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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

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]


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

Customer Engagement? Create Real Loyalty through Emotion and Hospitality.

May 6, 2016


I was having lunch recently with a Boston restaurant investor in one of his restaurants.  He was visibly enjoying his “part-time” move into the restaurant business and happy to be involved.

We talked about how the restaurant had many of the right ingredients for success, like the menu’s attention to local sourcing and sustainability whenever possible.  We commentated positively on the open, modern but relaxed décor and its very visible kitchen. He then asked me about a manager who stayed by the kitchen line to organize and track the orders, making sure everything was moving properly.  And then he asked, point blank, whether that manager should be out in the restaurant connecting with the guests and getting their opinions.

I answered, “Absolutely yes,” and we discussed why I felt so strongly about that. 

How Customer Engagement Can Drive Sales

I had my own direct experience on a restaurant chain management team that drove a very successful sales turnaround.  Our strategic focus on customer—or guest―engagement was a key element to that success.  We reordered the operations team’s priorities and procedures and restructured bonuses to make sure each restaurant manager spent time “out front” with the guests.

The benefits were threefold:  the guests experienced firsthand how we cared about our service, the guests witnessed the brand’s personality first hand, and the managers heard what their guests liked and did not like, helping to make the staff more committed to their guests!  The sales resurgence, driven by guest service scores that increased by more than 75% in one year, delivered a +50% AUV growth over five years.

When we strategically focused on the brand’s core values and personality, refocused the Customer Enegagment on Maxmenu to be fresher and more nutritious, and improved operations, sales took off.  Customer loyalty shot up 10% in the first year because we went beyond great food and service to engagement.  We connected with our guests so our frequent customers became our most loyal (and most profitable).  By being more personal and connecting emotionally, we made their experiences positively memorable, which increased visits and sales.

Not sure how that works?   Most basically, the human brain is wired to remember and act on events with an emotional connection.  Millennials, in particular, seem to be even more concerned about these emotional connections as they search for transparency and authenticity.  

Research Supports the Link between Emotion and Customer Engagement

I have believed in the importance of emotion to truly connect with guests throughout my career (my blog post, “Your Brand and Emotion:  The Key to Customer Loyalty,” is close to two years old), but the following Harvard Business Review article on “The New Science of Customer Emotions” adds more logic and research.

  • When a major bank introduced a credit card to connect emotionally to Millennials,
    card use increased by 70% and accounts grew by 40%.
  • When a nationwide retailer focused merchandise and the customer experience on emotionally connected customer segments, sales growth accelerated significantly.
  • Based on research and interviews with experts in anthropology and the social sciences, the three Harvard Business School professors assembled a list of 300 emotional motivators and recognized that “even a cleaning product or canned food can forge powerful connections.”
  • Most importantly, they traced how customers or guests became more loyal and valuable (more sales) as they traveled along an “emotional connection pathway” from being “unconnected” to “satisfied” to “brand differentiators” to “fully connected.”
    • The “fully (emotionally) connected” were a full 52% more valuable than those who were highly satisfied, which was the baseline.
    • The “fully (emotionally) connected” ranked 39 percentage points higher than those who perceived brand differentiation and were satisfied, the next lower category, but not fully connected.

If you are running a retail store or restaurant and cannot spend tens of thousands of dollars on research, what can you do?  My suggestion is to start with the basics―and start now:

  1. Make sure there is a connecting, emotional element like your core values and Customer Engagement Is Key!personality in your brand platform.
  2. Make sure your customer engagement brand platform and customer-centric values are communicated, over and over, to your business teams. Find ways to motivate their understanding and commitment (think Apple, L. L. Bean, Zappo’s…).  Do they really “get it” and embrace its importance?
  3. Take the extra step of talking to your guests and understanding their needs, both tangible and emotional. Share this learning as a team and culture.  You can do this through social media, research, and talking to your guests in your store or restaurant.
  4. Don’t be afraid of the details. Great execution takes great attention to detail, and is well worth the effort.  Remember Thomas Edison’s “Strategy without execution is hallucination.”

Those are the reasons I believe a general manager sharing his guests’ experiences is fundamental to creating the best customer engagement.

[This article was originally presented as a MENG Blog Post on March 10, 2016 for the Marketing Executives Networking Group.]

My five links relating to the blog post are:



Why–and How–Marketers and Operators Should Embrace Millennials Marketing

December 22, 2015

Knowing Millennials to Build Millennials Marketing

The increasing significance and impact of Millennials in the marketplace in general and restaurant in particular can be seen as a real plus for those of us who have always recognized the sales generating value of “The Brand.”

Why Millennials Matter

Most sources put Millennials into the 18 to 34-year-old category (book-ended by an older Gen X at 35 to 50 and a younger Gen Z at 2 to 17), and there are now more Millennials (75.3 million) than Baby Boomers.  More importantly, Millennials are outspending Baby Boomers with over $1.3 trillion in annual spending.

When it comes to dining, Millennials are more than 20% more likely to eat out in a week and go to a fast casual restaurant than the general population.

How Millennials Are Different—Values and Technology

General indications are that Millennials are less attached to conventional institutions because they are Knowing Millennials Valuesmore likely to be politically independent (50% versus 39% of Gen Xs) and religiously unaffiliated (29% versus 21% Gen X).  Not surprisingly, they tend to be distrustful with only 19% believing people can be trusted (31% for Gen Xs).  Millennials are also carrying more debt for their age and are not in a hurry to get married (only 26% were married at 32 versus 36% for Gen Xs).

However, even though they are facing more economic challenges and might be expected to have less faith in the future, Millennials are optimistic.  They are as optimistic as the previous generation which experienced significantly better economic conditions, and 85% have confidence in their future earnings measuring up to their expectations.

Of course, technology and social media are major factors in Millennials’ lives and, therefore, Millennials marketing.  They have wider networks of friends, with the typical Millennial having 250 Facebook friends—fifty more than the Gen X counterparts.  With Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, they are twice as likely to be taking selfies and using the visual channels of social media as Gen X.

Connecting through Millennials Marketing

Millennials Marketing Must Rely on Millennials' Values

With these behavioral and attitudinal differences, creating Millennials marketing programs to engage them can be another matter.  Roughly two-thirds believe companies don’t know how to talk to them, and they may not trust the message when they do get it.  Virtually every (85%) Millennial wants companies and their social media to be authentic (and personal, direct), and 56% are more likely to get their content and information from their social media worlds rather than emails or search and 26% go to news feed sites rather than email and search.

Making your Millennials marketing relevant and engaging can be critical because Millennials typically contact five people when pondering a purchase decision (only three for Gen X).  Less than half trust (there’s that word again) “experts” and only 4% admit to actually being influenced by them.

On the other hand, 59% listen to their friends, 35% can be influenced by “strangers,” and 23% (a surprise to me) are influenced by celebrities, especially for apparel, food, luxury goods, and brands.  And finally, more trust social media and digital advertising over traditional channels like broadcast and print while about half trust retail websites.

In summary, understanding Millennials and creating Millennials marketing means knowing they are:

  • Generally less trustful of others and institutions.
  • Optimistic in spite of debts and the Great Recession.
  • Relying on friends, word of mouth, social media, the Internet—even celebrities—for information on brands.
  • Visual.
  • Seeking authenticism.

What Millennials Want

Millennials want their relationship with your brand, company, and restaurant to be authentic, transparent, and trustworthy (not deceptive)—even personal.  More than three of four want to identify with what your company stands for (helping to explain popularity of Starbuck’s and Chipotle–before the E. coli scare?).  In the best of all worlds, they want to identify with a personality while finding an emotional connection to your very tangible benefits (they also like discounts, free perks, and rewards recognizing their loyalty and relating to your brand).

The most meaningful, sales generating brands deliver an authentic personality (people buy from people) to build relationships and help customers engage with them, and this is even more important to Millennials.

Use your social and content marketing to develop personal relationships while discovering your Social Media Is Key to Millennials MarktingMillennial customers’ interests—rather than only blasting away about your products or your services (make an effort to develop the right ratio of relationship focused to direct sales building messaging).

Ask them questions about how your brand and menu fits into their lives.  Show them aspects of your brand which might not be directly related to the product or service but the overall experience (I had one client whose biggest Facebook response was started by a customer commenting on a contemporary artwork in their restaurant).  Create a conversation.  Coming out with a new menu item?  Engage them in the development and they may do the selling for you.

Many of the above themes also relate to menu development.  Think of themes like healthy, calorie conscious, low preservatives, natural, authentic, integrity, and  local, if possible—without thinking “purist.”  Also, a move toward the bolder, more adventuresome, innovative, and customizable might be helpful in capturing the Millennials interest.  Consider their overall experience and your brand.

Because it is exactly what they are looking for, the best sales building Millennials marketing programs leverage the chance to create relationships and engage with Millennials while delivering products and services to this financially powerful and restaurant happy generation. 

[Notes:  Facts and perspectives for this post have come from the Pew Research Center, MENG’s Digital Marketing Survey, a JustJump Marketing MENGinar, “15 Economic Facts about Millennials” from the Council of Economic Advisors, Morgan Stanley’s Here Come the Millennials, and the Boston Consulting Group’s Perspectives: “How Millennials are Changing the Face of Marketing Forever.”
A very similar blog post first appeared in the MENG Blog on December 15th 2015.]

MUFSO 2015 Restaurant Conference Update with Tips and Notes — Part 2 of 2

October 11, 2015

MUFSO Breakout

MUFSO is the restaurant industry’s major Multi-unit Foodservice Operators Conference held annually in Dallas.  It was held on September 20 – 22 this year.

This is Part Two of my tips and selected notes from the General and Breakout Sessions I attended over three days in Dallas.
Let me know if you have questions or need further clarification.

Breakout:  “Lessons from Winning Brands”

Hosted by Sarah Lockyer, NRN, with representatives from The Melting Pot,
First Watch Restaurants, and the Saxton Group (McAlister Deli).

● Listen to your customers.  Hear what they are saying about their needs, the competition, and you.iStock_000018946626XSmall
● Menu:  What local items are asked about, like local
craft beers, fruits, vegetables.
● Know their expectations and where value lies for them.
● Service includes knowing what want and what they value.
● Do the ordinary things in an extraordinary way.
● Survey customers with bounce back coupons to thank them for participating.
● Impress your customers with your standards.

Breakout:  “Six Trends You Should Know to Meet Guest Needs and Thrive:  A Look at Foodservice Industry Trends”

 With Susan Miller and Clark Jones, Coca-Cola North America

● Food is now a lifestyle trend.  160 food related TV shows.  40% of
Millennials consider themselves foodies.
● Public concerned about cost of living but also feeling more confident and
● 59% believe science and technology to make things better.  70% of
13 to 65 years old with smartphones (85% of Millennials).
● 63% think their values can make a difference.  “Purposefulness.”
● 51% believe discoveries will make a difference.
● 56% of Millennials believe stress is bad.
● Trends

● 81% want to know what companies stand for, want to know the
whole story
● Health-wellness:  71% want ingredients transparency because they
they matter…33% meat eaters eat meat-free more often.
● 3 of 5 more likely to visit restaurants offering environmentally
friendly foods.
● Employee empowerment.
● Digitization…35% of Gen Z likely to order at kiosk…table top table
● Flexibility…snack sizing…up 3 pts in one year.  Customization…create
your own.  All day breakfast (McDonald’s example) preferred by
7 of 10.

Food with story…Health empowerment…Ethical eating…Foodservice everywhere…Digitization…Flexible + experiment.

General Session:  “Dare to Serve:  How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others”

With Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen CEO Cheryl Batchelder

iStock_000009178000XSmall● New rule:  Dare to serve.  Dare to find new directions in turnaround.
● Choose to serve.  Who do we serve?  For Popeye’s, it was the franchisees.
● Love the people you lead.
● Deliver results.
● Leadership = courage & humility.
“Courage is not the absence of fear but the overcoming of fear.”
– Nelson Mandela

General Session:  “Winning CEO Panel”

Hosted by NRN’s Sarah Lockyer with Julia Stewart of Dine Equity, John Gainer of Dairy Queen, Charlie Morrison of Wingstop, John Miller at Denny’s, and  Peggy Cheng at Panda ExpressMeasure Your Customer Enhancement and Sales Results

● More control to Millennials.
● Don’t know what to do:  ask your customer.
● 48% of Wingstop customers are Millennials.  Need both tech and quality and sense of control.       ● Expect economy to be “lumpy and bumpy.”
● Storytelling can help differentiate your brand/chain from competition.
● Hire by “mind set, tool set, skill set.”
● Pricing.  Product.  Location.  Segmentation.  What need can you fulfill?
● DQ:  Franchisee profitability + Sales + Growth.
● Share plans with vendor community to get their involvement, commitment.
● Don’t delay decisions (research demonstrates companies that make more decisions faster               succeed more often).

MUFSO Restaurant Conference Update with Tips and Notes — Part 1 of 2

October 11, 2015


MUFSO is the restaurant industry’s major Multi-unit Foodservice Operators Conference held annually in Dallas. It was held on September 20 – 22 this year.

This is Part I of my tips and selected notes from the General and Breakout Sessions I attended over three days in Dallas.
Let me know if you have questions or need further clarification.

Breakout: “Big Customer Data: How To Get It, What To Do with It”

Panel hosted by NRN’s Ron Ruggless with representatives from Dickey’s
Barbecue Restaurants, Pie Five Pizza Co., and Taco Bell


● Track customers, using data to get promotions right and leverage what’s happening in real time. Amplify customer stories, adding personality to the message. Taco Bell’s breakfast success helped by data management.
● Customer data can help define new store locations.
● Make adjustments in plans and programs based on from better understanding customer experiences.
● Form cross functional “labs” for teams to understand and digest data is fundamental. Insights available to marketing and others which is point of cross-functional. Different ways to organize around data, but my experience or bias is to have marketing “on point” working with IT because
marketing is closest to customers but make sure all have access with regular team meetings.
● Be aware of new tools to enhance data reading and dashboard development.  Some of them are free or of very high value, and some third party consumer data services can be linked directly to your data.
● WSJ posted “…twenty of the Best Big Data Services.”
● Creating effective, visually enhanced dashboards is rewarding as data becomes easier to manage, read, interpret, and meaningful to more people.  Don’t let your data management become boring.
● But bring data in-house. Own it, make it yours.
● Most important is leveraging data to better understand incremental and transactions are keystone.
● Some are trying to bring lifetime value into the equation (haven’t heard that
one for a while).
● When signing up members for email lists, loyalty programs, and other similar ventures, don’t ask customers for lots of information. It will reduce the response rate and you may end-up not getting basic contact information.

Breakout: “Beyond Selfies: Are Your Customers the New Marketing Department?”

Panel hosted by NRN’s Ron Ruggless with representatives from
White Box Social Intelligence, Facebook, and Peiwei

'Social media' concept with other related words

‘Social media’ concept with other related words

● Instagram is a major social media vehicle for casual dining with two times the sales impact versus the fast casual segment.
● Yelp! creates a similar relationship for casual dining with negative comments about 14% less than the overall industry.
● Twitter has twice the impact in fast casual as it does in other segments.  14% of comments are negative and mostly related to wait times and service staff.
● Family dining also Instagram focused but not as much as casual dining.  19% more “happy” responses than industry.
● Yelp! and Google+ reviews considered to have measureable sales impact, both positive and negative so keep an eye on them.
● Not clear Facebook “likes” impact sales.
● Yelp! “really does matter.”
● Listen. Analyze. Benchmark to your segment. Track against sales and traffic. Consider what needs to be done.
● Mobile is big, even for Facebook.
● Millennials might check Facebook ten times a day.
● Smartphone ownership now over 70% and 85% for Millennials.
● Millennials willing to share info and be brand ambassadors but need authenticity and entertainment for the right experience, relationship.
● Seek customer engagement (#CX, relationship building).
● Share platforms with messages as there are many cross users.
● Social Media advice: reflect the company culture, involve the company, okay not to always “get it,” and be authentic, genuine, love the process.
● Watch for Instagram changes…remember Instagram can impact sales and “is Millennials.”
● Video is a force.
● Check out PEW Social Media 2015. It’s free and very informative.
● Be agile…speed trumps perfection.

General Session: “Words with Melman”

Panel hosted by Restaurant Hospitality’s Mike Sanson with Richard Melman
and Altamarea Group Chef Michael White and Co-founder Ahmass Fakahany

● Menu designed to increase frequency and cater to wide range of customer motivations. PricingiStock_000011101990Small (2) and nutritional needs important factors. (Alta.)
● Flexible, agile. High volume, good food. Part artist, part businessman. (RM)
● Developing people is focus.  Now has a culinary school to develop talent.
● Hiring is critical. Avoid hiring with doubts. Follow up with extensive training. (RM)
● Customer service/experience. Social media. (Alta.)
● Train to have energy, to listen, to understand preferences. (Alta.)
● Need confidence to take complicated things and make them simple. (RM)
● Only “problem” is having enough customers. Don’t take things for granted.
● Patience. Perseverance. “Pain of working hard is easier than pain of
defeat.” (Alta.)

Four Branding Steps to Improve Customer Engagement–and Sales!

August 31, 2015

To create and support sustained and profitable sales growth, the “tip of the spear” will always be customer engagement.  Customer engagement is the indisputable moment of truth when your company connects in a memorable, emotionally satisfying way—or not.  It is the powerful combination of not only delivering what your customers want but also helping them feel connected to your business.

Customer Engagement Is at the Head of the Spear

I was talking to a friend and expert at developing retail and restaurant customer service last week.  His programs were rightfully about employee motivation, and they focused on daily competitions, sales targets, recognition, training, team building…However, there was no mention of engaging the staff with the business strategy and brand even though great brands and service leaders like L. L. Bean, Nordstrom, and Zappos make brand values (and company culture) an unforgettable part of the company’s fabric and the customer’s experience.

Don’t get me wrong.  It is not an easy process.  But the results from a loyal and expanding customer base are long lasting and profitable.

Here are four key steps for making sure the power of your brand (and company culture) is having its full, supportive impact on your strategically focused customer engagement. Brand Building Is Key to Effective Customer Engagement

  1. Create a lasting brand platform. There are many forms of brand platforms, and you can even find alternatives online.  From my experience (advertising, packaged goods, and restaurant/retail), the best brand platforms include the company’s core values, competitive positioning, key customer promise, personality, and tone.  A good brand platform is competitive (to be financially viable) and has the emotional elements customers recognize and relate to (people buy from people).
  2. Get it out of the marketing department. The brand is the company’s brand, not the property of your marketing team or advertising agency. Your marketing team or brand consultant can manage the process, but the ideal brand platform is endorsed by the CEO and the management team who have been deeply involved in its development.  It is consistently promoted across departments, from HR to Finance to Operations.
  1. Repeat.  Repeat.  Make sure your brand message gets repeated enough to become part of the daily company fabric.  A major obstacle to this is that management teams tend to get quickly bored and assume that repeating a similar message once, twice, or even three times is sufficient to ingrain thinking and create habits.  It’s not.  Even when the management team has become fully immersed, the staff member welcoming your customer by the Internet, in person, or on the phone is just beginning to get the idea.
  2. Staying the Brand Course to Build Customer EngagementDon’t let it go.  If properly developed, your brand platform process has been inclusive and collaborative, built on solid data, information, experience, and decision making—and more than simple “consensus.”  Your brand platform will be customer-centric and aligned with your dynamic and lasting business strategy.  It is not an advertising or promotional line that is easily changed any more than your overall business strategy and culture are easily changed.  “Stay the course” and refine it carefully and thoughtfully as you move ahead 

The bottom line?  The customer experience builds loyalty and sales, but the best customer experiences are driven from inside the company, its brand, and its core values.  The most impactful customer experiences are effective and meaningful in both the short and long run because they are supported by the thrust of the business strategy and brand.

In fact and if asked, I can point to at least two of my own restaurant marketing experiences which very successfully followed this process.  One had over 50% revenue growth through geographic expansion in four years and the other had over 50% AUV growth in five years.

[This post originally appeared on the MENG (Marketing Executives Networking Group) Blog on August 20th 2015.]

Social Media: Six Steps to Increased Customer Engagement and Sales

July 5, 2015

July 5, 2015

Social Media can and should be a popular marketing tool because it appears to be:

  • Social Media Tools to Enhance Customer EngagementRelatively inexpensive (low production and space costs).
  • Easy to manage (run internally with lower cost staff/your office Millennial?).
  • Reaching your best or most loyal customers (because they make the choice to follow you).

However, an effective or optimum use of social media can be even more positive and beneficial to the brand, customer loyalty, and sustained sales growth when it is focused on customer engagement.

First, social media or social marketing (my preferred label because social media is a tool of marketing) can be an excellent vehicle because it does, in fact, reach people who are interested in your brand concept.  They—not you—have made the choice to know more about you or what you are up to.

Second, social marketing can be seen as an electronic extension of direct marketing which always strove to get closer to the customer, to get more personal and build relationships.

And this is what gets me back to my earlier “however.”  So much of what I see uses social marketing as a tool to exclusively promote by highlighting items and deals instead of creating stronger, more personal relationships.

How can social marketing be a more effective brand and sales builder?  There are six basic steps, and Step Five may be the key to unleashing the full value of social marketing.

Planning Social Media to Build Customer Engagement and Sales

  1. Take the time to understand how your social marketing efforts will support your business plan. How will they contribute to the sales, brand building, and the customer engagement so important to your business?  What is social marketing’s business role and how would you characterize your long term expectations?
  2. Create and communicate a social marketing strategy that connects social marketing to the business plan. It should make it clear how each tool in the social marketing tool box is expected to contribute to the brand, sales growth, and an overall success.
    Does the strategy focus on communicating your brand’s values while listening to and connecting with your customers?   Does it support engagement as well as promoting sales driving events?  How will you measure social marketing’s effectiveness?  What are your success metrics results?
  1. Know your customers and their preferred social marketing vehicle. Because of its size and history, Facebook will be a dominant factor.  However, remember that Instagram, for example, can be a favorite for restaurant customers because of its visual benefits.  Usage of your social tools can vary by age, income, social groups, and the message itself.  It’s also important to keep a daily eye on Yelp!, Open Table, and Google+.  Take the time to pick the right tool for the targeted customer and the particular message.
  2. Make it clear who on your team is expected to do what and when, whether you are using external or internal resources. Establish the communication ground rules that reflect both your culture and brand (with any luck, the brand will speak to your culture!).  Do they understand your brand’s positioning and values, competitive advantages?  Will they be able to communicate or respond with the right voice?
  3. Create a social marketing calendar reflecting the inherent opportunity to leverage the social Manage Social Marketing for Increased Customer Engagmentmarketing tools to build relationships, increase customer engagement, and enhance the customer experience. Make sure you decide in advance how many of your messages will be used for promotional purposes v. brand building and customer engagement (my suggestion is an 80/20 split, respectively).  Use your relationship building to create dialogues and find out what your customers think about and want from you.You could ask for their menu, product, or item suggestions and share your more popular recipes, especially featuring seasonal favorites.
  4. Are there “inside looks” and information that might be interesting to your customers?  Is there a special chef your customers would like to know better?  What are the challenges of using locally grown products in your recipes?  What foods are nutritionally strong and why?  Have you ever talked about your décor (One of the biggest customer Facebook responses was to a restaurant’s art!)?
    As my father would have said, it is called social media for a reason.

  1. The last step might be the hardest to do consistently: use available analytics to understand your Measure Your Customer Enhancement and Sales Resultsresults and improve on them.  You might want to consider outside experts in Google Analytics and the like because an investment in building a more effective social marketing effort could quickly pay for itself in increased revenues. But remember that a lot can be done on your own if you give it the time and discipline.And then see how all of this is impacting your Steps One and Two so you can start over at a higher level with more engaged customers!

An improved social media experience delivering more customer engagement will build a stronger brand and more dynamic relationships creating increased loyalty, sales, and profits—well worth the time and effort.

 The original version of this blog post first appeared in the MENG (Marketing Executives Networking Group) Blog on June 30th.

Your Brand and Emotion: The Key to Customer Loyalty

July 3, 2014

Most of us recognize the impact of emotion in our personal lives.  Where would we be without a rich treasure of memories, all of which are triggered through emotional connections?

My mother is 101 years old and will probably go beyond 102 (we’re counting on it).  She’s very much emotionally alive and “in the moment.”  However, watching her memory fade makes me realize how important our memories, linked to our emotions, are to the fabric of our lives.

Our business world is properly filled with both logic and analysis and dollars and cents.  We make decisions based on the bottom line, the “net net,” a balancing of the “pros” and “cons.”  Albert Einstein was thinking logically when he said “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend fifty-five minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”

Yes, there are some of us who consider emotions to be soft, unpredictable, and ineffective with logic as the ultimate victor.  And yet as business leaders, we need to motivate if we are to effectively lead teams and engage customers to turn them into repeat visitors.

Why Is Connecting Your Brand to Emotion a Key to Success?

Emotion can positively impact your Brand’s sales in three ways: customer motivation, memory, and loyalty.

Warmth and Competence are key to The Human Brand.Customer and Staff Motivation

Over 80% of our judgments are based on the combined perceptions of warmth and competence (Wojciske’s findings influenced the book titled The Human Brand by Malone and Fiske).  Competence relates to performance, but warmth relates to a willingness to be comfortable and to trust someone else, whether it’s an individual, a company, or a brand.  A sense of “warmth” allows people to connect and engage.

The Emotional Link to Loyalty

If emotions are tied to our connection to and engagement with a brand or company and our free-to-smile (2)remembering relates directly to events for which we feel a strong emotion, then a customer’s loyalty will be stronger after an emotionally positive and memorable event, like great food and a wonderful experience at a restaurant, whether it’s quick service or fine dining.

Want more?  Gallup’s recent article, “Customer Satisfaction Doesn’t Count,” declares that “If you don’t make an emotional connection with customers, then satisfaction is worthless.”

Their research demonstrated  that customers don’t buy strictly for rational reasons—much more important is engaging them on an emotional level.  And businesses that optimize this connection outperform competitors by 26% in gross margin and 85% in sales growth.  And, according to a recent Mori study, emotionally engaged customers are many times more likely to repurchase and recommend and less likely to shop around.

Building Memories

boy-and-dog (2)

Whether it’s something funny, romantic, warm, wonderful, or just the feeling of connecting with someone or something (or equally negatively charged events), we remember experiences that have an emotional element to them.  In fact, the latest brain science indicates the level of emotion makes events more memorable, even over an event’s personal significance to us.

We are learning that pleasant emotions tend to fade more slowly than negative ones, giving us more reason to quickly and aggressively redeem an occasionally negative customer experience with a more positive one.

Positive memories are not only more memorable but also bring back more detail.  That fix of a customer problem will be remembered much better than the original problem, and it will help your customer feel connected to your brand.

The Logical Conclusion to the Importance of Emotion in Your Brand

Your customers want to reward you for creating ways for them to feel connected to and engaged with your brand, big or small.

Great service is one answer, and so is a special atmosphere or an occasional surprise (an amuse-bouche in the fine dining world).  Or a special menu or promotion to give a loyal customer another reason to return? Or an extra smile for a loyal customer? What’s your way of building customer loyalty?