Adding empathy to the entrée, digitally

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Gone are the days when an impromptu stop at the neighborhood burger joint just meant satisfying a hunger pang or meeting up with friends.

Instead, for the foreseeable future, such a visit will entail a checklist of masks and sanitizers and thinking twice whether this visit is really worth a potential health issue.

What restaurants, specifically QSRs, around the world will have to gain back after this pandemic, is customer trust. Restaurants will have to not only be able to serve customers their favorite sub or pizza again, but more importantly, provide the experience of an environment that is safe and distance compliant – mainly from touch.

Touchless technologies are not new but they have not gained much traction in the food industry, mainly because rapid service – be it in food delivery or billing – was the main selling proposition and organizations took precedence in investing in technologies which enabled that. With “contactless” becoming the new safety buzzword, the food service industry is going to have to shift  investments to retain what is arguably one of the most “social” settings, using technology.

Winning customer trust with no-touch technologies

Let’s have a quick look at the potential touch points at a restaurant or QSR: doors/elevators, menu cards, furniture, cutlery, and payment devices. While it is a given that all surfaces would be wiped down with sanitizers between customers, touchless technologies – voice based, facial recognition, EVM, mobile apps and wallets – can play a big part in ensuring a zero-contact service, both at in service and drive through or curb-side pick-ups – without compromising speed.

Mobile phones are emerging as a key enabler for a range of transactions as consumers grow increasingly cautious of touching publicly shared interfaces. We’ve found that 66% of consumers prefer to use mobile apps at physical locations instead of touch-based alternatives and 62% would prefer to continue so even after the pandemic subsides.

Paradoxically to the distancing, mobile apps have the potential to actually bring the customer closer to the service through a host of benefits, including ordering online or pre-ordering to avoid wait time, paying through a virtual wallet, and offering loyalty credits or discount coupons, thereby adding a whole new dimension to an elevated customer experience. Needless to say, great customer experience runs parallel with good food in retaining customer loyalties, keeping the revenue curve up.

The “no-touch” capabilities of voice interfaces and facial recognition technologies provide unique opportunities for various industries to engage with consumers in physical locations. Such technologies can and have also enhanced the required “hands-off” customer expectations in the food dine-in and delivery sectors. McDonalds announced the introduction of voice recognition for drive-through orders well before the pandemic and is continuing to. Starbucks, for example, when it recently re-opened some stores in the US, emphasized the availability of voice-based ordering. In China, voice-enabled elevators equipped with smart speakers are eliminating the need to touch the buttons.

Leverage data to improve the customer experience

QSRs and restaurant organizations need to jump onto the contactless technologies’ bandwagon sooner rather than later, but they should adopt a designed and planned approach in doing so. With constant change and disruptive thinking becoming the new business paradigms, organizations need to adopt iterative approaches to offer continually better consumer experiences with touchless interfaces. Having or implementing data-driven analytics and insights-based initiatives is critical to understanding changing customer behaviors and expectations, and successfully implementing applications to address the new challenges.

Data privacy and security should be an integral part of the applications design in addition to developing and sharing guidelines to help customers use mobile apps securely.

A brave new world

Though technology and rapid innovations can easily address and enable solutions for the new no- contact world, the driving factor behind bringing back the now cautious customers will need to be a far more contextual and humanitarian emotion – empathy. By putting the customer before revenues, organizations can better engage and evolve with customer expectations, thereby ensuring a closer connection and a foray together into this brave new world.

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