The Secret Menu: How Anti-Marketing Strengthens Customer Loyalty

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If you’ve ever been a REALLY loyal patron at a restaurant, you know that most have “secret menus”, not-on-the-menu items that only the regulars know about.  Knowing about — and ordering from — the secret menu identifies you as part of a privileged elite for which the business would do practically anything.

Do you have customers like this? Here’s how your fitness or wellness business can take advantage of a “secret menu” strategy to quietly build an ultra-loyal customer base.

1. Go out of your way to make special customers happy

If a super-loyal regular customer has broken her leg but doesn’t want to miss her upper body workout, load up your car and bring a set of weights to her house, free of charge, for scheduled pickup later. If half a dozen of your yearlong triathlon training class attendees are participating in the same race, pick them up in an SUV with your business’s name on the side. A magnetic sign will do — no need to drop $2000 on a custom vehicle wrap.

The point here is that your Very Most Special customers should get the Very Most Special treatment. Do it for all your semi-regular customers and watch costs skyrocket — but for the handful who’ve earned it and for whom you can afford to give special treatment, roll out the red carpet.

2. Keep the special treatment special

Restrict secret menu services to just a handful of customers. You decide where to draw the line. To an extent, the harder it is to get, the more people will want it.

Don’t believe this works? Check out American Express’s Centurion Card or Maybach autos. The Centurion Card (a.k.a. Amex “black card”) is for people who’ve gotten tired of mingling with the hoi polloi, need to buy a jet for their nephew, or absolutely MUST get a dozen front row tickets to a sold out Broadway play. Maybach is made by Mercedes, but is for folks who already have a Mercedes for each day of the week and want something “special” for the weekend.

Your secret menu products and services should be something Most of Your Customers Can’t Get, and not just because of price. Price is irrelevant. This is about privilege.

Price products and services appropriately, but more than anything, design special treatment to suit your absolute best customers. It could be as simple as opening up a closed gym, or keeping a stash of the toastiest, just-out-of-the-dryer towels near the entrance to your locker rooms, out of sight of regular customers, and personally handing one to each of your top customers as they walk by and you greet them by name.

3. Follow the “Fight Club” rule

In the movie Fight Club, there’s a line, “The first rule of Fight Club is: you don’t talk about Fight Club.” Forget everything you’ve learned about marketing for your most loyal customers. Be very tight-lipped about your special treatment. In fact, let your super-loyals do the talking.

Your resources to serve super-loyal customers are limited anyway. Take advantage of that! Let the exclusivity build, and the lack of marketing will actually draw already-loyal customers in much deeper, in an effort to become an “insider.”

4. Keep it VERY personal

You know your most loyal customers like family. Jim the Bodybuilder eats a protein-rich LCHF diet. Yogini Susan is vegan and gluten-free. Triathlete Tom won’t eat anything not made by Skratch Labs. Whether or not your fitness or wellness business sells their favorite recovery foods or drinks, keep a small stash in a fridge in the back (not your main kitchen if you have one), and make sure Jim, Susan, and Tom get exactly what they want. If that means letting Epic Eric do laps alone for 4 hours in your pool starting at 9 PM, pick a night that works for Eric AND your business, close the pool to the public, and do it. NOTE: If your pool is normally open at 9 PM, let your other customers know well in advance so it’s a minimal inconvenience.

By no means should you always assume your most loyal customers will be buff, hard-core Ironman types, either. We all know that ordinary Joe or Jane type of customer who shows up every single day, signs up for all the water aerobics and spin classes, and has paid for 9 months of personal coaching. They are just as worthy of celebrity status at your facility as Jim the Bodybuilder, no matter how many contests he’s won.

5. Keep it proactive

Don’t wait for your most loyal customers to need something. You see them every day. You know what they need. Go get it, and take it to them before they ask.

6. Dole it out sparingly

Going out of your way to provide off-menu products or services to super loyal customers can take a toll. What might work for 3 special customers could become a burden for 12. That’s one of the reasons you might want to be very guarded about how many you invite into your “inner circle.” If your business can’t actually deliver on its special treatment for that inner circle, then the circle is too big.

7. It’s not The Club of Your Friends

One thing to be very careful of is keeping people out who deserve the privilege of special treatment just because you don’t like them. Annette the Neurosurgeon may be ill-tempered and brusque, but she’s been super loyal, she’s paid for a lot of products and services, and has brought you a dozen of her patients as customers. She’s more than earned “super-membership.”

While we’re at it, it’s absolutely NOT OK to exclude or include people for special treatment based on any characteristic that would otherwise get you involved in a discrimination lawsuit.

8. It’s not about price

It’s about customer loyalty. Whether your facility is an exclusive country club in a ritzy section of town or an inexpensive, bare bones gym in a class B strip mall, you can still provide your most regular customers with special purchase opportunities and outstanding service. Even McDonald’s has a secret menu!

You don’t have to be the Ritz Carlton to take awesome care of your customers (For more on this, see How Your Wellness or Fitness Business Can Deliver Ritz-Carlton Service on a Ritz Cracker Budget). You just have to pay attention to those who’ve rewarded you with continuous business over the years, show them special love, and leave it up to them to bask in the light of privilege and let a little of that light shine under the doorsill.

Word will get around.