Just because technology makes it possible doesn’t mean we must use it, especially if it reduces and not enhance the customer experience.
I spent my early primary school years in the backroom of my family’s Vietnamese restaurant. I watched as my older sisters and brothers waited on
customers. When they weren’t, they were in the backroom washing dishes.
I watched my mother run a one-woman open kitchen and my father doing all the administration. You could ring up to book a table or order take away. You could find us in the local Yellow Pages and that’s it. No such thing as a website or Internet for that matter.
The décor was whatever cheapest my father could find that resembled exotic Vietnam. But people loved my mother. With her very broken English, she would charm guests as they asked about the food. They could feel my mother’s love as she cooked their meals. Regulars were more like friends.
It was 100% old school family hospitality – giving generous warmth and hearty friendliness to guests. Showing that each guest mattered. ‘Guests’, not customers.
Times have changed.
Technology provided a means to socialise on mobile phones. Everyone became a critic. Everyone became a media broadcaster. Demand for the ‘now’ and convenience is never so strong. Was this when the blurring of guests and customers happened?
11 Trending Customer Technologies in Food Retail
While I yearn for old school hospitality I’m also a technology enthusiasts, especially if it can enhance the customer experience.
1. Mobile Ordering & Payment
Mobile website or app. Merged with other technology such as Augmented Reality.
2. Reward & Loyalty
Traditional platforms, mobile apps, bitcoin & blockchain.
3. Digital Wallet
Cashless payment. Merged with other technology such as proximity-based.
4. In-Store Kiosk Ordering
Probably the most high profile is McDonalds.
5. In-Store Digital Table Ordering
Usually via a tablet or mobile app.
6. Virtual Drive-Through
Uses location-based technology or beacons to alert staff when that customer is approaching.
7. Robotic Cooks
Ingredients are measured & machines systemise the cooking process. No humans involved in cooking.
8. Non-Human Servers
Food is dispensed. No human interaction with customers when serving the food through a vending machine or digital cubbyhole.
9. Automated Communications
Chatbots on the website or social media for customer service. Data triggered automated customer communications to communicate at the right time to the right customer via a customer database.
10. Driverless Drone Deliveries
Machines deliver food. No humans involved in food delivery.
11. Menu Innovation
Artificial Intelligence used to provide deep data to influence menu design, plating & portion control.
FOMO is Bad for Business
Fear Of Missing Out is not a reason to invest in technology. Jumping on board because it’s trending or because you have some loose change - unlikely!
I believe that marriage between hospitality and technology is in how the later enhances the human connection, how it enhances people experience. I don’t believe technology in food retail can replace human connections. If you have an in-store kiosk, it’s still appreciated to have a human nearby to assist with the new & enhanced experience.
Despite the times changing, at our core as humans we have pretty much stayed the same. We all yearn to be acknowledged, appreciated and remembered. We are all social creatures with an innate desire to connect.
The key is to understand at what stage of the customer journey do customers want that human connection? What stages are they accepting if it is not a human connecting with them but still feel acknowledged & appreciated?
Customer Technology Experience-Enhancing Guideline
If you’re a believer of using technology to enhance the customer experience, then you may find this guide useful:
1. Financial sense for the business
If it does not make financial sense then don’t use it. For example if you sell low priced items such as mainly coffee, then driving customers to pre order & transact on a mobile app to incur even more credit card fees, may not be a sensible decision.
2. Fits into your technology ecosystem
This may include existing systems & platforms such as: POS, booking platforms, e-commerce platforms (website, app, catering) and the likes. Systems integration should not a band-aid solution. Each piece of technology should be forward-thinking, open & enable cost-effective integration with other platforms.
Make sure the data intelligence from the new technology is adding to the existing business reporting structure.
3. Fits the brand & customers
If your brand is ‘artisan’ how will robotic cooks make sense to your customers? If your brand is ‘fresh’ & your food is dispensed out, will this be confusing? Ensure that the benefits of the technology make sense to your core customer groups.
4. Enhance the experience of a new customer
New customers do not know you, how you work or what you provide in detail. The new technology should be making it easier for customers to understand you – what you do, what you don’t do & how you are different from alternatives. Have humans & technology working side by side. You are being judged.
5. Enhance the experience of an existing customer
Don’t take them for granted just because they know you – what you do, what you don’t do & how you work. They can still leave, stay or refer.
The new technology should make buying & transacting even easier. Lastly, the new technology should be scaling your ability to show care – acknowledging, appreciating & remembering customers.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by QSR Media. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Previously the marketing director of Vietnamese chain Roll'd and cult burger brand Royal Stacks, a cult burger brand, Christina now helps food retailers, cafes and restaurants, to keep customers. She advocates for optimising existing customers to generate future profits. She is the Customer Retention Chief at Loyalty Tribe Marketing, a boutique-marketing agency that specialise in the food retail sector.