompaniments.

We tend to think about habits as individual quirks. Gathered together, individual quirks become trends. We can learn a lot about our customer base as a whole by investigating the trends of our top customers.

Author: Adam Pierno

Adam Pierno has a one-of-a-kind perspective on restaurant and CPGs. He investigates the connections between strategy, media, digital and business goals employing social media listening, analysis and traditional consumer research to find meaningful insights for brands thinking about their futures.