CUSTOMER SERVICE

3 Ways to Boost Customer Loyalty

Lessons from a small Australian food business that escaped bankruptcy because of its passionate customers.
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There is a small food processing business called Spring Gully Foods that very few people in Australia, let alone the world, have ever heard of. Started in 1946 by Edward McKee, in Adelaide, the capital city in South Australia, this fourth generation family owned business reached a sad day earlier this year when it released a media statement to say it was going into bankruptcy.

With $11m in debt, an empty bank account, growing costs, a large wages bill and an extremely competitive environment, Spring Gully Foods management had no choice but to call it a day. But then something strange happened. The prospect of losing this iconic business had a big impact on many of Spring Gully Food’s loyal customers, particularly those in the home state of South Australia. Local radio stations started a "Save Spring Gully" campaign, which had a dramatic and immediate impact. Five days after the media release Spring Gully Foods had received orders for $1.5million (when considering that total yearly sales were around $26million this was extraordinary).

Some thought this would be a last minute flutter of activity, but six months later, the orders are still coming in, getting stronger every month. The company is well and truly back on track financially, making this one of the most remarkable, customer driven turnarounds in recent times. Here are three lessons you can use to create a similarly passionate customers base:

Respect your customers and they will support you.

Spring Gully Management didn't come out kicking and screaming, blaming everyone for their impending demise. They simply said that they had tried their best to overcome tough market conditions but it wasn't enough. In fact they apologised for letting their customers and staff down. We are so used to sensationalised headlines and public relations spin, that this approach actually made people sit up and take notice and admire this humble business.

This humility underlied a huge respect for customers which was reflected in their product and service quality. Their commitment was always to delivering the very best products that they could out of respect to their customers and these same customers repaid that respect in an extraordinary way. 

Show you passion for your business and customers will engage in the same way.

In the darkest hours, it is easy to give up and many businesses do. As much as Spring Gully appeared to be finished, when the extent of their issues became clear, and the community support started to flow, the management team and all of the staff rolled up their sleeves and worked together. 

Let others champion your cause and communicate it.

Sometimes it can be very hard to accept help from others. There is no doubt that at first the community support shown towards Spring Gully would have been sad and condolence based rather being all about action. But as the ground swell of support grew, individuals became very vocal and started to champion the "Save Spring Gully" campaign and it was time to let them do it.

As momentum grew, the Spring Gully team communicated what was happening very clearly and personally. There was no hype or rhetoric, just simple facts, enormous gratitude and reporting on the extraordinary results being achieved. This open flow of communication helped the campaign to keep gathering momentum.

The Spring Gully story has ended well. We can all learn from their experience and take the right steps that ensure that if faced with a major challenge, our customers will indeed fight for us. 

IMAGE: Gallery Stock
Last updated: May 15, 2014

ANDREW GRIFFITHS | Columnist | Serial entrepreneur and author

Andrew Griffiths is a Cairns, Australia-based serial entrepreneur and the author of 11 books about starting, managing, and growing small companies. For more Andrew, check out www.andrewgriffiths.com.au.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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