Digitization: the new era of the hospitality experience that’s bringing more customers and higher sales than ever before. While nearly every one of the world’s leading restaurant, events, and stadium brands is taking on a digital strategy, few are actually leveraging their technology system in a way that improves the guest experience.
From the growing demand for interactive self-ordering platforms to constantly evolving expectations when it comes to payment options, restaurant technology is becoming about so much more than just behind-the-counter management. Customers expect faster, easier service alongside quality, cost-conscious meals, and hospitality brands across the industry need competitive digital capabilities to keep up.
Standing out from the crowd, no matter what kind of business you are, starts by knowing and understanding two things – first, your customer and their needs, and second, the technology out there to help you offer more to them.
It all starts with better customer engagement
As TASK’s President of North America, John Laporte, explains, “There are three legs to every hospitality business operating today – technology, company culture, and – the most important – your customer.”
John emphasizes that while seeking out new ways to leverage your tech is important, businesses need to remember that the end game is, ultimately, to drive better customer service. “Without their business, their loyalty, their expectations met, you have nothing.”
There are generally known to be four stages of customer engagement – awareness, consideration, purchase and review. Every touchpoint that connects customers to your brand should activate each of these stages and encourage ongoing interaction.
If you look at the technology that has taken hold over the past few years, you’ll notice that the most successful digital innovations are the ones that make life easier for the customer and drive higher efficiency for businesses. For example:
- Mobile apps: providing speed and convenience.
- Digital loyalty programs: boosting engagement and order frequency
- Point-of-sale with online ordering: easier ordering from anywhere, anytime
- Kiosks: seamless experiences that increase order size
These technologies have become commonplace in hotels, stadiums, large food service venues, and now restaurants. – and they continue to grow in popularity and effectiveness. To facilitate a competitive customer experience that will drive higher sales and ongoing loyalty, it’s helpful to look at how you are building customer engagement and leveraging it with technology.
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Customers want convenience and consistency
No one understands customer behaviors better than Kerri Linderboom, TASK Group’s Plexure Division Customer Success Manager. “Driving long-term engagement is all about growing your semi-loyal guests into super loyal brand advocates. That’s your biggest opportunity for driving higher revenue – but it takes work to really understand that pool of customers.”
That’s where Trevor Dee, TASK’s Vice President of US Business Development, says businesses need to look at their speed and convenience of service. “It’s all about making everything as easy as possible for your customer to get what they want.”
Exactly what that means for your service offerings will depend on the nature of your brand and your customers. “If you’re a stadium,” says Trevor, “then you know that your customers don’t want to leave their seat for anything if they can help it. So, that’s where having a text-based ordering and pick up or delivery service – so that they don’t miss a second of the game – will make a huge difference for your customer’s overall experience.”
For other brands, convenience might mean having a wider variety of platforms for ordering, or maybe having more opportunities for menu alterations, add-ons, and choices. To figure out what better convenience will mean to your specific customer base, you’ll need to dig into who your guests are, what they need and want, and how they make decisions.
Know how to tell if you’re meeting customer demands
It’s not enough to just offer the latest and greatest in restaurant tech and hope that your customers will be satisfied. With every step of your digital transformation, you should be assessing, questioning, and collecting information about how it is performing and changing your customer experience.
If you’re just starting with this auditing phase and wondering where you might need to put more effort, consider these questions about your current digital experience:
- Do customers experience fast, seamless digital interactions across every channel?
- Are your customers engaging with your content? Is it the kind of information they are looking for?
- Is it easy and intuitive for customers to interact with your ordering touchpoints?
- Do mobile and in-store experiences mirror each other?
- Are these experiences consistent?
Ideally, you should be able to confidently say “Yes” to all of these questions. And you should consistently come back to these areas following any new digital integration or additional piece of technology you add to your ecosystem.
Look especially at where there are friction points for your customers – whether they can easily customize their orders, how seamless the payment process is, and whether order delivery times are accurate and reasonable. “A classic way to collect information about customer decision points is looking at abandoned online carts,” says Kerri. “If you notice that people are leaving the shopping journey at a certain stage, that might indicate a friction point that should be addressed.”
Invest in loyalty programs
Digital loyalty programs have exploded the potential when it comes to driving customer engagement. Using past ordering data allows brands to personalize future offers and the timing of those offers to each customer and their indicated routines and preferences.
From pushing birthday offers to remembering delivery addresses, and automatically saving card details and loyalty points – embracing loyalty has never been more enticing for customers. Brands should take advantage of this opportunity and focus on delivering a comprehensive loyalty program that is easy to use and demonstrates obvious benefits to the customer.
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Improve the experience across every channel
Customers expect brands to show up everywhere, including social media, email, and text messaging and app notifications. Taking an omnichannel approach doesn’t just ensure that you’re reaching your customers wherever they are, but also that you’re taking advantage of every opportunity to increase engagement.
Reports show that 62 percent of millennials say they are more likely to become a loyal customer if a brand approaches them on social media. At the same time, 87 percent use two or three different tech devices every day – demonstrating just how important it is to be present throughout multiple channels.
Omnichannel engagement should be a priority both for your marketing and for your ordering experience. Customers should have a convenient and seamless ordering experience no matter what platform they choose to use – through mobile apps, self-order kiosks, drive-thru windows, over the phone, or on a website. All of these channels should present opportunities for order customization, integration with a loyalty program, and a range of payment options.
This also extends to how you communicate with your guests. John explains, “Every single touchpoint in the TASK ecosystem is directly tied to one central database and the platform that we manage. What this means is you have a real-time, accurate image of your kitchen’s operations and capacity. This trickles down to how you speak with your guest. You can tell the third-party delivery driver a totally accurate pickup time. That way, you preserve the service levels for each sales channel. And regardless of the channel, your customer gets their food faster, their order is warmer, and your business is working more efficiently.”
Gather customer feedback
Are you really listening to your customers? Do you have built-in systems for collecting and tracking feedback?
According to Kerri, absorbing customer feedback and using it to improve their experience is the cornerstone of building long-term loyalty and retention. “You have to understand your customer’s biggest pain points – and then identify exactly where we can (and can’t) help.”
Whether you implement a rating and review system into your ordering process, or you look closer at ordering rates and customer behaviors to uncover preferences – it’s important to actively seek out feedback wherever you can get it. And most importantly, once you do know what is (or isn’t) working, you need to implement the right changes to improve the experience.
That process of cataloging and analyzing information is where data is so essential to building continuous improvement for your business and your guest experience.
Leverage customer data
While most hospitality businesses are already collecting and storing customer data in some form, very few are actively using it to drive their marketing, operations, and improvements. In fact, only seven percent of hospitality brands say that they can easily extract and use data to make strategic decisions.
A cloud-based, centralized digital system is essential if you want to be part of this seven percent who are leveraging insights to inform their marketing and operations. Tapping into your customer data can help you:
- Know which channels to focus on.
- Monitor touchpoints to track customer decision-making.
- Measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns.
- Collect feedback to help drive better customer experiences.
The result of taking a data-driven approach will be having a more responsive, competitive edge when it comes to customer experience – and ultimately, that will mean more sales, higher retention rates, and a stronger brand positioning.
Driving better digital experiences starts with an integrated POS platform
“CTOs from many of the largest hospitality brands don’t want just a new cloud POS. They are now asking for a centralized database platform that is cloud-centric with a robust API stack that can quickly integrate to new technology (that they may not even know exists right now). This is the only way they feel they will be sufficiently prepared for the future, allowing them to create additional digital value today as they continue to create customer-driven digital innovation in the future,” says John.
“What we strive for at TASK,” says Trevor, “is a continuously evolving digital ecosystem framework that sets businesses up to grow and improve alongside changing customer needs. That’s the power of a fully integrated cloud-based POS software.”