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The return of your customers: this time it's personal

In today’s competitive market where customers have so much choice, hospitality operators need to be smarter and find cost-effective ways to attract – and retain – customers

With more choice than ever on the high street and online, hospitality businesses are finding it increasingly challenging to attract and retain customers. The home delivery market in particular has grown an astonishing 73% during the past decade, driven by the Netflix generation who want instant access and on-demand service, and is now worth a whopping £4.2bn.

Advances in technology are providing new ways to address these challenges, allowing businesses to become smarter and more cost-effective, from initial bookings through to feedback and loyalty.

The days of working nine to five have gone and flexible working, coupled with 24/7 lifestyles, means consumers are more spontaneous and put convenience and swift service at the top of their list of priorities and see the use of mobile devices as a good way to overcome these frustrations.


Online bookings

First impressions count and this often starts before a customer steps across your threshold. Customers don’t just want to research restaurants and pubs online, they expect to be able to book online too, and if they can’t find and book your venue quickly, they will swiftly move on to somewhere they can. Therefore, operators need a reservations system that can keep up with customer behaviour and deliver an excellent experience at all times.

By deploying an online booking system that shows real-time availability, businesses can better meet the expectations of customers. But to be truly effective any booking system needs to deliver operational connectivity across all channels – website, telephone and walk-ins – so operators have a seamless picture of all bookings at the tap of a finger by allowing all reservations to feed into one live system.

An online booking system also allows businesses to build a GDPR-compliant loyalty database. This information can then be used to better understand customers and tailor offers and promotions to their preferences.


Why apps are so app-ealing

Being on the go 24/7 also means time and convenience are powerful motivators for customers. Any business that can create easy time savings is on to a winner, particularly in relation to leisure activities.

This is supported by GO Technology, a quarterly report by Zonal and CGA, which tracks the eating and drinking out technology habits of 5,000 adult consumers. GO Technology indicates speed is the key driver for diners who like to use their mobile device to pre-order and pay for food and drink, with more than one-third (36%) of respondents citing this as their main reason for using an app. Convenience is another major factor, with 22% opting for pre-order and online payment during busy trading times or for convenience when part of a large group (21.63%). Also, 82% are more likely to use a restaurant’s own app as opposed to a third-party provider, with trust being a major factor.

Therefore it should come as no surprise hospitality providers are joining the race to develop their own apps. At Zonal Marketing Technologies we have seen this played out in the number of enquiries we’ve received from customers, with a steep increase of 400% during the past 12 months.

Order and pay at table technology gives customers greater control of their own experience and by empowering customers to take care of the “administrative tasks” front-of-house staff are able to devote more time and attention to making their visit more enjoyable and personable. And don’t underestimate your customers’ technical ability – 69% have already placed food orders using mobile devices.


Building loyalty

It’s not just about giving customers a fantastic, seamless experience – understanding their spending habits is crucial to building loyalty. Through integrated technology, operators can review and analyse a customer’s entire purchase history and build a better understanding of them as an individual.

This profile is invaluable, giving actionable insights that allow you to better serve each customer. Putting that information to work allows you to create specific, relevant communications and deals that speak directly to the customer’s preferences, helping to tempt them back. For example, if a customer drinks the same red wine when she’s in your venue but hasn’t visited for more than a month, an email offering a free glass of that wine when she next visits is more likely to encourage her to make a booking than a generic “10% discount” email.

Do not underestimate the importance of personalisation either. Almost three-quarters (72%) of consumers say they expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations. What happens if you don’t personalise? Almost two-thirds (66%) say they’re likely to switch brands if they feel they are not being treated as an individual.

While data and analytics are invaluable for understanding your customers there will still be gaps, particularly when you’re dealing with first-time visitors. The best way to capture information about their experience is simply to ask them through an insight tool such as Feed It Back. Thanks to the system’s integration with EPoS, customer feedback is combined with their order data to give a complete picture of what they ordered and how much they spent.

Ultimately, building customer loyalty should be the goal of any technology project. Everyone loves a freebie but those that are tailored to individual tastes and preferences are without doubt more successful, with 40% of consumers citing this as key to driving loyalty (source: GO Technology). EPoS data allows operators to identify their customers’ preferred food and drink – so why not offer a discount on their favourite meal next visit?


Competitive advantage

There is no doubt technology is transforming the hospitality industry – driven by consumer demand – and the key to success is integration.

Hospitality businesses generate a huge amount of customer data that can be put to good use, if it’s harnessed in the right way. However, when IT systems evolve with online, EPoS and reservations databases coming from different providers or using incompatible platforms, this leads to inefficiencies and silo thinking.

Then there’s the stock control system, accounting system, customer feedback system, and anything else you care to mention.

To deliver a seamless and efficient customer experience, it will be those businesses that embrace technology and unify their systems so they can automate everyday interactions that will be in a position to extend their competitive advantage.

David Charlton is Commercial Director of Zonal Marketing Technologies, an event partner for the Restaurant Marketer &Innovator European Summit that will be held in London in January 2019.