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I’m more worried about 'Netflix and chill' than Brexit by Anthony Knight

The allure of staying in has reached irresistible proportions, with an ever-growing number of us choosing to embrace our inner “sofa sloth” and enjoy a leisure-time blackout at home. A recent UK survey by Deliveroo found half of Brits would rather stay home while almost three-quarters (72%) of 18 to 24-year-olds often prefer a night in compared with a night out.

Should we be surprised? Why risk a restaurant when you can have your favourite meal delivered to your front door in less than 30 minutes? Why go out on a Friday night when you can box-set binge on the latest Netflix release? Why go to a bar when you can swipe right? Food, entertainment, romance – the traditional weekend staples – have become available on-demand, empowering consumers to enjoy complete control of how, when and where they interact with brands.

Today’s consumer has more specific requirements, less patience and higher expectations, which is supported by the on-demand economy as companies facilitate their needs through the click of a button. Immediate access to messaging, email and media through new technology and smartphones has generated a sense of entitlement to efficient, fast and convenient experiences and, as we have already witnessed with the demise of the British high street, there will be no mercy for businesses that fail to evolve and invest in reconnecting with their customers.

From super-quick food delivery or a blow-dry at your office desk to laundry services delivered at 3am, the number of opportunities at our fingertips is vast, with consumers empowered to create, manage and control their own experiences including in the comfort of their own home. Last year, data insights firm NPD Group reported the delivery channel in Britain’s eating-out sector grew ten times faster than the total market last year. While total visits to eat out increased just 1% year-on-year to 11.3 billion, the delivery sector jumped almost 10% to 599 million visits.

The trend isn’t isolated to the food and drink industry, with Netflix and Amazon set to overtake the cinema multiplex. PwC forecast in a recent report that revenues from streaming film and television shows in the UK will exceed box office takings by 2020. Customers are creating their own experiences and the customer-centric platforms and apps that invest in better understanding the needs, wants and expectations of their customers will be the ones that reap the rewards.

So how do we tempt customers off their sofas and back into our venues? The operators with the ability to pull ahead of the pack are the ones that have committed to creating fantastic guest experiences but who also understand customers want to feel engaged, delighted, recognised and listened to – changes that focus on establishing meaningful relationships.

A boom in the experience economy has made a considerable impact on the hospitality industry, with the likes of Swingers, Flight Club and Bounce all enjoying a surge in interest for those looking for more than just a destination to eat and drink. It is these experience-hunters that see more than just the product or brand but rather what the brand stands for. They use the brand to help define who they are and what they stand for, sharing this with friends and on social media. Instagrammable moments and innovative new concepts provide a compelling reason for any millennial to leave the house – but experiences come in all forms and appeal to all types of consumer. Some of the best restaurant experiences I have enjoyed have been where I am simply recognised as a returning customer and greeted by name. Great experiences, whether the launch of the latest immersive concept or the smallest of service gestures, help us connect with our customers more personally as a brand.

If we want guests to visit and, more importantly, to return, we need to show a customer means more than simply a transaction and that we value their business and are willing to go above and beyond to build a relationship with them. The more we know about our customers the more personalised a service we can provide, leading to a better guest experience. As marketers we cannot afford to simply be content creators. We are also trend-spotters, researchers and analysts with the responsibility to better understand the information and insight customers supply to enable us to tailor communications, services and messaging to a customer’s needs and preferences. But as well as collecting this information, marketers also need to quickly dissect the knowledge and deploy it in real time through a customer’s preferred digital channel, cutting through the thousands of marketing messages customers receive every day.

Often the most memorable moments are shared between customers and our front-line employees, who should be empowered to drive change, make decisions and respond to guests directly to personalise the service they desire and improve an experience in the most important phase of the customer journey. On the customer side, we should enable guests to dictate their own journey by placing information and empowerment in their hands. Tools such as digital ordering, menu customisation and loyalty tracking can all be digitally enabled to support an empowered and personalised experience.

Empowered by new technology, social networks and digital devices, consumers are increasingly dictating when, where and how they engage with brands. They have become both critics and creators, demanding a more personalised service and expecting to be given the opportunity to shape the products and services they consume.

As service-providers in an operations-led industry, we have worked hard to create and deliver a consistent user experience but we have forgotten that every one of our customers is unique, with different expectations, requirements and needs. A customer’s experience needs to be memorable, something they can connect with, something that makes them feel less of another transaction and more of a valued partner in a relationship. We need to get personal with our customers. When that happens, restaurants can serve a great experience that offers much more than good food and service, attracting customers to enjoy genuine and memorable experiences that cannot be delivered via the click of a button.

Anthony Knight is group director of sales and marketing at Maxwell’s Restaurant Group. He was named Future Marketing Leader of the Year in the Restaurant Marketer & Innovator Awards 2018