Technology: A brand-driver or necessary evil?

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Mobile and online services are a staple in today's world. Technology can improve the customer experience, as well as increase an operation's efficiency. Allowing your guests to view menus, place orders and read nutritional information while at home or on-the-go is paramount. But just because we can, should we always use digital technology? Is that what customers want? I'm a strong advocate for using technology to impact the customer experience and communicate the concept's brand messaging. However, I also believe that technology for the sake of technology is a waste of money.

Many establishments view technology as a necessary evil. It's something they need in order to maximize their throughput or maintain efficiencies. In essence, they need to spend money on technology just to make money. However, they're not using it to affect the customer experience.

If you're going to utilize technology in your operation, you can't do it halfway. You either need to ensure that it always works and make a commitment to use it as a brand touch point, or decide if you really need it at all. Technology should be used to meet or exceed the customer expectations. Otherwise it can be anything from unnecessary to plainly detrimental to your brand.

Mobile banking

Think back on your experiences with mobile banking and ATMs over the past year. How many times did you run into problems? Chances are, you didn't have many. I can't believe I'm saying the restaurant industry should learn from banking — but those systems have been intentionally designed to provide a seamless customer experience without glitches. Now compare that to placing online orders or navigating a restaurant's website. These online platforms can be inefficient and don't always function properly. The difference is typically clear; banks have been able to master the digital world of their business, where the restaurant industry is often lacking.

Why does this disconnect occur? The answer lies in the organization's perspective and approach. Banks recognize that digital technology is the primary brand touchpoint for the majority of their customers. Mobile banking often defines a person's connection and experience with the bank. It's no longer just an extension of their business — it is their business. On the other hand, restaurants don't often view online services as a true brand touchpoint. However, this perception is changing throughout the industry because these are the experiences that customers remember, especially Millennials. So, if you're going to offer these mobile and online options, they need to work and properly communicate your brand message. In our mobile-heavy world, you want everything to reflect a consistent brand message. If used efficiently, they can improve brand value.

Menu boards

Digital signage and menu boards are another way that restaurants are incorporating technology into their spaces. These can be useful for concepts that change their offerings frequently, either through different seasons or over multiple day parts. However, it's important to remember the basics of good menu-board design when switching to digital alternatives. Just because it's new technology doesn't mean you can abandon the tried-and-true principles of legibility, perception and how to hold a person's attention long enough for them to easily scan the menu and cull it down to two or three options.

The idea of a menu board is to communicate information and make the transaction process more efficient. If digital technology enables you to do this, then it can be a great tool in your space. However, when changing slides and scrolling images are introduced, the diner can struggle to understand the offerings. Don't let the innovation of digital menu boards become a distraction. Technology should be used to improve the customer experience — not take away from your operation.

POS systems

Interactive digital POS screens scan provide your employees with important information and improve order accuracy. Technology allows you to master ordering times and throughput better than its paper alternative. Tickets will stay in the queue until they are completed, and the technology can change the order status based on target delivery times. Many concepts have this feature, but they aren't using it to its full potential. If a customer's order enters the red zone and they have been waiting for an extended amount of time, simply doing something about it resonates with the guests and makes an impact. For example, one quick serve concept uses this technology to deliver exceptional customer service. When an order goes red, a notification is sent to the manager, who then personally apologizes and compensates the customer for their wait. This is using the technology to truly make a difference.

Relevant messaging

Finally, entering the digital world provides a huge opportunity for restaurateurs to track information about their guest's purchasing habits. You can now use loyalty programs, purchase information, online orders or mobile app profiles to gather information. From there, you can provide customers with offers and information based on what they are actually interested in. However, restaurants just aren't doing this.

For example, I'm an avid coffee lover. I like good quality coffee and I like it black. I’ve been visiting a coffee chain on a weekly basis for years, and approximately 90 percent of my purchases have been their reserve coffees. Ever since I downloaded their mobile app, I've been getting notifications — for specials on lattes and music downloads! I've never even tried a latte, and my 12-year-old daughter knows more about my iTunes music collection than I do. Yet I continue to receive, and subsequently delete, these notifications, which are no more than a nuisance. However, if they were to send me information or specials on their fair-trade coffee from Costa Rica, I would make another trip to their store that day!

Overall, if you're going to use technology in your restaurant, you need to be relevant and ensure the technology and brand messaging is on point. Only then can you truly improve your customer experience and make it count.

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