It used to be that customers went to a restaurant for dinner, enjoyed their meal, and left without a second thought. Now, digital technology is changing how restaurants connect with customers and opening the door for big advances in customer experience.
Using digital communications to improve the online and in-restaurant experience gives brands more opportunities to get to know their customers and to provide a more personalized experience.
Stephanie Perdue, CMO at TGI Fridays, compares it to fine dining restaurants that know their guests and why they are in the restaurant and then caters to the occasion, whether it’s a birthday dinner with friends or a romantic date. With the wealth of data available to restaurants today, brands can know why customers are dining and what they are looking for in an experience. Innovation is in the DNA at Fridays, and the restaurant is constantly looking for ways to evolve the brand to match customer trends and technology.
Much of the digital improvement comes from connecting disparate data points. Fridays has a wealth of data from customers, both online and in-store, but the challenge is connecting the data and providing it to servers to create real-time, tailored experiences. Imagine if the data could show that a certain customer always purchases a certain type of cocktail, was celebrating a friend’s birthday and prefers to be seated in a booth. The server could take the information and deliver an amazing experience to help Fridays stand out from other restaurants. The company is currently testing a variety of technology to turn that dream into a reality.
Data also extends to rewards programs. Fridays was a pioneer for restaurant loyalty programs and is constantly evolving its approach to meet customers needs. By using data and digital technology, Fridays is able to connect customer data for its rewards customers to provide personalized offers and recommendations. Instead of the traditional “earn and burn” program, Perdue says the company is looking to use the rewards program to provide more opportunities to engage with customers. Even something as simple as giving a rewards customer offers for items they already buy can be incredibly effective. If a customer always buys appetizers but never dessert, offering a deal on appetizers is much more effective than a once-size-fits-all offer on dessert.
A big trend for TGI Fridays has been using digital to grow its to-go and at-home dining options. Data has shown that customers want great food from their favorite restaurants without actually having to go sit and wait in the restaurant. TGI Fridays invested heavily in its delivery and to-go ordering business and doubled it in the last six months. Digital is a communication point that makes traditionally brick-and-mortar restaurants accessible for at-home customers.
Expanding the to-go service not only opens the door to a wave of new guests, but it also allows the restaurant to understand the needs of its customers and track their trends and purchases. Perdue says it is important to be where the customers are. Fridays allows customers to place orders via Facebook, GM OnStar or Amazon Alexa, which makes it convenient to order great food from wherever they are.
Going forward, the biggest trends in the constantly evolving restaurant industry will be using data to connect the online and in-restaurant experiences and engaging customers after they dine. Taking advantage of digital trends and technology can help restaurants like TGI Fridays stay ahead of the curve.
Business leaders and executives would all agree that today’s customer experience has to be personalized, convenient, fast and right every time. But how many of them actually know what the experience is like for their customers? Are they aware of hold times, connection delays or other issues?
Customer experience is one of the defining characteristics of today’s brands. But too many brands measure things reactively instead of taking advantage of technology to proactively understand and address issues. The majority of brands rely on surveys and find out about issues after the fact instead of using technology to prevent issues and catch them before they grow.
Alok Kulkarni, CEO of Cyara, a cloud-based solution that looks at customer experience from the outside in, says it is important for executives and CX leaders to put themselves in their customers’ shoes to really understand the experience. If they wouldn’t want to go through something themselves, they shouldn’t make their customers do it. By using an early warning system to find integration breakpoints and system flaws, companies can take a proactive approach to solve problems before the customer experience is impacted. Rather than relying on employee feedback and stories that are hard to substantiate, a digital CX solution allows brands to perform systemic audits to get data about issues and potential pitfalls.
Kulkarni shares the example of a large bank that launched a new call recording solution for customers just before the entire team left on Christmas vacation. When the vice president of customer care returned after the holidays, expecting to hear how well the solution was working, he was surprised that more than half of call center agents reported that customers couldn’t hear them on the phone. Customers were frustrated, and the bank’s net promoter score took a nosedive. The entire team had to come back from vacation early to address the issue, which could have easily been prevented with an early detection system that showed the audio wasn’t going through. Instead of having to play catchup and solve the problem later, CX technology could have pointed out the issue before the system went live.
Digital is also a powerful tool in customer experience monitoring. Monitoring from the outside is like a canary in a coal mine compared to finding out what happened after the event when it is too late to solve the problem. NPS and customer satisfaction scores are useful in tracking customer experience, but they don’t tell the whole story and are rear-facing instead of proactively seeking digital feedback in real time. The new metric is operational customer experience, or OCX, which objectively tracks scores for things like call success rates, connection times and hold times.
This is just the beginning—customer experience technology will continue to play a huge role in the future. Kulkarni expects an explosion of AI that will lead to more conversational bots. Customers are expecting more human-like conversations through technology, and a conversational AI boom is right around the corner.
A connected digital journey that seamlessly takes customers from an AI bot to an actual human can help provide timely responses. Kulkarni predicts that connected journeys will be a key battleground in the future of customer experience. An omnichannel strategy allows companies to use digital to solve customer problems on their first contact with the organization.
As experience becomes more important than product or even price, brands need to make customer experience their top priority. In today’s battleground, brands need to arm themselves with a digital solution that puts customers first.
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When you think of great stories, you probably think of things you connected with emotionally. Sweeping images and great characters and locations instead of rational content and lists of facts.
That concept is followed by Tourism Australia, where Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Ronson says companies shouldn’t be overly rational with customers. It’s a common trap for many brands to over-explain things to customers. Consumers are surrounded by so much noise in today’s busy world—the best way to cut through the noise and make an emotional connection is to ignore being rational. Ronson says the best storytelling is grounded in what people know, but then moves forward. People can’t connect emotionally to a list of facts. After all, an emotional connection, not a rational explanation, is what drives us to change our behavior.
Tourism Australia followed that idea with its Super Bowl commercial that re-created a fake Crocodile Dundee movie trailer with Chris Hemsworth and Danny McBride. By tapping into a sense of nostalgia and fun, it was able to relate with customers on a different level and build an emotional connection with Australia.
Instead of embarking on a massive campaign, Ronson and her team focused on quality over quantity and decided to do fewer things but to make them more compelling and really reach out to customers to create an emotional connection. The main idea was fewer, bigger, better. It’s a stark contrast from many marketing efforts that aim to be louder and flashier than the competition, but it paid off for Tourism Australia and made their commercial the most watched from the Super Bowl.
In order to be effective storytellers, Ronson also says that organizations need to look at who they are targeting. The most effective organizations target their audience based on attitudes and behaviors instead of demographics. Attitude is a much better indicator of consumer behavior, which is why Tourism Australia focuses on high-value global travelers instead of one particular demographic.
Focusing on attitudes and behaviors helps marketers better understand changing customer trends. Today’s customers want genuine, unique experiences. They want to be able to connect with people around the world, especially as they travel. Part of the reason Ronson believes the Super Bowl commercial was so effective was because it highlighted the down-to-earth and welcoming nature of the Australian people instead of just listing reasons Australia is a good place to visit.
No matter the story we tell, Ronson sums it up correctly by saying we’re all human. There is always something that connects us emotionally, and it’s up to marketers and storytellers to find out what that is.
When it comes to understanding customer satisfaction, it’s best to go straight to the source: the customers themselves. Perhaps no one does that better than the American Customer Satisfaction Index, a research groups that looks at more than four dozen industries to find out what customers are buying and how satisfied they are with their experiences.
ACSI’s data covers all major consumer industries. With data from the last 20-plus years, the organization can see how trends and technology impact overall customer satisfaction. The biggest trend in retail for 2018 is the continued growth of online retailers and the struggle of traditional big-box retailers, said ACSI Managing Director David VanAmburg.
Brick-and-mortar stores have been struggling for quite some time, especially as online stores like Amazon and Walmart continue to grow. However, the struggle has been bigger in the past year compared to the previous three to four years. It’s even harder for specialty mall stores like Gap to find their footing with customers. Customers just aren’t shopping in malls as much anymore, which means many of these stores have had to focus on their online presence.
A great example of that is Nordstrom, which is doing better than many other department stores. Nordstrom saw that the industry was changing a few years ago and pivoted to expand its web presence. The idea is to be where the customers are. Nordstrom realized many of its customers prefer shopping online, so it put more effort into its online experience. VanAmburg says one of the keys to a strong web shopping experience is navigation. It should be intuitive for customers to find what they want. There also has to be logistics to match—even a great website doesn’t create satisfied customers if the items or sizes they want aren’t in stock.
For modern customers, efficiency and convenience is crucial. That’s one of the reasons that supermarkets and drug stores are doing better than they were a year ago. As Amazon moves into the space with its Whole Foods acquisition, supermarkets have improved their marketing and found ways to offer competitive convenience. Even small changes to the look and flow of the store can improve efficiency and overall customer satisfaction. ACSI’s data has found that efficiency is the most important quality to customers. In a world where Amazon offers two-day shipping and instant in-store checkout, stores have to come up with creative ways to compete.
In order to get customer data that is useful, stores must focus on the entire customer experience. ACSI regularly asks customers about all of the elements of the shopping experience, from overall satisfaction to their expectations, prices, store location, employees, and merchandise. Customer satisfaction doesn’t some from one single area, but is the totality of the entire experience. Stores can use the same metrics to track their own internal progress and that of the competition.
Today’s world is data-driven, and customer satisfaction is no exception. In order to best serve customers and compete with the retail giants, stores across all industries need to understand customers and what they are looking for. With the help of ACSI and other internal data, retailers can stay ahead of the competition.