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3 lessons from a month studying sweetgreen’s customer engagement strategy

sweetgreen usually comes up in most of our conversations with fast casual operators. How do they do it? What’s their secret? How do we replicate it?

Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet to unlocking brand loyalty that drives >50% digital ordering. Still, I knew I needed to pinpoint some of the ingredients in their recipe of success.

So a little over a month ago, I downloaded the sweetgreen app (along with a few others) and decided to stare at my laptop.

a little over one month’s worth of engagement from sweetgreen – on average once every 3 days!

Here are the three key things I learned.

sweetgreen emphasizes the “relationship” part of customer relationship

Here’s the google definition of the word customer: a person or organization that buys goods or services from a store or business.

Now here it is for relationship: the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected.

Put another way…

Customer: fleeting, one-off, transactional, reduced to what you do (buying something) as opposed to who you are.

Relationship: connected, ongoing, recognized for what you offer and how you relate to one another.

In what bucket would you put your customer engagement strategy?

Most brands only focus on the “customer” part. Sure, there’s a consistent effort to engage, but it’s only ever to drive an immediate transaction. Here’s what my recent history looks like from a few different large brands:

redacted to protect the names of those that unwittingly took part in this analysis

Double points, $6 pizzas, a new menu item…everything screams “buy now”. There’s no real insight though into why I should keep engaging with the brand, beyond getting a good deal. The strategy assumes that a snazzy subject line and a discount are enough to garner share of wallet.

Look back at the sweetgreen inbox snapshot at the top of the post though. 50% of their messages were solely to advance my relationship with the brand.

Of course they do intersperse some transactional messages here and there. But these are (literally) balanced with “relationship” style, brand building ones.

It’s not about treating each message as a way to drive short-term transactions. Instead, sweetgreen uses each engagement to maximize the chances of a long-term relationship.

Don’t cheapen the relationship with discounts

Only focusing on short-term transactions conditions customers to understand your brand only in terms of dollars and cents. You can see this play out in my history with the big brands I mentioned earlier. Every interaction is a promotion or limited time offer.

On the flip side, I haven’t once placed an order at sweetgreen since downloading the app. And yet, no discounts.

Instead, their focus is on deepening my connection to the brand. Whether it’s education on where their basil comes from (community building) or the introduction of seasonal menu items (closer to transactional), they’ll wait for me to engage on terms that work for both of us.

So when I’m finally craving a salad (i.e. when I’m done writing this), I’ll get it at the value they deem fit for all the effort they put into courting me in the first place.

For sweetgreen it’s about relying on authenticity in building our relationship (there’s that word again…), rather than rebates.

Have a comprehensive onboarding strategy

Some brands just start blasting blanket promotions from the outset. We downloaded the Domino’s app 6 days ago and have received special offers every single day (PS don’t do this).

sweetgreen though sent 6 targeted messages in the first 10 days outlining the brand’s core values, benefits of the app, and (of course) how to find them on social media.

the first 10 days the onboarding flow include 6 emails designed to introduce me to brand

They then bring me into their normal content flow, again consisting of a mix of community building and transactional messaging. Here’s the data again as a chart, mapping the “purpose” of each engagement. Notice the difference?

sweetgreen’s balance of content highlights their unique approach to customer engagement

It may just seem like a quick series of emails, but it’s a huge contrast from the status quo. Most brands follow a “spray and pray” approach, flooding my inbox with coupons that bear little to no relevance to how I actually engage with the brand.

That’s what impressed me most about this whole exercise. There’s a science behind the art of clearly articulating their brand values or sharing where their basil comes from.

And part of that science is a comprehensive onboarding sequence designed for every customer to understand exactly what the brand stands for, and how to ultimately transact when they’re ready.

Steps you can take today

Don’t feel daunted – you probably already have the building blocks to get started. Your customer data – across your loyalty program, delivery platforms, email newsletter, and POS – all tell a story of when, where, and how your customers want to be engaged.

As we outlined in our 2019 restaurant tech resolutions, the data can reveal exactly how different customers impact your business. From understanding how to onboard new customers (and measuring how well they stick around), to finding unique diner segments that don’t need discounts to visit your brand – every customer data point reveals deep patterns around diner engagement.

Having trouble organizing the data? No problem! That’s exactly what we do here at Bikky (surprise, surprise!). Our restaurant CRM equips operators and restaurant marketers with the tools to understand and engage every customer, from successfully onboarding new diners to maximizing revenue from your most loyal fans. We power smart, data-driven marketing that keeps customers coming back, without gimmicks or discounts.

To learn more or give some feedback, drop us a line using the form below. You can also reach out to me directly at abhinav@bikky.com!

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