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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

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