Restaurants Use Big Data to Serve Up Better Customer Experiences

by Jack Lynch

The key to better customer experience is personalization, and the key to better personalization is user data. Now that we have largely figured out HOW to collect data, the challenge in the coming years will be what do we do with it. Currently, the restaurant industry is starting to find ways to put data to good use.

It’s not hard to understand how a QSR can use data to determine the success of a promotion or discount, but what are some ways they can move beyond an interaction-focused CX to one in which the customer truly feels special?

Let’s start by breaking the category down to see how data can benefit personalization efforts in three tried-and-true segments.

Fine Dining
Fine dining paved the way for customer experience in the restaurant space. Regular customers got the star treatment. The servers recognize them, remember their names, their favorite cocktail, maybe even the special entree they had a year ago that made its way back on the menu. While this model has created a slew of successful restaurateurs and millions of satisfied customers, it still has room to be improved upon with data.

What if we took the personalization that comes from one-on-one interactions and enhanced it with little details that really make an experience? By using data from sources like OpenTable or NoWait, even first-time customers can get that special treatment that creates a loyal customer. Hosts expecting their arrival can alert valet to be ready, and greet them by name on entry.

Maybe the restaurant shares the same POS system as other fine dining establishments and servers and bartenders can use past order data tied to purchases in order to inform suggestions from the menu. In the end, it’s all about gleaning as much information from past experiences to make the next one feel even more intimate.

Casual Dining
While it can be argued that regular customers in casual dining establishments can also receive the same warm welcomes and personal touches that earn loyalty, the staff turnover rate is much higher than fine dining, so the likelihood of a long-term relationship is slim.

Some of the same methods used in fine dining can be used to punch up the experience in casual settings, but the laid-back atmosphere provides even more opportunity for data and technology to assist brands in reeling in more customer satisfaction. We are already seeing data analytics being used in casual dining settings with things like on-table iPads and tablets. With those, customers can directly place orders, play games, or explore promotions—all without having to interact with a server much at all. It’s getting success at places like Chili’s restaurants. Still, I think we can do better.

Taking a page out of T3’s modern loyalty playbook can go a long way in this segment. Using a digital check-in system tied to a POS system, linked to a user’s loyalty account can track frequency, orders and satisfaction, plus tons of information for more specific testing when the need or desire arises.

Just think how many valuable Yelp stars can be earned simply by anticipating individual customer preferences. Isn’t that the million dollar problem, anyway? Being able to do exactly what the customer wants or expects without them having to tell you?

QSR and Fast Casual
Perhaps the segment with the most to gain from data is the QSR category. Customers visiting these restaurants order at the counter and seat themselves, often carrying their own food as well. The business model is all about efficiency, and so is most of the technology they use. Using data to improve time spent placing an order or checking out will give customers confidence in a restaurant’s speed and service. While you can almost guarantee no one will remember your name, they will definitely be able to take, make, and deliver your order with more precision in less time.

There are already some fantastic examples of QSRs innovating their segment. The ability to order and pay in advance on a restaurant’s app, then simply pick up your order with no human interaction can be a huge time-saver for those on tight schedules. The high frequency of transactions in QSR outlets can power the implementation of modern loyalty more than any other segment in the category. Using digital rewards apps and integrated POS systems can provide more incentive for more customers to earn discounts on the exact items they want, in their moment of need. That said, we know we can still do better.

QSR is built around fast ticket turnovers. I think there’s a huge opportunity here for a restaurant to insert itself into less-expected digital environments and see a positive result. Here’s what I mean: Let’s say you’re a huge Cubs fan (I am), and you also love to eat pretzels while enjoying the game (as I do). Now, we know when the games are going to be, and we know your favorite pretzels are from Auntie Anne’s (mine, too), so anytime your team is playing, Auntie Anne’s can push a deal a day ahead, an hour ahead or at the minute of first pitch to entice you to cater some hot, delicious pretzel dogs before you Fly the W. Now that’s personalization!

Now that data is so widely available and actionable, restaurants across the category have more opportunity to drive true customer loyalty through improved experiences. As modern loyalty evolves and becomes an expectation of consumers, data will become more and more important in personalizing customer experiences and staying ahead of competition.

Jack Lynch

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