Lobby Café: Winning customer hearts with personalisation during COVID-19
Sydney café owner Michael Borstrock shares how he responded to COVID-19 by tapping into the needs of his customer base and personalising his service offering.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a hammer blow to Australia’s hospitality sector to the tune of millions in lost revenue. Like many small business operators, business owner Michael Borstrock has been determined to do whatever is necessary to prevail.
“With everyone working from home, April was a disaster for us – probably the worst month we’ve ever had,” he recalls. “But we’ve stayed open all the way through. “Defeat is not in my vocabulary. We identified what the challenge was and we rose to it.”
To this end, he implemented a number of changes aimed at softening the impact on his business and maximising the full potential of his customer base. Six months on and he’s retained all his staff and developed a more personal relationship with his clientele, which will undoubtedly pay dividends as the industry recovers.
In the early days of the crisis, Borstrock turned to his team and suppliers, acknowledging that without them on his side, he wouldn’t have a business.
“We sat down with the team and discussed who needed what and how we could assist each other moving forward,” he says. “We then re-crafted the roster to make sure everyone pretty much got an equal amount of shifts.”
“We brought many items that we were outsourcing back in-house and negotiated with suppliers to waive the minimum on orders during this period to help us get through,” he explains.
Usually servicing hundreds of people a day, Borstrock also changed Lobby Café’s menu to accommodate individual wants and needs of the customers that remained in the city.
“We became a lot more personalised in terms of how we dealt with our customer base,” he says. “We actually asked them what they wanted to see on the menu and we then tailored it specifically to a lot of their requirements.”
“If you look at our operation, 80% of our revenue comes from 20% of our customers. It was about how we could best utilise our base, and what we could do to get that extra dollar through the door with what we have.”
This included offering bespoke dishes. “When our regulars came by in the morning, we’d ask them what they wanted for lunch and then we’d make sure we had everything we needed to do that.”
Engaging more deeply with their customers also revealed other ways the café could better service them. “We learned people wanted a proper breakfast offering, for instance. We now do this and we’ve also added a Friday breakfast special to our menu – last week it was pancakes.”
Customers have responded extremely favourably to this more personalised approach, Borstrock confirms. “It’s been a big hit – we started by saying ‘what salad would you like today for lunch?’ and it just grew from there.”
“We’ve even got one customer who will order breakfast and lunch and will sometimes ask us to do dinner for the whole family.”
Recently, he says, they set up a new phone line in the café so people can order ahead, allowing them to accommodate as many personal requests as possible.
“Everybody has been really appreciative and very supportive of our business. We’ve always had a good relationship with our customers but now we have a better understanding of what they need. They value our offering, and we value their input, and it’s made for a much better customer experience all round.”
“People appreciate that you’re open and that you take time out to have a conversation. It’s an important part of what we do and it means a lot to them, especially at the moment.”
As well as having the support of loyal customers, Borstrock has been thankful for merchant solutions like Westpac’s Presto Smart during this challenging time.
“One of the benefits of Presto Smart1 is that it seamlessly integrates with our POS system. It’s easy to use and I’ve got the Presto dashboard on my phone, which means wherever I am, I can see what’s going on transaction-wise in the café.”
Presto Smart also helps reduce the amount of physical cash flowing through the business, which eliminates manual cash handling and provides a seamless payments experience.
“In any small business cash flow is very important, and with Presto Smart we have instant settlement and easy end-of-day reconciliation, which is a huge benefit for us. Plus, there’s 24/7 support from the bank.”
Borstrock says Presto Smart also offers convenience for his customers, which benefits their overall experience by helping reduce lengthy queues, transaction times. “For the customer, it’s easy, you just tap and go. It works well and that’s all you want.”
These days, cashless payments also create a sense of safety and security for customers when interacting with a business, as many may refrain from handling cash out of fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus.
More than anything, the last six months have shown Borstrock “how resilient and how adaptable we can be as human beings”.
“We’re a customer-orientated business so we have to adapt and do what we need to do to move forward. It’s a matter of stepping up one day at a time, understanding your customers, understanding what they want, and understanding what they need.”
1 Applications for merchant services are subject to approval. Terms and conditions and fees and charges apply. Full details are available on request.
This article is a general overview and should be used as a guide only. We recommend that you seek independent professional advice about your specific circumstances before acting. All products (other than third party POS systems) are issued by Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141 AFSL and Australian credit licence 233714