As a brand that sells indulgent, sweet treats and has a mission to “make people happy”, Black Milk Cereal was perfectly poised to cheer people up during lockdown. It just had to work out how to engage with customers with its cafés shut.
Managing director Andy Young believes that its company values helped the business to strike a stronger bond with customers during lockdown.
“Someone said that ‘you build your brand during a recession’. In difficult times, we continue to strive to make people happy. If we can be a special brand for a lot of people, it puts us in a great position to grow when others are failing,” he said.
And that’s exactly what happened earlier this year. While the company’s flagship cafés in Manchester and London had to shut up shop, along with a string of events, a boost in online sales proved the customer base was loyal.
Figure out how to make online communication personal
With the bulk of the company’s profit coming from ecommerce sales, Andy and his partner Oliver Taylor started to question how to create the same customer experience without face-to-face interactions.
“We know how to keep people entertained in the café, but for ecommerce it’s a whole different ball game. We quickly learnt that the experience of keeping people happy transfers quite easily but it’s just a different way of doing it.”
He says they have the same conversations with customers online that would take place in the cafés, only now it’s via a DM or Instagram comments. He admits it can feel “a bit distanced online”, but keeping a strong connection is the priority.
“We avoid having chatbots because we want that personal touch and we wouldn’t outsource to agencies as they don’t care about your business as much as you do. Something as important as customers should always be looked after in-house.”
He admits it’s time consuming to personally respond to customer messages, but he still tries to fit in as many as he can.
“It’s difficult and rewarding at the same time. We must get around 100 contacts a day, but you can tell when you’ve made somebody happy, which is rewarding.”
Create a cohesive online and offline experience
Black Milk Cereal’s focus on customer experience and “making people happy” remains a priority in every aspect of the business. For Andy, customers have to be satisfied and enjoy the product so that word of mouth grows on social media and with feedback to friends.
With over 82,000 Instagram followers and online sales quadrupling during lockdown, it’s clearly working for them. But there’s also a big emphasis on getting the product right.
“If your product’s not good then people won’t buy it again and they won’t recommend it. You can have the fanciest website, but it won’t make a difference if you’ve got a bad product,” warns Andy.
With this in mind, the focus has been on making sure customers recognise key products across all the touchpoints with the business. It’s what Andy calls making it “one big experience”.
They’ve improved the shopping experience in the café, so that everything that’s available online is now fully visible and available to buy. And they also use dishes from the café at events.
“It’s all about making the different layers of the business interlock and figuring out how to create the best experience possible. It means customers invest in our brand and spend with us repeatedly.”
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