Using technology to enhance the customer experience

Wow, {{ count }} of you have read this

In Kamila Sitwell’s new book ‘Bespoke. How to radically grow your bar and restaurant business through personalisation’ she discusses how technology can build loyalty through personalised experiences. 

“Next-generation customers are… hyper connected, and if a location lets them use technology to place an order, they’ll come back 6 percent more often and spend 20 percent more each time, according to our survey results. They value connections, and 70 percent of survey respondents look for apps that deliver personalised offers and convey the sense that a restaurant ‘knows them’.” 

—   Deloitte’s ‘Restaurant of the Future’ survey, 2016 

This is a highly valuable insight into the way consumers’ mindsets are heading. I’m convinced that a truly personalised guest experience is what we must all be striving to deliver, because such an approach will drive real loyalty and revenue. Therefore, tailored marketing communication clearly presents significant opportunities for a restaurant to connect directly with its customers. 

Key data capture

We must ask ourselves, ‘How often do customers today end up communicating with an automated robot with zero personality? Is this really the way forward in engaging with them?’ There are benefits, of course, to technology, but how it’s used will make all the difference. 

For example, capturing the right data in compliance with GDPR (general data protection regulation), you can build a picture of your customers. In this context, it’s important you ensure that, from the basic information you collect, combined with you customers’ preferences, you create a story from which to deliver their experience. 

The right data includes:

  • Contact info: name, address, email, phone number

  • Demographic: gender, age, nationality

  • Usage history: reason for visit, occasion, number of visits, average spend, with friends/family/business colleagues

  • Food and drink preferences: foodie, meat eater/ pescatarian/vegetarian/vegan, allergies, alcoholic drink preference – spirits/wine/cocktails/teetotal, dessert choice, digestives/aperitifs

  • Space preferences: upstairs/downstairs/terrace, quiet corner, table by the window, wi-fi/electrical socket/access to a printer

  • Experiential: feedback from reviews, prior surveys, comments made to the staff

With this data at your fingertips, you can employ it across all touchpoints to improve the customer journey and open up experiences like never before. It will also be invaluable to your staff in: 

  • Determining guests’ dietary requirements and allergies

  • Encouraging repeat business by offering bespoke options

  • Sharing menu items

  • Emphasising locally-sourced produce for guests who care about food provenance

Post visit, your marketing team could then invite guests to a new menu launch, or to attend exclusive events, from celebrity-guest performance nights to the opening of outdoor dining in a redesigned garden. 

For more sophisticated data analysis, there are dozens of inexpensive technology platforms which offer specialist solutions integrating multiple systems, from booking data capture, enquiries and EPOS (electronic point of sale), to loyalty schemes, and bringing them together in a single dashboard. Data and feedback can also be repurposed via social media and online reviews that you can leverage, leading to truly personalised guest experiences. Over time, you’ll establish quality relationships with guests who will feel welcome in your establishment by having their unique preferences appreciated. 

Without doubt, the restaurant industry is transforming, and competition is more intense than ever before. The ‘winning’ restaurant brands will be those that understand their guests, improve their design to reflect their brand or theme, capitalise on digital technology and analytics, and seize the opportunity to engage customers in a highly personalised way. The solution, as my book sets out, is bespoke. 

Bon app-etite

Ordering takeaway food online has been a firmly established practice for a few years, but with the rise of Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat, restaurants are tapping into the market where customers can enjoy their favourite food in the comfort of their own home. 

App-based food delivery platforms are steadily on the increase, and more enter the market each year. Their presence is forcing restaurants to change their approach, particularly with regard to in-house ordering apps. These branded smartphone-ready programs are the perfect opportunity for guests to customise their orders, as well as access loyalty schemes and offers while sitting at the bar, waiting for pre-dinner drinks. 

Technology such as this keeps the customer informed and able to monitor their wait times, especially in popular and busy restaurants. Apps also provide time-friendly ordering solutions, allowing guests to order food and drink from their tables, thus reducing waiting staff overheads, eliminating human error and cutting down waiting time. Brands such as Wetherspoon’s have adopted this approach, and Pizza Express’s app offers exclusive discounts and allows customers to book a table or order takeaways.

 More pragmatically, brands are developing apps that double up as payment portals. Once a customer has registered their payment information, they can then use the app to pay their bill. Surprisingly, the leading payment app across all trading sectors is one developed by Starbucks, which is now more popular than its nearest rival, Apple Pay. One of the biggest advantages of the Starbucks app, according to Harvard Business School, is that its generous in-built reward system links to its loyalty card with instant rewards added from the time of purchase. This immediately creates an uplift in sales. As of August 2017, rewards members represented approximately 18% of Starbucks’s 75 million customers and drove 36% of its sales. 

However, a word of caution. As the hospitality industry explores app technology, its overall effectiveness has yet to be analysed in detail, sector by sector. Early indications show that the popularity of delivery apps, coupled with the usual restaurant footfall, is seeing some kitchens struggling to cope. In response, some popular high-street chains are establishing ‘ghost restaurants’ built solely to fulfil delivery demands. 

The patterns show that customers like using this technology, suggesting that in time many won’t feel the need to leave the house at all if restaurant food can be delivered to their doors. As a restaurant owner, if you’re incorporating apps as part of your customer experience, you’ll need to think carefully about how you’ll adapt and deal with these possibilities in the future. 

On a more positive note, combining delivery apps with local pop-up kitchens will allow smaller brands to test the waters in reaching customers further afield. At the same time, it will give the app an element of exclusivity that will help draw customers and keep the cuisine on offer fresh. 

The above is an extract from Kamila Sitwell’s book “Bespoke. How to radically grow your bar and restaurant business through personalisation”. For more analysis and insights on how to respond in the competitive, changing world of hospitality by creating experiences, Bespoke will help raise the restaurateur’s game providing fresh insights needed to steer a course to customer delight, loyalty and ultimately business success.