The Great Customer Gulf

Foodie Friday is here at last and with it comes some great information from Earnest Research. My data tells me that screeds about research don’t score particularly well with many of you but I think what the study I’m highlighting today is an excellent reminder of a basic business fact that pertains to the balance between keeping customers happy and attracting new customers. Read on!

What the study examined was the top 10% of various restaurants’ customers by the frequency of visit and how that compares with the average frequency. As reported by The Franchise Times, the gap can be enormous:

At McDonald’s, that top 10 percent customer went 86.5 times each year on average. That’s 309 percent more than the average customer, who went 21.1 times through the year.  Even the most frequent Starbucks customers don’t reach that. The top 10 percent of customers by frequency went 80.7 times—though they visited 374.5 percent more than the average customer who stopped in 17 times.

Earnest researchers checked in on a handful of brands for this data (see chart, right). In green are national QSR chains, orange is national fast-casual restaurants and blue represents chains that are regional but have a traditionally strong customer base. While the numbers jump around a lot, the highest frequency customers come between three and five times more than an average customer.

Your reaction to that may be a large “duh” since the Pareto Principle is probably burned into your head by now. What impressed me, however, was the size of the gap. If you factor in “average order value”, the amount of money spent by the top 10% is huge even though as it turns out they tend to spend a bit less per trip. In real terms, for example, the difference between a top customer at McDonald’s and an average one means a $708 annual value compared to the average customer’s $187.

Money spent to keep a customer happy is money well-spent. Money spent to get a customer to become a more frequent customer is even better. While there’s no question that we all have to keep adding new customers to our base, once they’re there, we need to shower them with love, great service, and incentives to grow their engagement with you. The data shows it’s true in the franchised restaurant business and I’m pretty sure it’s true of yours too.

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