Technology is playing a big role in providing a robust digital customer experience.
Today’s restaurant consumer is a digital consumer, expecting a seamless, enjoyable and rewarding digital dining experience from the moment they tap an app to place an order to reviewing loyalty rewards and communicating with a brand.
Meeting the digital consumer’s expectations and demands is all about providing and extending hospitality.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary first definition of hospitality is hospital treatment, reception or disposition. But the second definition ties directly to the restaurant environment: the activity or business of providing services to guests in hotels, restaurants, bars etc.
In simplest terms, hospitality to the digital customer should be viewed, and treated, as the same as hospitality to the dine-in customer.
Yet, making that happen requires a different strategy, process and technology, all of which was the focus of a panel talk, “Extending Hospitality to the Digital Customer,” at the recent annual three-day Fast Casual Executive Summit.
The summit is one of several industry events organized by Networld Media Group, the parent company of Fastcasual, Pizza Marketplace and QSRweb. The media company’s next event is the Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit being held March 20-23, 2023, in Coral Gables, Florida.
The panel was sponsored by Koala Inc., a guest experience platform in play with over 30 brands across 4,000 locations. Brett Spiegel, co-founder and COO at Koala moderated the session.
Panel participants were Seth Cohen, president and co-founder of Sweetfin, a California-inspired poke and plant-based bowl concept; Adam Griffith, VP of IT at Original ChopShop and Jane McPherson, SVP of marketing for Capriotti’s and Wing Zone. Las Vegas-based Capriotti’s, acquired Wing Zone in 2021. In November Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop and Wing Zone signed its first international franchise deal, a 50-unit agreement with Village Food Courts to expand the brands to the Republic of India.
Shifting consumer behavior
“We all know there are changing demographics, there is shifting consumer behavior super charged by the pandemic and what that provides is an opportunity for brands who have a strong digital commerce strategy. With hospitality at the center of everything, [the question is] how do we provide hospitable experiences to those customers who will only interact with us online,” said Spiegel in kicking off the panel talk.
Today’s digital customer experience, said Spiegel, is just about an order transaction on an app. Digital consumers are tapping websites, using QSR codes and kiosks to place orders and communicating to a brand via chat, email and even tweets.
“It’s that holistic digital ecosystem and our panelist are all using different technologies but with same goal in mind – they are aligned on the same mission, which is to provide phenomenal experiences to customers, to drive higher guest satisfaction which leads to more orders and better revenue.”
The holistic digital ecosystem at Sweetfin, which has 16 locations and sees 60% of orders arriving via a digital channel, is using a mix of technology platforms and tools for the ordering aspect and its loyalty platform.
“There is a lot of talk about getting as much as possible first party data so when we were going out to select our loyalty provider and online ordering provider we wanted ot make sure the digital experience mimicked the in-store experience as much as possible in terms of it being easy, efficient for guest to use,” said Cohen, adding that loyalty rewards are connected via credit card linkage the brand can track in both the digital and physical worlds.
The technology and strategy changes have brought a huge increase in loyalty signups and a decision to eliminate the anonymous guest option has propelled a 10-fold jump in loyal members who had been inactive for over a year, he said.
“It’s literally been a massive improvement in creating a giant funnel of customer acquisition and being able to build a relationship with our guests in the digital world which we weren’t able to do before.”
ChopShop, which operates 17 units, took the same approach to eliminating anonymous guest checkout and now every online guest is part of its loyalty program as well.
“So we have that funnel of guest information coming into our CRM and we’re able to directly market to them,” said Griffith. The brand had online ordering in play since 2018 and when the pandemic hit it used third-party services for online orders but also deployed an internal driver management app which greatly improved the experience.
“We saw great improvement in our delivery, and it was a great way to keep our teams engaged and our guest experience moving forward,” said Griffith.
Capriotti’s, which has 150 unites, and Wing Zone, which has 50 units, were in a very similar setting before the pandemic arrived, said McPherson, as the brands already had tech stacks in play and deployed Koala in 2021. The stack features several technology platforms, some that had been in play with Wing Zone before the acquisition and currently have three different POS systems running.
In deploying technology the brands have a strong testing strategy. When it launched Koala at Capriotti’s it tested the system in 30 stores, then rolled it out to 80 more.
“We roll out in controlled groups to make sure investment was really driving the ROI,” said McPherson, adding that the technology has greatly boosted efficiency for both the brands and their customers.
“We went from 16 clicks to six clicks in the online order process. We were able to bring down all the requirements to get the consumer through the ordering experience much more efficiently,” she said.
The return-in-investment has been strong as both the check average and the conversion rate increased, 5% and 3% respectively.
“We have tested hundreds and hundreds of other things but that [Koala] is one we invested in and stuck with,” she said.
Judy Mottl is editor of Retail Customer Experience and Food Truck Operator. She has decades of experience as a reporter, writer and editor covering technology and business for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews.