6 Ways to Foster Customer Loyalty from a Harvard MBA and Former Stealth Bomber Pilot

(with Bill Crawford)

6 Ways to Foster Customer Loyalty from a Harvard MBA and Former Stealth Bomber Pilot

Bill Crawford owns an amazing pizza restaurant named Righteous Slice, which makes some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. When entrepreneurs own a business like the one Bill Crawford owns it is important to have loyal customers. The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%, while the probability of selling to a new prospect is only 5-20% (Source: Markinblog). In this episode, we discuss some of the ways Bill has developed a strong base of loyal customers.

Bill Crawford graduated from Harvard with his MBA. He is a former Air Force fighter pilot and stealth bomber pilot. He’s a professor of entrepreneurship, and he just may be the coolest pizza restaurant owner ever.

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1. Hiring Friendly Employees

One of Bill’s main focuses with customers is to make a personal connection with customers from the second they walk in the door until the moment they leave. This isn’t common for a business to think about, but it makes a big difference in establishing customer loyalty. That’s why when Bill hires new employees, he looks for people who have a natural talent for talking to customers and making them feel great. Bill says their pizza is good, but what makes people come back is the people who work there and the way the customer felt while they were there.

“Motivating employees to work at their full potential is the main premise of successful management.”

-Eraldo Banovac, Croatian author and professor

2. Training Employees: The Secret Shopper Program

Bill doesn’t just rely on his employees’ natural outgoing tendencies. As part of the hiring process, Bill puts his employees through what he calls the “secret shopper program.” He asks people he knows to come into the restaurant and test his candidate by acting like they have a problem, then he sees how the trainee reacts.

For example, the trainee will bring them the salad they ordered–the salad that is clearly on the receipt–and then the customer will say that’s not what they ordered. They will act like they ordered something else. Then Bill can see how the candidate responds to that kind of situation and select for it in his hiring.

Bill actually had me help them do this type of secret shopper test recently with a new candidate. I hid where the candidate couldn’t really find me, and didn’t respond when they called my name to see how they would handle it. The candidate passed with flying colors.

This kind of thing happens all the time, especially in the food industry. We’re dealing with humans, both customers and employees, who make mistakes. So it is important to train our employees to be able to handle these mistakes.

Righteous Slice

3. Use Technology and Review Platforms to Seek Reviews

To seek reviews, Bill’s company pays for a service that lets them see how their customers are feeling about their experience. This was one of the only services they didn’t cut back on when everything shut down when COVID-19 struck. The service sends a text to Bill’s customers asking them to rate their experience on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. If the customer gives 5 stars, it asks if they’ll leave a review. If they leave 4 or less the service notifies Bill and his employees so they can try and remedy the situation.

Bill’s goal with this is not to compel the customer to change their rating. He cares that he and his employees sincerely do their best to serve their customers’ needs. He’s comfortable with 4 stars or less as long as they delivered on their brand promise. The only time he feels bad is when they don’t deliver on their brand promise.

Bill also believes that bad reviews are good for their business. If someone leaves a 1 or 2-star review saying “their pizza is always burnt” that’s actually good for Righteous Slice. It is one of the things that makes them special, and the review steers people away that won’t enjoy that. If people complain about things, it lets others know what it is like before they make that purchase decision.

Their original goal was to get a thousand reviews and then they were planning on dropping the service. But now they see greater value in the ability to engage with customers through this service whether they get a review or not. Because of this service, the restaurant doesn’t spend a lot on marketing because reviews heavily influence the buying decision. When someone is trying to decide where they should go to eat, they look for which restaurant has the most reviews that are above 4 1/2 stars. They don’t click on the first thing they see, and they often don’t click on the paid ad.

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4. Empower Employees to Make Happy Customers

One thing that Bill does with his employees is let them do what it takes to make an unhappy customer happy again and encourage them to take responsibility when things go wrong. They let anyone who works there do whatever it takes to make the customer feel great about their experience.

One day they had a customer give them four stars, saying, “We were charged full price even though we mentioned the Monday deal, and one of the pizzas was burned.” An employee, who was just out of high school, replied to the review, saying, “Hi [customer’s name], this is [employee’s name] from Righteous Slice. I’m going to include a free Margherita coupon to hopefully make up for the burnt one. Thank you for giving us the feedback. It’s awesome customers like you that make this place righteous.” The customer responded with “Wow, thank you.”

5. Connecting with Customers through Video

Video marketing continues to become more popular; 84% of people say that they’ve been convinced to buy a product or service by watching a brand’s video. That said, it’s important to make these videos the right way. When we make videos in our marketing, it is crucial to keep the focus on our customers. Don’t make videos with an inward focus on what we want our customers to care about. It’s not going to work. We should make something funny, interesting, and short. Don’t focus on trying to sell, but focus on being authentic.

One day, Bill made a live video of making pizza as a demo for his students. They shared it on their business channel, and it got more interest than anything they could have made as an ad. It was simply Bill in his home kitchen making pizza dough and showing people how the restaurant does it. It was real, it was authentic, and it was unintentional. But it was more successful, more credible, and more believable than perfectly made videos that corporations create.

When our customers watch a great video, they can emotionally connect. When this happens, it establishes credibility far better than any photo or text ever could.

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6. Give Back and Be Generous

Bill is a strong advocate for company loyalty, companies being loyal to their customers and treating them well. He loves to give back to his customers. This is the mindset they try to instill in all their employees. This doesn’t mean mass giveaways, those can lead to a lot of unhappy people in the aftermath, but it means thoughtful and deliberate giving back. Here are some examples.

One day some customers came into Bill’s restaurant, and they were dressed up for a special occasion. Bill asked them what the special occasion was, and they said it was for a funeral. Bill gave them his condolences and gave them a free dessert.

There’s another guest that comes in about twice a year. From the way he dresses, Bill can tell that he’s not very well off. On this occasion, the customer ordered a lower-priced pizza, and Bill gave him one of their high-end drinks to go with it for free. The customer came back to order dessert and Bill said, “this one’s on me.” They’d just had a record day, and Bill wanted to give some of that back to someone that would be grateful for it. 

The restaurant also does a Christmas promotion. A customer can come in during December and get an envelope with every purchase. If they bring back the unopened envelope in January they win a prize. The company pays about $3,000 for this, which is a lot considering their typical marketing budget is $300-400 a month. They don’t get a lot of sales lift out of it, but they keep doing it because it is a chance to be fun and creative and a chance just to be generous. They do it so they can show their gratitude to their most loyal customers. 

“You don’t earn loyalty in a day. You earn loyalty day by day.”

-Jeffrey Gitomer, American author, professional speaker, and business trainer

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Connect with Bill

If you enjoyed this interview and want to learn more about Bill or connect with him, you can find him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/bill-crawford-930aa9 or if you are ever headed to Yellowstone and passing through Rexburg, ID, be sure to stop for some of the best pizza you’ll ever have at Righteous Slice.

Key Takeaways

Thank you so much Bill for sharing your stories and knowledge with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode to help us build customer loyalty:

1. Hire friendly employees to connect with our customers and make them feel appreciated.

2. Train our employees to be able to handle difficult situations with customers.

3. Seek reviews through reviewing services.

4. Use reviews to make sure our customers are satisfied. If something went wrong, make it right.

5. Give all our employees the power to make it up to unhappy customers.

6. Connect with our customers through authentic videos.

7. Give back to our customers. Show them we appreciate them. 

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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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