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A new breed of loyalty

Consumers have never had so much choice when eating and drinking out of home. Evolving palates, preferences and a curiosity for new and exciting experiences has driven innovation across the hospitality industry, creating a highly competitive playing field with a number of exceptional brands vying for market share. In this environment, cutting through the crowd, creating memorable moments and giving customers a reason to return to your venues has become an absolute must. Loyalty has never been more important.  

Driven by younger generations, society has experienced a number of significant cultural shifts in recent years, particularly concerning where people choose to spend their money. While still important, a product’s price is no longer the sole driver of purchasing decisions with other levers rising in prominence such as the purpose of a brand, its personality and values.

Within these shifting dynamics, driving loyalty has transitioned into much more than simply a stamp card offering rewards for repeat purchases. Businesses now have to engage with customers, forge meaningful relationships and give them a memorable experience that evokes positive emotions.

This is nothing new for our industry, which was forged on the premise of putting smiles on faces. However, with consumers’ ever-changing wants and needs and a culture that British consumers generally don’t like to complain in person, tracking the customer experience across a group of restaurants and driving loyalty has become a time-consuming and tricky task, which is why many operators have turned to technology. 

As with all areas of hospitality, utilising technology to streamline operations and gather meaningful insight from big data has become a key tool in managing a businesses’ reputation, generating powerful customer feedback and, ultimately, improving sales. Tracking and analysing reviews left via bespoke surveys or across social media and review platforms such as TripAdvisor and Facebook delivers significant quantities of robust insights on the “true” customer experience – something that simply wasn’t possible before.

The ability to quickly and easily extrapolate key themes based on specific dishes or the wider customer journey has given operators the insights needed to tweak their offering. It has also gifted marketers with powerful information to inform their campaigns and fundamentally understand what customers love about the brand and, just as importantly, what they would change.

A great example is when Las Iguanas was replacing one of its most popular dishes (Blazing Bird) with Copacabana Chicken. Within three days of the switch, data from our platform clearly showed customers wanted the original item back on the menu so Las Iguanas rapidly reverted. The speed they were able to identify customers’ reaction drastically minimised the impact it had on customer experience and limited any affect it would have had on those who visit Las Iguanas because they love that dish. Without the data, it would have taken considerably longer to notice – if at all.

However, the battle to drive loyalty isn’t confined to what goes down on the restaurant floor, these battles are being increasingly fought across social media and online communication platforms. This is home turf for all marketers and seeking and engaging those who comment about a restaurant, negatively as well as positively, is a key weapon in driving footfall.

Savvy businesses have seized the opportunity to humanise their brands and present a playful side through the medium of social media. In recent years, the trend of brands being controversial and trolling each other by news-hacking breaking stories has won many brands large numbers of new advocates. A great example was when Burger King jumped on a trending video of a lady stating she “would have to go to Burger King now” following the well-documented KFC shortage in 2018 by offering her free Burger King for a year.

While a lot of innovation and thought is placed on the tone and content of social channels, many are missing out on the opportunity to drive loyalty through engaging with feedback left via email, bespoke surveys or across review platforms such as TripAdvisor.

Crunching the numbers, the data from our platform tells us that the golden window for responding to a negative review, in order to positively influence opinion, is 48 hours. This might seem like a long time, but when you are receiving thousands of pieces of feedback a week, across many different platforms, ensuring that all feedback is captured and responded to is an incredibly time-consuming task.

Technology can help you capture all the feedback left across social media and review platforms as well as directly via online surveys or immediate post-meal feedback left on a tablet. The importance of engaging with and acknowledging customers who have had a sub-par experience shouldn’t be overlooked as they will not only have a negative impact on your online reputation but will also share their experience with friends and family.

Much of the innovation across our platform has been focused on this area so accountability can be devolved to site level for responding to posts, which automatically appear on the platforms and are assigned to individuals. Marketers at head office can then take a bird’s-eye view of all feedback from across the business and share best practice and approaches. 

Recognising and acknowledging those who have had a positive experience is as important as responding to negative feedback. A simple surprise and delight tactic for positive feedback can have a tangible impact on getting people back through the door and creating a perpetual cycle of positive endorsement.

While our market is incredibly competitive, it is driving up standards and innovation across the industry. Technology has revolutionised the majority of industries and hospitality is no different. The brands that win the battle for market share in the years to come will be the ones that harness the power of technology to focus on the customer and create exceptional experiences.

Carlo Platia is chief executive of Feed It Back