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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]


Following are five subject related articles/posts which might be of interest.

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