Professional Comment

How To Maintain and Increase Customer Loyalty During Difficult Times

By Jurgen Ketel, MD EMEA, Givex (

With the recent vaccine news, many are hoping to put an end to one of the toughest years the sector has seen.This should bring about a series of reflections and actions to take into 2021, with lessons for success should we face another unexpected event. For businesses that make it into next year, a huge part of their survival will be attributable to customer loyalty, which many companies have worked hard to foster.


Without loyal customers, success is almost impossible.This is especially true in the restaurant industry, where the customer experience is so personal and sentimental. It is unsurprising, therefore, that during the pandemic, there was an outpouring of support for restaurants. Campaigners launched efforts like ‘Drop the App’ and ‘Save Your Local Pub’, while the government subsidised over 64 million meals during Eat Out to Help Out.

While these measures alone can’t keep every business afloat, we can still be grateful for people’s willingness to go out and eat when times are tough. Now, as the vaccine appears to be on the horizon, our industry must reward customer loyalty in a mutually beneficial way, thanking customers for their business while encouraging them to spend a little bit extra.


One of the strongest impulses we all have is to hold on to the things we already own.This feeling is described in cognitive psychology as loss aversion theory. In its simplest form, it’s the theory that we perceive not losing £5 as more important than finding £5.

But – short of threatening to steal from people – how can businesses utilise this psychological quirk? They would need to create a reward that customers could collect and redeem later, which they wouldn’t want to lose. In short: loyalty programmes.These schemes allow consumers to earn points, air miles or ‘elite’ status through purchasing, creating some- thing that consumers would be reluctant to lose by switching to another brand.

Alternatively, businesses can create a personalised experience that customers couldn’t get elsewhere (a great example of this is Amazon’s very smooth ‘one-click’ ordering process). If properly executed, customers will be averse to the loss of convenience and will likely remain loyal to the business.

Similarly, stores which establish a sense of belonging and make customers feel like a member of a group – particularly an exclusive one – tend to build customer loyalty. In practice, businesses create these communities by establishing membership clubs online on their social channels and offering exclusive perks and discounts to members. By creating a genuine sense of belongingness and providing a service to customers, businesses can increase the chances that they will remain loyal.

Another well-established trick for merchants the world over is offering loyal customers a small gift when they make a large purchase.This adds a little human warmth to the transaction, elevating it from the exchange of money for goods and services to personal interaction.These gestures don’t make a significant impact on your bottom line, but they can be huge to the customer and make a substantial impact on their decision to return in the future.


As we approach the holiday season, businesses can offer gift cards (ideally digitally, for safety reasons).These act as both a thoughtful present and a contribution to keeping a local business in the black.As a merchant, you can also earn some goodwill by offering flexibility on expiry dates.

Gift cards are also an ideal vehicle for additional incentives. Often, when customers come in with a gift card, they spend some additional cash, so the business stands to benefit from sweetening the deal. Costa Coffee, for instance, recently ran a promotion using Givex gift cards, which meant that every online purchase of a £20 gift card came with a bonus £5 loaded onto it.

Ultimately, customer loyalty is a powerful force, and businesses which successfully utilise it will have a better chance of surviving turbulent times. Loyalty programmes are an ideal way to thank your most frequent customers and encourage word of mouth – and happy customers keep restaurants in business.