SMS alerts and other SMS back-end technologies can help restaurants succeed by: utilizing messaging and notifications; integrating a back-end chatbot system and supporting API payments and digital transactions.
Though the pandemic, and the effects therein, are largely in the rearview for most of the restaurant/QSR industry, there is one lingering after-shock: staffing shortages. According to the National Restaurant Association and its 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry report, approximately half of restaurant operators expect that recruiting and retaining workers will be their biggest challenge this year. Seven out of 10 operators reported not having enough employees to support customer demand at their restaurants, and the majority said they don’t anticipate the labor situation to improve within the next calendar year.
Naturally, these ongoing labor shortages have impacted the restaurant industry in many ways; this includes shifting away from a dining-in model to a delivery-based one, cutting operating hours (e.g., dinner is served for three hours instead of five) and the overall crunch on independent restaurateurs and establishments. However, a little talked about impact is one specific to QSRs: the increase in drive-through wait times. In fact, According to a USA Today report, in 2021, drive-through customers waited an average of six minutes, 22 seconds — in comparison to five minutes, 57 seconds in 2020. That’s an 11% increase.
In addition, inflation is continuing to rise, with both limited-service and full-service restaurants having raised prices by at least 7% over the past year. The prices of groceries have increased at a similar rate, impacting what consumers will pay whether they stay home or go out to eat. With all of this in mind, customer frustrations could easily increase, ultimately putting repeat visits and brand loyalty in question. So, what can fast food and quick-service restaurants do to ensure they’re meeting their customer’s expectations in a timely way?
One tried and true tactic that QSR companies can implement to better their customer service and experience, particularly while they’re low on staff, is using SMS alerts and other SMS back-end technologies in support. These tactics include:
- Utilizing messaging and notifications.QSR and fast-food service are distinctly different from more formal restaurants for a variety of reasons, but a main differentiator lies in the timing. One of the key reasons consumers frequent QSR establishments is their “in and out” nature, but all that movement in a short period of time can create timing headaches. To that end, messaging and notifications capabilities allow employees to be in constant contact with customers, thereby increasing the odds that they get their food while it’s hot… literally. Sending a quick text letting a preorder know their order will be ready in 5 minutes and that they should leave their location, can make all the difference in a happy, informed customer.
- Integrating a back-end chatbot system. As we move further into the digital age, website and app communications aren’t only for the enterprise, but for all. The integration of a back-end chatbot system is a key way to communicate with customers interactively and handle queries in an organized and efficient fashion. As it relates to a QSR, this kind of communication will likely be completed via an app where a customer is looking to order or has already ordered for delivery or pickup, and has a question related to it. The QSR will then be able to address automatically via the chatbot and elevate the query if needed.
- Supporting API payments and digital transactions. Long gone are the days of cash as a commodity; the ability to pre-pay via stored credit card prior to pick-up is now front and center on the QSR menu. But even further, the ability to pay via chat or text is becoming an increasingly popular option. For example, using a payment link in chat, the customer simply receives a link, clicks on it and enters their credit card information, and clicks to pay. This means no extra downloading of apps, opening tabs, or waiting in a queue at a restaurant to pay, improving the customer experience tenfold. Chat Commerce capabilities can serve this need.
As consumer expectations continue to climb and labor market issues persist, QSRs need to lean on tech for a helping hand. With 30% of consumers still uncomfortable dining indoors due to fears that COVID-19 is still a real and pressing danger regardless of the reduction in the number of cases and deaths reported, QSRs have the opportunity to grow profits.
The pandemic forced many new habits of ordering online and enjoying meals at home and QSRs are in the perfect position to meet the needs of this consumer set as they likely prefer to grab a bite from their local drive-through. In addition, with many individuals returning to work and children returning to extra circular activities in person, there will likely be an increase in consumers looking for a quick on-the-go bite. Making online ordering options just as crucial today as it was in April of 2020.
To convert these consumers into loyal customers, QSRs must have a superb customer experience that doesn’t interfere with their hectic schedules and leave them feeling rushed and unsatisfied. Through streamlining communications with hungry customers and making the process as convenient as possible, QSRs can overcome the challenges impacting the industry and potentially surpass previous profit margins.
Andreas Suma is passionate about how technology and consumer behavior drive innovative customer experiences. He is instrumental in introducing new chat channels at Clickatell that change the way customers engage with brands. Having lived and worked in over 26 countries, today he focuses on core markets, including the US, Canada, Brazil, and Mexico, and works with large enterprises.