In the past two years, both the hospitality and food service industries have arrived at their first true watershed moment of the new decade. A bold claim, but the very dynamic between customer and establishment has irrevocably changed. The once transactional and formulaic relationship between the service provider and the client has given way to something far more organic: personalisation and true customer engagement.
Today, we're going to take an in-depth look at the changing face of the industry, with a specific focus on customer engagement as an engine for growth. We'll trace how we got to this uniquely digital moment and explain why that moment is more than just a simple, passing trend before giving you some tips, tricks, and best practices to properly foster customer engagement in your establishment. But first, some industry-specific nomenclature.
What constitutes engagement, exactly?
Before we dive into a deeper discussion about the important role that customer engagement plays in the modern cafe, eatery, or other food service venue, it's worth defining what customer engagement means and, more importantly, what it looks like in the client's eyes.
In short, customer engagement is any activity or business practice that brings the company's values in line with its clientele's values. Engagement entails all the policies, procedures, and practices that a business employs for the sake of fostering deeper and more valuable relationships with its customer base. Engagement also involves promoting your brand to the community at large.
On paper, engagement may be all about relationship building, but what does it look like in practice? Engagement-building activities include:
- A company's general marketing efforts
- Mission statements and branding that align with core customer demographics
- Specialised discounts, incentives, and offers
- Retention and loyalty offers
- A personalised customer experience
Each of these programs, marketing techniques, and corporate values contribute to the mosaic that is customer engagement. In the next section, we'll take a look at how we've arrived at this singular point in industry history, including factors that have helped usher in the era of personalisation and the augmented customer experience.
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The path to engagement and personalisation
We already know that customer expectations, especially in the food service/ hospitality sector, have changed radically over the last few years. The question is, "How did we get here?" The short answer? A perfect storm of factors compelled us forward.
Up until the first quarter of 2020, the global dining experience was stuck in a rut. Interactions between the wait staff and the customer were static and formulaic. But then, a confluence of factors –led by the COVID-19 pandemic– came along and essentially flipped the script. Add to that historic disruptions to the global supply chain, sweeping worker shortages, and now surging inflation, and you've got a chaotic environment just screaming for change.
Due to the fallout from the pandemic, customers began craving a contactless and frictionless dining experience. According to a Deloitte survey conducted in 2021, mid-pandemic, a sizeable 57% of global consumers preferred ordering takeout or delivery using a digital method (app, QR code menu, etc.). Even more striking, 64% preferred digital ordering methods while in the restaurant itself.
In a radically different world where safety, security, and hygiene matter at an exponential rate, the food service industry finds itself in a purely transformative state. Even as pandemic protocols relax –or even cease– the industry shows no signs of reverting back to "the old way."
In the next section, we'll take a look at why this novel approach to customer engagement looks like it's here to stay.
Customer engagement as a way of life
The future is now. The sooner that food service and hospitality professionals accept that fact, the easier it will be for the industry as a whole to move forward. This is a good thing; personalisation and customer engagement are more than just a trend. They've become an industry standard.
In fact, a recent McKinsey survey found that more than 80% of consumers across all retail sectors desire a personalised approach from the brands that they patronise. Additionally, Small Biz Trends found that more than 71% of consumers show a decided preference for companies that align directly with client values. On a more granular scale, the average global citizen wants to do business with companies that they consider to be both politically and socially in sync with their values.
Personalisation has become so integral to the modern dining experience that it may very well be the deciding factor for many customers in terms of giving repeat business versus taking flight to a competitor. It should be noted that your customers might not even be aware of how important personalisation is to them, but when it's absent –or worse, done wrong– it's a big deal for your bottom line. In other words, personalisation and customer engagement have become load-bearing pillars for the industry as a whole.
How can the hospitality industry properly integrate a sense of engagement?
Customer engagement is the lifeblood of an industry in flux, one hit especially hard by the societal upheaval of the past three years. Given that customer engagement is such a necessity for the food and hospitality industry's modern iteration, what can entrepreneurs, owners, and other industry professionals do to better foster a sense of engagement amongst their clientele? Let's close out our discussion with the best tips and tricks available from industry luminaries and trailblazers.
The single biggest source of engagement comes from providing a superior customer experience. In today’s world, the customer experience is both contactless and frictionless. It pays to give the customers what they want. In this case, tech such as paperless QR code menus complete with ordering and payment functions can help to satisfy the modern diner.
Technology like this will help you create a new dynamic in-house. Customers are free to set the pace of their meals themselves. They are no longer beholden to your waitstaff for simple, transactional requests such as ordering dinner and drinks. This creates a more simple and enjoyable dining experience, especially satisfying to younger demographics such as Generation Z.
In the last few years, takeout and delivery options have surged as services like GrubHub and UberEats became commonplace. Even as pandemic precautions eased, takeout and delivery options have still maintained a sizeable market presence. The point? Make sure to invest in the off-site experience as well to increase your venue's bottom line.
Customer engagement isn't just about the dining experience itself; it's also about the retention strategies that you employ to keep your customers coming back, time and again. Customer relationship management (CRM) software allows your organisation to cull valuable customer data from each transaction.
Every time a customer scans your menu, places an order, and tenders a payment, the CRM will catalogue that information, organising it and making it possible to run effective campaigns. From there, entrepreneurs and business owners can generate bespoke and actionable reports in real time. This deep level of analytics will help you craft marketing assets as well as retention and loyalty programs.
Customer engagement moves us forward
The world has changed and the hospitality/food service sector is no exception. After a period of pronounced social and economic upheaval, a leaner, meaner, more customer-centric industry has emerged. Through technology, business owners have discovered ways to boost their customer engagement with a more personalised, digital experience. For more information on digital transformation and customer engagement, visit Mr Yum today.