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Millennials and Gen Z: More of the Same or Major Change?

July 1, 2017

Generations change: Differences from Millennials to Gen ZMuch has been analyzed about the Millennial generation (now roughly 23 to 40 years old) and the distinctive values and impact they represent.  They are, after all, larger (about 75 million) than the fabled “Baby Boomer” generation and have brought their own values to the marketplace.

[The estimated generational years for Millennials and Generation Z differ by source.  For this post, I have selected The Center for Generational Kinetics and WJ Schroer but differences are only a few years across sources―“plus or minus.”  Both generations have large, financially important populations at around 75 million.]

Millennials (see my blog post on embracing Millennials from eighteen months ago) are known for have core values centered on authenticity and transparency.  When it comes to restaurants, for example, they seek “clean” menus and lean toward the organic and locally produced food and shy away from preservatives and artificial anything.  More and more frequently, they want the end-product to be at their fingertips, whether it’s a delivered meal or a next day delivery from Amazon. They support businesses which get to know them by building relationships and represent positive social values.

The Millennials and Generation Z Transition

As Generation Z (5 to 22 years old) starts easing its way into the marketplace picture withMillennials Generation its 76 million population, are consumer marketers and restaurant owners in particular going to be dramatically refocusing their brands—and company cultures?

It’s early in the game.  Understanding “generational” values is based on connecting generalities, and early observations can change over time. Also, a twenty-three-year-old Millennial is going to be more like a twenty-two-year-old Gen Zer than his older forty-year-old Millennial counterpart.  But it appears this Homeland Generation—as it is beginning to be called—is more similar to than dissimilar from the Millennials in many core values (other Generation Z naming options include iGen, Post-Millennials, Plurals, Founders).

Millennials were different from the preceding Gen X because they may have had less faith in the future but remained largely optimistic. They were also 20% more likely to eat out, and they helped to build the fast-casual category (Panera, Five Guys, Subway … ).

Millennials are the digital generation and the first to fully connect with the Internet and social media. They quickly learned how to access ratings reviews, comments from friends, general word of mouth, and the many aspects of social media.  Mobile provided access to data, information, and menus for “on the go” individuals and group decision-making.  At the same time, Millennials responded to the opportunity to build more direct and even personal relationships with companies and restaurants, focusing on the authentic, transparent, and trustworthy.

Looking Around the Corner with Generation Z

But while Generation Z grew up living with, embracing, and absorbing a mobile technology, they appear to be wanting greater authenticity and transparency as well as healthier and cleaner restaurant menu options.  Like Millennials, Generation Z cares about a company’s cultural and brand values and wants to make a difference as 60% want their jobs to impact the world.  After being impacted by both 9/11 and the Great Recession, Generation Z appears to be more loyal to brands than their Millennial counterparts and more risk averse than previous generations.

Gen Z PicAs the first generation that truly grew on technology from “day one,” it is likely the most significant impactor and shaper of Generation Z.  As of two years ago, Pew Research reported three-quarters of today’s teens (13 to 17) have at least access to a smartphone with 30% having a basic phone and just 12% indicating no cell phone at all.  The same report indicated 24% were online “constantly.”
There is plenty of evidence that points to an even stronger focus for Generation Z on experience and convenience.  Convenience can make itself known in a variety of ways, from more mobile friendly websites and payment systems to easier, even automatic, delivery options (more on a generation which increasingly expects convenient delivery of everything in my next post).

Participation and socializing with friends is perceived to be a priority, using different social media for different purposes (following and sharing are still a factor).  Facebook remains of value because of its participatory advantage, while use of Twitter and Instagram are growing options due to videos, pictures, and regular messaging.  Generation Z, however, also likes the anonymity of Snapchat, Secret, or Whisper.  But 79% of Generation Z consumers complain of some level of emotional distress when kept away from their personal devices and can be more cautious about their social brand than Millennials.

More evidence of the importance of tech based communications is GenZers a typical use of five screens (smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop, iPod/iPad) versus the Millennials’ three. In fact, a majority of Generations Z would rather buy clothes, books, and electronics online.  And doesn’t the short GenZ attention span of eight seconds (similar to Millennials) say something about immediate convenience and the potential need to leverage technology when it comes to ordering in a restaurant or online?

While the details of the Generation Z’s psychographic and lifestyle make-up continue to emerge as this generation matures, it seems likely that some core Millennial values, such as authenticism, transparency, and respect for and interest in core values will be maintained.  Their multitasking, staying connected needs, and use of multiple devices (including offline) gives further evidence that successful companies and restaurant chains will be sensitive to avoiding brand and communications silos (“Why Organization Silos Fail Our Customers—and How to Fix It”) while providing a consistent customer service culture and values.  And creating consistent communications and branding across multiple channels and platforms can help to leverage the Generation Z risk-adverse, time-sensitive, pragmatic desire for brand loyalty.

Changing Generation and Development to Genertion Z

[A similar blog post covering the same subject originally ran in the AMA Executive Circle Blog on June 14th.]

Suggested Marketing Readings:
Five Retailers that Have Made Customer Experience Their Business
Four Lessons for Creating a Joined Up Social Strategy
Are Marketers Investing Enough in Their Customer Experience?
Why Aren’t More Marketers Involved in Pricing Strategy?
Your Social Media Is Terrible — Stop Making These Five Mistakes.

Why Organizational Silos Fail Our Customers—and How to Fix It

May 20, 2017

My most recent email and blog post (AMA Executive Circle) on “knocking down” organizational silos drew an immediate response which has pushed me to expand on how they begin, why they are harmful in today’s digital world, and how leaders can tear them down.

To begin, I was wrong when I implied silos only develop inadvertently from a lack of leadership attention (wishful thinking?).  Such can certainly be the case, but a lack of confidence or a pile of leadership insecurities can also unfavorably impact organizational silos.  If a business sector leader is defensive in the face of criticism, his or her area of responsibility can become unresponsive, even stubborn, to company and customer needs regardless of the strategy.  Or if segment leaders believe in themselves and their team to the exclusion of others, then potential for goal sharing and achieving organizational success will be significantly diminished if not destroyed.

Why Organizational Silos Are Wrong for Today

Today’s technologically aware customers have more and faster access to information for their decision making, leading to a need for horizontal and non-siloed organizations.  As outlined in a previous post, the number of potential customer “touchpoints” through the decision-making customer journey has exploded, thanks to our digital devices.

Organizational Silos Disconnect the Customer from the CompanyA recent presentation by Forrester’s James McQuivey dove into the importance of emotion in today’s experiential world.   He explained how our brain’s “risk central”―which has helped us to quickly avoid sometimes life threatening mistakes for our survival over the millennia―is now helping us to make faster decisions in today’s “hyperadoption” world.  Digital technology allows us to quickly gather decision related information from multiple sources, reducing the risks we are programmed to avoid.

In this new normal, organizational silos create more confusing and sometimes contrasting bits of information for the customer to digest.

This is important to progressive, non-siloed, transparent, and accountable-to-the-customer (customer-centric) organizations because the role of emotion to this decision-making process is enormous.  Our risk central allows for rapid decision making by leveraging our emotions to carry the message and response and cut through the data.  Emotions have become more critical to help us quickly decide what to focus on, engage with, and remember while managing the onslaught of available information from today’s tech world.

Our emotions play an essential role and are key to what we remember from each and every experience.  All of this makes the individual server, the attendant at the airline gate, and the representative on the other end of the phone important to delivering a consistent brand or cultural message that the customer can emotionally relate to (think Apple, LL Bean, Zappos … ).  And the technician committed to fixing your problems―the creator of your website or the HR leader responsible for hiring the motivated staff critical to a high level of engagement―are all equally critical to delivering an experience with each and every customer touchpoint are equally important.

Perhaps this has always been clear to me because my B2C marketing has been focused on restaurants.  We all know that our potential revisit to a restaurant depends on how we “feel” about our last experience.   In any business, it is the return visit or repurchase that delivers long-term profits.

Insights toward Tearing Down Organizational Silos

So, the smart, visionary Founder or CEO (and change has to start at the top) must understand why silos exist, why they are risky to maintain in today’s business world, and how to overcome existing organizational silos.Understanding Five Dysfunctions of a Team Can Overcome Organizations Silos

One of my favorite business books that has proven to be consistently and “across the board” useful is Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  While all five of the dysfunctions relate to the damage done by organizational silos, three in particular are worth focusing on when examining the presence of silos in your own organization, big or small:

  • Absence of trust―driven by a fear of being vulnerable with other leaders and the most fundamental dysfunction of them all.
  • Fear of conflict―created by a desire to preserve “harmony” at all costs, even when productive and conflicting discussion is what’s needed for progress.
  • Avoidance of accountability—desire to avoid interpersonal discomfort leads to not confronting and improving on core issues or holding each other accountable.

In each of these three dysfunctions, it is clear that fears can lead to protecting “territory,” retreating to sheltering silo, and not advancing the core needs of the company or organization at large.  After all, sometimes organizational silos are not inadvertent but are intentional.

Looking at a company’s organizational silos from a “five dysfunctions” point of view helps us see into why silos exist.  It also provides a pathway toward understanding why they are getting in the way of growth and a more productive team and insights into how to fix them.

In today’s technological world, customers want “straight line” and transparent relationships and experiences, and a company’s organizational silos only get in the way.

[An earlier version of this blog post first appeared in the AMA Executive Circle’s Blog on April 20, 2017]

Suggested Related Articles

 

 

Knock Down those Organizational Silos for Better Sales. Now!

March 18, 2017

Challenging the Orgainzational Silos

Whether you are managing or have a role in a relatively large or small business, organizational silos have never been purposefully created.  Silos have usually developed over time due to a lack of attention or concern or even growth. They’ve never been a goal in their own right.

Well, if you are in a customer focused business―and my guess is that includes just about everyone―then the importance of breaking down silos has grown exponentially over the last few years for two reasons:

  • The increasing complexity of the customer journey.
  • The rise of the Millennials.

Why Organizational Silos Are No Longer Acceptable (Were They Ever?)

Today’s potential customer contact points go way beyond the more linear, broadly based, and centrally controlled media devices and options like TV, magazines, newspapers, PR, and the final service or product experience.

They include more company to customer and customer to customer “Word of Mouth” or Internet opportunities from the likes of Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Snapchat, FaceTime, What’s App, and even LinkedIn and YouTube (to name a few).  And what about customer to customer communications through Facebook and the ratings systems of Yelp! and TripAdvisor?  Do you know where your customers got their information from before they step into or after they step out of your store or restaurant?

In a word, begin developing your own customer journey map (if you haven’t already) with all of its touch points.  As the complexity of a customer’s journey to your product or service experience unfolds, the multitude of likely touch points will become evident.  You will begin to understand the need for a “flatter” customer-centric organization, and the need to destroy operational silos will be clearer.  And make sure you are covering the digital experience in particular.

Today’s marketers do their best to leverage these tools or “piggyback” on them to deliver the brand’s message. If they are really good, in my estimation, they use them to build relationships rather than just to trumpet offers.  Today’s marketing also brings in the digital media options of digital advertising, remarketing, and retargeting.

The leading customer segment of 18 to 34-year-old Millennials wants their favorite brands to be authentic, available, transparent, and caring with personality.  They want their discounts targeted to building a relationship, not just developing and turning in loyalty points.  “Real” is a word that strikes me as relating to their overall goals and values.

Why does all this matter?  Every touch point we have with our customers and guests has always mattered because every touch point is a chance to build on our relationship, a chance to create a competitive advantage through an endearing emotional connection.  And it’s that customer relationship, for example, which is at the “tip of the spear” of my organic marketing model (following) connecting the business strategy for profit, the brand and culture for personality, and the customer experience for a memorable, emotional connection.

Business Strategy - Customer Experience Dynamics

Knocking Down Your Organizational Silos

Creating an open and “siloless” organization remains important because improving the customer experience should be at the top of all our lists.  A lack of coordination in a customer-centric organization risks either creating negative customer experiences or misses the opportunity to efficiently create synergistic business and revenue building wins that are there for the taking.

What does it take?  Your efforts to knock down the organizational silos and get closer to really connecting to your customers require two things for starters:

  • A good, in-depth understanding of what your company and its brand are all about.
  • The full and ongoing commitment from the top, from your CEO or business leader whether you are in a large or small company.

Your customer touch points go beyond marketing alone, which is why everyone must embrace and Challenges of Overcoming Organizational Silosunderstand your brand values.  Doing this will require a steady communication and recommunication of the brand values which may start in “marketing” but should spread to all departments and all employees.  There are different models for what makes up your brand, but the key factors to me are a competitive positioning, a specific and in depth long term promise, a personality, a tone, and the core company values.

Without a CEO’s full and ongoing commitment, an effort to break down your silos and reach out to your customers directly and authentically will not be successful.  Breaking down the organizational silos is not an easy transformation to make, and it will require bold leadership.  Your company leader or CEO is the one person who not only oversees all the organizational silos but also has the power to motivate the entire organization and recognize performance.

[An original version of this email appeared in the AMA Executive Circle Blog on March 2nd 2017] 

Suggested related articles:
Eye Popping ROI of Customer Journey Mapping” from CMO.com by Adobe
How Millennials Are Changing the Face of Marketing Forever” from the Boston Consulting Group
Customer Experience Starts with Bold Leadership” from ForbesCMO
Loyalty Is Getting a Face Lift in 2017” from CMO.com by Adobe
To Be an Experience Business Requires Organizational and Cultural Shifts” from CMO.com by Adobe

How to Create Better Emails with Strategic Direction

February 5, 2017

effective-email-marketing-needs-strategic-thinking

Email marketing and its effectiveness are sometimes questioned when there are so many other newer and shinier social and digital media objects on the horizon. Those options include newer social media vehicles, improvements on the long-time standards, and the apparent efficiencies of pay-per-click and remarketing.

All these channels have value—when used strategically—and the most fundamental issue is to recognize each for what it does best.  As an example, many might not consider direct mail because it is considered to be “dated” or costly.   However, recent research indicates a majority of direct mail recipients see it as much more personal and friendly than the massive network of inexpensive internet options.

Why Email Marketing Can Make Strategic Sense

Using email marketing as a major tool makes sense for at least four core reasons:

  1. strategic-elements-of-emaiil-marketingCustomers on an email list have chosen to be there because they want to hear relevant news from you and your concept. If they didn’t, they would quickly unsubscribe (and you should always be offering a clear and easy way for them to opt out).
  2. Email accounts will continue to grow at about 6% per year worldwide for the next few years while the number of email users will grow at 3% annually (The Radicati Group, Inc. March 2015).  Online transactions like shopping and banking will continue to require valid email addresses, and 55% of emails are opened on mobile, which is an increasingly important vehicle (Litmus, March 2016).
  3. And did I mention relevance? The much sought after Millennials (20 to 35 years old) want their news through email as 43% trust email more than other social media vehicles―as long as your news is relevant.
  4. Email marketing communications allow you to acquire an accurate and current address that will not change as frequently as other social media accounts or addresses.

Key Points to Effective Email Marketing

Understanding why email recipients opt out is a good first step toward creating a strategically effective email program.  Almost two-thirds of customers disengage from an email list because they did not subscribe (36%) or saw the emails being received as irrelevant (32%).

At the same time, what they want is equally clear:

  • 24% want information they can use.
  • 23% want emails that are more personal and relate to them.

I know restaurant CEOs and owners who are particularly worried about having customers drop out of their email list.  This is an understandable but potentially needless concern because people move or simply lose interest in a concept category because of age and income changes (but keep the number under 2%!).

They should, however, be concerned if their emails are not informative, relevant, or telling relevance-matters-in-all-marketing-effortsan interesting story about the category or brand.  They should be concerned if their emails are not engaging.

Think of it like this: we all enjoy hearing from friends and colleagues and those with interesting points of view.  We all know selling is part of life (Daniel Pink’s To Sell Is Human recognizes that 40% of us have jobs involved in selling, convincing, influencing…).  The first―but not only―job of any customer communication is to create or build on a relationship.

The basic rule of effective email, then, is to make sure your emails are providing relevant and interesting brand news.  In general, surveys have indicated that about 54% of email recipients find up to three emails a month as acceptable (and many will accept even more).  These numbers offer good guidance, but the core issue is—back to this again—being informative, relevant, and interesting.

You will, of course, want your emails strategically to promote the business and directly increase sales.  But take a moment to ask yourself whether your email recipients really know and understand your concept as much as they want to.  Do they know what drives the restaurant or concept’s goals, the brand, your teams?

My suggestion is to use at least 30% to 40% of your emails to provide relevant information to your customers, emails that remind your guests of how authentic your concept is so they can better relate to it.  For restaurants, this might lead to a discussion of ingredient origins, the real value of fresh, the personal story behind a concept’s commitment to its customers, how you hire your staff, why the restaurant was started, or the personal story behind a General Manager’s commitment to his customers.

It’s clear that a good, strategically focused email marketing program can not only help promote your business and its specials but also build more lasting and deeper relationships with customers who want to be engaged and know more.  Start with relevance as your foundation and add initiatives to build sales on top of that.

[A version of this email first  appeared in the AMA Executive Circle blog on January 18, 2017]

Following are relevant marketing articles which might also be of interest:

Two “Big Picture” Steps to Finding the Right Technology at the Right Time

December 16, 2016

Over the last few months, I have been to two restaurant conferences (Fast Casual Executive Summit and MUFSO) and one food service technology conference (FSTEC). From visiting booths, listening to presentations and business leaders, and knowing the marketplace, I now have an uneasy sense that small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) and restaurant chains are being bombarded with too many technological options.

Is the company investing in the right technology at the right time?  Are better alternatives being missed?  Is another competitively disruptive technology just around the corner for your team and customers?

The number of new software programs hitting the market is truly exciting, but weighing the pros, cons, and cost benefits of one system over another can be mind-boggling.  And leadership can be caught in the trap of deciding whether operational efficiency is more important than customer engagement.

Driven by limited resources and the very real pressure of keeping up with or staying ahead of the competition, many small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) and restaurant chains seem to react sporadically and without a plan.  And that means committing money and hours to disconnected efforts originally meant to leverage today’s most important and disruptive tools:  technology and digital.

There may not be an easy solution for the SMBs of the world.  For the Pizza Huts and McDonald’s, finding the right Chief Information Officer (CIO or CTO) to work with and bring insights to the C-suite team―especially operations and marketing―may be challenging but attainable with some basic reallocation of resources.

What the SMB/restaurant chain does not want to do is to start with one software program only to discover another which is fully superior.  There will be improvements with time, but who wants to start with 2.0 when 3.0 is “out there” waiting or “just around the
corner? ”  Or why waste money and time by initiating one program only to find a better one which overlaps the one to which you just committed?  This is one time when impatience does not pay.

Doing Your Homework to Find the Right Technology

There are two very important steps to insuring success.  The first is to do your homework while scanning the horizon, and the second is to be organized for effective execution (I’m reminded of Thomas Edison’s “Vision without execution is hallucination.”).

Doing your homework means taking the time to truly understand your customers, what their needs are, and how they relate to your concept. Clearly a younger Millennial customer will be more accepting of technology and have greater expectations―from mobile to kiosks to tablets.  In the restaurant world, quick service and fast casual concepts are more likely to have technology fit the customer experience more seamlessly, but an innovative use of technology at the casual dining level could provide a very impactful advantage (I’ve heard of but not seen casual dining concepts using tech and tablets to deliver customer selected music at each table or provide more menu flexibility).

Make an effort to “scout out” the full spectrum of what’s available from mobile visibility and ordering, social media connectivity, loyalty and email programs, and more convenient ordering—for example.

Doing your homework also means making sure you and your team fully comprehend the range of alternatives leading to cleaner, simpler operations, financial savings, and increased efficiency.  Systems that improve ordering accuracy and reliability can also be considered to be customer engaging because they make for a better experience.  In retail, improved efficiency can be a customer benefit if it leaves the staff more time and “mental freedom” to interact with customers.

Creating this fully fleshed out perspective between a customer engagement focus and operational efficiencies will require information gathering interviews and research. Depending on resources, research can range from major quantitative and qualitative efforts to simply open conversations with customers and potential suppliers.  The critical key is to follow the process as best you can with the resources at hand.  And adding an outside source to expand bandwidth in the short term is another very real and usually effective possibility.

Setting Priorities to Deliver Results

Setting priorities and executing the plan follows the “homework” or “scanning the horizon” phase. Assuming you do not have the financial resources to hire a leading technical officer, consider creating a decision-making triumvirate of the lead executive, operator, and marketer.  My suggestion is for the marketing person to be in charge of the effort because she should be the closest to the guest and company culture while being analytical enough to focus the team on making the right decisions with the right values to go after the right technology (another quotation, this time from Peter Drucker, is the aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself…the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous.”).

In smaller businesses, one person may be wearing many hats, but it is best for the lead perspective to be analytically focused on the customer or guest and sensitive to the culture.

For the team’s priorities of finding the right technology, consider the:

  • Customer needs first as they will be delivering the sustainable and growing EBITDA.  Delivering a new and disruptive technology to them can help to “leap frog” the competition.
  • Financial impact of the options being explored, both in terms of benefits to your market position and costs.  Charting the options and expected benefits may take judgement and not be absolutely precise, but the range of relative values will be visible for better decision making.
  • Time each new technological addition will take and how your system can deal with it. Your assessments must be truthful and as rigorous as possible because additional technology will be with the company for a long time.
  • Impact on training, HR, and other functions as the impact can be significant and must be included in the total analysis.

In today’s customer or guest first economy, getting technological and digital efforts right―from enhanced loyalty or email programs or digital advertising to improved operational effectiveness and savings―can deliver competitive advantages that will last years.  Isn’t that worth a special and targeted focus?

[The original version of this blog post appeared in the Marketing Executives Networking Group blog on November 10th 2016.]

Following are five links to potentially more insightful reading:
Customer Experience: Brands Need to Get Technology Right
Survey: Email Is Evolving and Time Spent With It Growing
Is Your Brand Personal Enough for the Millennials?
New Research: Why the Ability to Teach Could Be a Key Differentiator for Brands
McKinsey Insights:  Linking the Customer Experience to Value

Is Your Customer-centric Culture Connecting with Customers?

August 25, 2016

Monitoring Your Customer-centric CultureMany CEOs and CMOs would probably pat themselves on the back for the customer-centric culture and excellent “value add” they have created.  However, the truth is that fully knowing how well a company delivers to a guest’s experiential framework can be a real challenge in this day of multi-channel media impressions and individualized customer journeys.

Even the strongest customer-centric culture tends to significantly overestimate a
customer’s evaluation of their goods or Failure to Monitor Your Customer-centric Culttureservices—by a lot.  A long standing Bain study indicated that while 80% of the studied companies believe they provide superior value, only 8% of their customers agree.  Even among companies with well-intentioned “Voice of the Customer” programs, only 29% believe their efforts are being truly effective.  And in these days of overly frequent post-experience surveys, one report indicated that only 6% of customers respond to follow up “NPS” surveys and only 36% of those respondents complete the survey (So I’m not the only one who is tired of being peppered with post-experience surveys!).

The complexity of today’s marketing communications with social, digital, and traditional media has made the customer journey harder to track.  How can we know what our guests are thinking, how they are reacting, what is influencing them?  How can we know with confidence what the team is delivering?

Of course we want to “intercept” those negative customer comments and fix the experience before the guest slinks away to never return or leaves a nasty note on one of those Internet rating systems (and yes, one more “star” has been proven to lead to significantly more sales).

Roadmap to SuccessWhile I have just come across a system that may (no firm answers yet) provide better response rates and excellent analytics, I suggest truly effective leaders will look first to make sure their primary customer relationships are positive and improving through the programs in place.  In other words, check your plan, do the homework, and be truly disciplined and objective to evaluate what already exists.  Is your current direction getting your company to the right place?

Getting to know your customers and their experiential expectations better by building relationships across the system is a basic and good place to start.

  • Behavioral economists generally believe less than one-third of a customers’ considerations (and connection to the company’s products and services) are built on the rational.  Is the Brand and its customer-centric culture based on only rational attributes or both the rational and the emotional connections which drive loyalty?  Are the Brand’s and company’s cultural values repeatedly dramatized?

    Way more often than not, management stops communicating and repeating the Brand’s core values and culture long before the team living with and projecting those values to customers fully grasps them without thinking.  Significant repetition is needed!

  • The track record for social media effectiveness seems to be—not surprisingly—that content and connecting the customer to the Brand and a customer-centric culture are paramount.  Learn the guest’s interests first before telling them what the company wants them to hear.  After all, it’s not what the company wants to say but rather what the customers want to hear as it relates to the brand, products, or services that matters.

    Working with a restaurant client, I was struck by a big bump in Facebook’s analytics that went beyond what the social media calendar had projected.  It was based on a restaurant customer’s simple photo and comment on the restaurant’s painting rather than the menu, service or décor.  The level of engagement was easily better than six times the average, and this guest’s experience demonstrates how the customer vision is through an experiential lens.

    Effectively utilizing the social media experience is important and, as with other aspects of today’s technology (like mobile), can benefit the needed sales and relationship building aspect of any customer-centric culture. The highly disciplined and strategic consumer packaged goods companies (CPG) are moving more and more dollars toward social media, giving social media a bigger portion of the media budget because of perceived sales gains.

  • Are your training and developmental programs impressive enough to teach, dramatize, and reemphasize the customer-centric culture’s belief system?  Are bonuses and promotions tied to outstanding customer service?  This may sound obvious, but, all too often, they are critical pieces which are taken for granted or have not been updated and refocused in years.Designs for Customer-centric Connections

It is never the wrong time to take another look at the core programs which are meant to drive a customer-centric culture and its sales building impact.  But the approach needs to be “tough” and objective, whether it’s dealing with the Brand and Culture, social media and other communications practices, customer friendly technology, or training and development.

[A similar version of this email originally appeared as a blog post in the MENG Blog on August, 11th 2016,]

Five suggested related readings:
Reflection on Fear in Customer Experience
Is CX Short for Customer Complexity?
Three Ways You Can Deliver a Better Customer ExperienceFive Questions Customer Experience Professionals Are Asking Today
Online Reviews Rate High for Customer Insight

 

Can Customer Engagement Technology Support Hospitality?

June 4, 2016
As the business trajectory map below suggests, retail and restaurant businesses—and any business—rely on creating a positive customer (or guest or consumer) engagement to drive sales and build loyalty.
Business Strategy - Customer Experience DynamicsWe have all seen numbers relating to the importance of customer satisfaction, and the following global customer attitudes numbers from Microsoft’s Parature are a good reminder of what matters:

  • 62% of customers stopped doing business with companies providing poor service ($1.6 trillion is lost annually in the US alone).
  • 59% of customers have higher service expectations now than they did a year ago.
  • 55% will abandon an online connection if they don’t quickly find what they are looking for.
  • 73% will recommend a company providing a positive service experience to others.
  • 46% trust companies providing a positive service experience over all others.

Customer Engagement Technology Matters to More than Millennials

touchscreen interfaceTechnology has become a major factor in our lives, and we know it can be a positive—or a negative—in each guest’s experience.  For our customers, the everyday use of technology is growing across all age segments, not just Millennials.

According to a Pew Research reported from 2015, 54% of those between 55 and 64 and 79% between 30 and 49 use smartphones.  Those 50+ use them for texting (92%), the Internet (80%), voice and video (94%), and email (87%) at similar levels to those who grew up with smartphones.

For restaurant owners, it was Jim Mizes, President and COO of Blaze Pizza, who said at this year’s Restaurant Leadership Conference, “[Technology] is not part of who I am, but…”

Nation’s Restaurant News reports that 56% of those between 45 and 64 have recently used tech options in restaurants.  About one-third have checked out restaurant locations by smartphone.  And most importantly, four of ten would use smartphones or tablets to “place orders, use rewards or special deals, make reservations or look up nutritional information.”  That same percentage includes using touchscreens in-store to place orders.  Creating customer engagement technology that meaningfully benefits your customers will be a competitive advantage to more than your youngest customers.

How Can We Leverage Customer Engagement Technology to Enhance the Experience?

Is there a looming challenge where technology and customer engagement intersect?

To begin with, customer engagement itself goes beyond core customer service points. The tech solutions noted above all relate to the steps needed for better customer service or the delivery of the product (á la respected New York restaurant guru Danny Meyer definitions).  But real hospitality and engagement means connecting with your guests on an emotional level to create a connection which builds a long lasting loyalty and valued relationship.  We know and research recognizes that it is emotion which separates our best customers from those who are merely satisfied.

Technology can clearly benefit customer service, but it can also endanger the customer (or guest) experience.   It must be used effectively and appropriately through insight into your business motivations and your customer’s expectations.

Here are six guidelines which will help to build your customer engagement technology platform without sacrificing hospitality:

  • Know how the importance of customer engagement impacts your restaurant customers and your competitive segment.For example, the quick service and even fast casual restaurant segments may rely more on technology to improve the speed and accuracy of service as convenience and efficiency are more significant factors than they are for casual or fine dining.  But I still feel more connected when the service team at my McDonald’s drive-thru, Panera ordering line, or Dunkin’ Donuts counter are friendly, helpful, and smiling—and remember to thank me.  And so do your guests!
  • In a similar vein, know your guests’ lifestyles and your own brand values.  What are their expectations?  What is their comfort level with what you want to do?  Research or simple direct discussions can help as they may not react the way you think they will.
  • Consider the specifics of how technology can help your guests or customers. For example, are parking options important?  Would your guest want to know your busiest hours?  What about nutritional information?  Speed of service at lunch?
  • Fully understand the real benefits you are seeking from the new technology. Is the motivation driven by cost savings for you through the reduction of labor or improved convenience for the customer?  The former is driven by your own interests and could negatively impact engagement, and the latter is driven by offering your guest a more relaxing and predictable experience for a better long term relationship.
  • Finding the right tech partner for a specific program can be critical regardless of your business or restaurant segment.  Find someone who understands not only what your guests’ value but also your own brand’s values and your concern for hospitality.  Find someone who can deliver on the project but is flexible enough to service you and your customers.My recommendation is not to rush to a new tech partner but make sure you are confident of the relationship because roles and expectations will change over time.
  • Test what you are about to do in any way possible. If you have multiple units, test the program in a handful of them and be careful to monitor and listen to your customers and staff.  A good tech partner will also want to hear and adjust to the feedback.
    Manage Social Marketing for Increased Customer Engagment

Technology has been a real benefit to restaurateurs in terms of efficiency, food and labor cost savings, and order accuracy.  And as your customers rely more on technology in their daily lives, your chances to create and leverage a truly competitive customer engagement technology will only increase—if managed appropriately.

[A version of this email originally appeared in the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) Blog Post on May 5th]

 

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