Award-Winning Restaurant Owner Reveals Secret To Customer Retention

Hans Gill Tatler Awards
Photo: Shaffiq Farhan/Malaysia Tatler

Customers are important in any kind of business. More so when you’re running a restaurant.

You want every customer to leave your restaurant with an excellent customer experience – raving about how the waiters politely greeted them, how the chef accommodated to their difficult requests, how the food arrived within a reasonable time even though the place was packed, and how the manager came over and checked if everything was okay.

Customers always talk – and share almost everything on social media – so you want them to be saying positive things about your restaurant.

So how exactly do you make sure that customers keep coming back to you?

We figured that there was no better person than Hans Gill to discuss this with, given that he ran two successful resto-bars – D’Legends and Tiki Taka – and won multiple awards for it.

Some of the awards he’s received are the Best Pub Grub by Time Out KL Food Awards (2012), Malaysia TatlerBest New Restaurant (2018), HAPA Personality F&B – Champion of Innovation (2018), Malaysia Tatler – Best New Restaurant (2020).

D’Legends was also famous for its impeccable two-part Guinness pour and won the award for Best Tiger Beer Served in Malaysia at the HAPA-GAB awards. 

We caught up with Hans to pick his brains about customer loyalty and retention and here’s what he shared with us:

Hi Hans! First of all, tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in the F&B industry.

I started my first restaurant and bar – D Legends bar – 10 years ago in 2010. Built it up from scratch, won a couple of awards and then sold it.

After selling it, I took a few months off and toured Europe for idea and inspirations. It was there that I fell in love with the food and culture of Barcelona.

So I came back and started working on putting together my second venture. In 2016, Tiki Taka was born. We just turned 4 years old on the 20th of June 2020 and it’s been a great ride thus far.

I also run my own digital marketing agency – Hans Media. I enjoy creating content and keeping up with things in the ever changing world of social media.

So aside from being an F&B expert, you also do your own digital marketing?

While I owned D Legends bar, I used to find advertising in newspapers and magazines very costly. We were a small medium enterprise and it wasn’t affordable for us to spend thousands in these mediums.

So I started dabbling with Facebook and realised that the entry point to run ads was so low – like RM 2/3 per day at that time. I used to run ads and it helped us. So I got some experience there.

I did the same for Tiki Taka. But then I wanted to focus on expanding and opening up more outlets. So I started looking for digital marketing agencies to manage our account at Tiki Taka instead of me doing it.

When I heard the price they were charging just to manage simple Facebook and Instagram pages, I was like, I’m not going to open more Tiki Taka outlets, I’d rather open up my own digital marketing agency!

So that’s how Hans Media came about 🙂

You have launched two well-known F&B establishments in KL. What’s the secret? How do you keep people coming back?

Consistency.

This is probably the most underrated or underused word in the F&B industry but it is the single biggest reason why people actually keep going back to a place.

“Anybody can make a good dish or a good cocktail once. But to make it well consistently, every single time, is the real differentiator between a business surviving long term or a business closing down after a few months.”

The one thing you normally hear people saying is, “Oh I went there recently but the food standard has dropped. It’s not as good as before”.

I never want to have anyone saying that about any of the establishments that I run.

So I focus on getting systems and processes in order and then monitoring and checking that it is being followed all the time.

I am blessed to have a solid FOH (Front of house/bar) team and a BOH (Back of house/kitchen) team.

If you take care of your team, your team will take care of your customers. If your customers are well taken care of, they will keep coming back.

As a business owner, how do you make sure to provide exceptional customer experiences for your patrons? 

Go the extra mile.

We have customers who were vegan way back when it wasn’t as cool as it is today. Like 3 years ago, we would get people asking if we could accommodate some changes to a dish so that it can meet their dietary requirements.

Our Chef, Carrie Scully, always obliges and tweaks it so that they can enjoy the dish while sticking to their diet.

“Regulars are all called by their name and we remember their preferences. From where they like to sit, to what they normally have as well as how they like certain dishes cooked.”

We have customers who ask our staff to call them a Grab when they want to leave, no issues for us.

On a rainy day, we have extra umbrellas so that our staff can walk a customer to their car instead of them running to the car and getting wet when leaving our establishment.

These are just some of the examples I can think of right now, but there are plenty more.

In your opinion, how has customer experience strategy changed from 10 years ago to the present (2020)? 

I don’t think it’s changed much.

Treat them well, listen to them intently when they raise a complaint or concern and always empathise.

What’s the best way to connect and engage with customers in 2020? 

Social media.

With regards to reaching them, yes, that has changed in the last 10 years. Back then traditional media was important, but today, social media is the best bet to get their attention.

The key to connecting with customers is to always know where their attention is at.

Today, social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and even Tik Tok is where their attention is.

Create a ton of content and run ads to reach the correct target audience for your business.

Creating content alone is not enough today as the organic reach on these sites are nowhere like what it was a few years ago. Run ads so that more people can see your content.

As we have clearly seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone was glued to their phones sitting at home.

Also, brands need to not only put out content but they need to engage and jump in on conversations and discussions.

“Engagement is not a one-way street where a brand uploads a post and expects its followers to always comment or like it”

Go the extra mile by following people too. Like and comment on their posts too. Show them some love on their posts too, they’ll appreciate it.

A lot of businesses have suffered because of the coronavirus and are trying to bounce back. What would you advise them to do? 

If you have not pivoted to have a bigger presence online, start immediately.

If you are still investing in traditional media, stop now.

Create lots of video content and push them on all the top social media apps.

“If you still think today that “my customer is not on social media”, you are dead wrong. They are all on one platform or the other.”

Paying big money just so that you can see your brand and face on a billboard on a highway is not going to bring you great ROI.

Be prudent with your money. Look for what can give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Advertising on social media apps like Facebook and Instagram is so affordable. You can start from as low as RM 3/4 per day.

Start now before that goes up too!

What are some brands doing wrong that you wish to point out? How can they do it differently? 

Any brand that is putting out negative content by putting down their competitors as their content, should not be doing it.

Focus on your strengths and promote that instead of harping on or focusing on what someone else is doing. You do you.

There is enough negativity in this world, we don’t need to add to it and put others down.

Any advice on providing exceptional customer experience? 

Listen. Too often we don’t listen intently.

Thank you Hans!

Planning to visit Tiki Taka? Follow them on Facebook here.

Are you excited to get started on your customer loyalty and retention strategies? Reach out to us and we’ll help you get started.

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