CHICAGO -- “We talk about loyalty programs, and that’s great, but what makes a customer loyal in the first place?”
Robert Byrne, senior manager of consumer insights for research firm Technomic, presented on what drives loyalty beyond the loyalty program during CSP’s Loyalty Forum, which was held March 27-29 in Chicago.
Byrne said customer service is the key driver behind convenience-store visit satisfaction, especially among millennials and members of Generation Z. He made the case that the average younger customer is more concerned with how the person behind the counter treats them than access to technology or the presence of a loyalty program.
Other factors outside of service are more likely to drive customers to a c-store, including a convenient location and a clean store, but Byrne cited service as the strongest driver of satisfaction.
Byrne’s presentation was driven by survey results from Chicago-based Technomic, in which customers were asked about their experience after their visit to a c-store.
Click through for the numbers behind what makes customers loyal outside of a loyalty program …
1. Service can make a visit
“Service is always No. 1, and it’s really not even that close,” Byrne said. He presented the following as the top reasons behind visit satisfaction and the percentage of respondents who chose each:
- Service: 38%
- Food and beverage: 32%
- Brand affinity: 28%
- Convenience: 19%
- Atmosphere: 19%
- Value: 10%
The quality of a c-store's food and beverage offering is also important, as is the customer’s ability to identify with the brand they frequent. But quality of service easily emerged as the most important factor in visit satisfaction, according to Technomic’s survey results.
2. Poor service can ruin a visit
The same six factors can also cause a customer to have a negative experience in a c-store, Byrne said, showing how significant each attribute can be to a bad experience:
- Service: 34%
- Food and beverage: 31%
- Atmosphere: 21%
- Convenience: 15%
- Brand: 15%
- Value: 12%
Again, service—or a lack thereof—emerged as the most common reason behind below-average visit satisfaction in c-store customers. Similar to a positive visit, food and beverage is again the second-highest factor, further underscoring the importance of a quality foodservice offering in convenience retail, just after service.
3. What drives visits?
Byrne touched on what drives customers to visit c-stores in the first place:
- Convenient location (near home): 52%
- Where I purchase gas: 46%
- Store is clean: 38%
- Fast service: 35%
- Friendly staff/service: 35%
“What you don’t see here in the top five is price,” Byrne said. He also pointed out that technology and rewards programs did not factor highly in driving visits. But service, while not as important here as it is for customer satisfaction, is still a make-or-break factor.
4. Importance of service is on the rise
Not only is service an important factor in the overall customer experience, but it also grew in importance for younger customers from 2016 to 2017.
In 2016, about one-third of Gen Z consumers and nearly half of millennials felt it was “very important” that the service at c-stores is friendly. That percentage rose slightly for both Gen Z and millennials in 2017. While friendly service was also an important factor for other age groups, its importance for them was steady year over year.
Byrne said this reflects the idea that younger consumers are interested in fun, exciting shopping experiences. That, he said, is more important to them than the opportunity to use their mobile device in-store.