Restaurants’ New Brand Challenge: Delivering a Consistent Customer Experience in an Inconsistent World 

At a time when stress is running high for folks cooped up at home, comfort food from their favorite restaurant is a respite in a crazy world. Fortunately, loosened restrictions have allowed most restaurants to welcome dinner back, although in many cases they are still operating at reduced capacity and with such caveats as shortened menus, face coverings when not seated, and social distancing. Even with the limitations, loyal customers are eager to return to dinning out so that they can get a taste of both the food they love and the place they know well. 

However, as customers return, restaurant operators face a slew of new challenges. Standard operations and the consumer experience have been dramatically changed by the pandemic, and both government and brand regulations are still in play. Now, restaurant organizations will need to deliver an on-brand, enjoyable experience while still contending with the “next normal.” This paradigm shift is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and restaurants will need to adapt if they want to keep customers coming back. 

The Next Normal for the Brand Experience  

The challenge that franchises face now is twofold: maintain a consistent brand experience while navigating the uncertain terrain of a post-quarantine marketplace. As lockdown protocols relax across the US, chains should do their best to stay nimble by leveraging technology to lock in loyalty even in the midst of a pandemic. That approach begins with the judicious application of data from brand compliance audits.  

Most of today’s restaurant franchises distill the brand experience into quantitative values, like net promoter scores, customer satisfaction, and so on. Restaurants rely on surveys and brand audits to provide valuable measurements, allowing management to assess standards across their locations and make adjustments when issues crop up. In short, brand auditing data is crucial in providing a consistent experience across a wide array of locations. 

However, the way your brand auditors collect observable data and how you respond to it can make a world of difference. The traditional tools—paper, spreadsheets, and aging software—make the brand audit process vulnerable to inconsistency, downtime, and inaccuracy. That is why many restaurant brands are reexamining their data processes and beginning a transition to a more digital approach. But what makes digital transformation especially viable now?

Why Franchises Are Digitizing Brand Audits   

One of the most effective ways to improve observational data from brand audits is to automate manual entry processes. Spreadsheets, paper forms, and data double-entry can get the job done, but they lag behind mobile forms when it comes to speed, accuracy, and connectivity. All three of these methods introduce the “human element," or the error-prone potential of manually entering information.  

Even though personal interaction is a critical part of creating a great customer experience, it's a confounding element in obtaining timely, reliable information from brand audits. This is all the more relevant during a time in which franchises are pressed to be more efficient, do more with fewer workers, and achieve quicker results. 

Another big reason that leading franchises are taking the leap into mobile technology is the opportunity to integrate it with their other systems. Modern restaurant organizations already have a burgeoning tech stack, so it’s essential that any new tools can “play nice” with other software.  

Additionally, integration enables the creation of enterprise-wide workflows, which further speeds up the corrective process by automating the next steps. Given the current climate, all locations need to be on the same page—especially when brand compliance is synonymous with governmental regulations. Connecting previously disconnected tools takes one more step out of getting everyone in sync.  

Analysis tools also play a major role in bringing restaurant brands into the digital arena. Dashboards that allow management to aggregate and analyze observational data from brand audits can provide key insights about regional trends. Analyzing your brand audits gives allows you to gauge the effectiveness of new initiatives, like promotions or modified menus, or trace the origin of trending issues.  

Getting the Most Out of Brand Audits  

The combination of these elements presents an attractive alternative to paper or spreadsheet-based data collection. However, how individual franchises will use that data can vary greatly. Here are a few tips on getting the most out of brand audits that leverage mobile technology solutions: 

1. Connect brand audits with the next logical steps

Don’t let brand audits exist in a vacuum. Act on audit results as soon as possible and have team members collaborate throughout the auditing process. If your current tools don’t allow you to easily and seamlessly share data, it might be time to rethink your approach. Audits should always connect directly with the next logical steps, such as escalation processes and corrective action plans. 

2. Analyze brand experience with aggregated data

When it comes to data analysis, you should scale your viewpoint to be as granular or big-picture as the situation requires. You can track historical metrics at a high level as well as drill down into the details of individual locations. The key to uncovering a trending issue is to compare data aggregated from all your sources and pinpoint the moment a pattern began. 

3. Reduce unnecessary steps and cluttered processes

A mobile brand audit solution provides the perfect opportunity to hone your operational excellence. With automated forms, you can easily implement complex or unique custom scoring formulas to provide on-the-spot calculations. No more waiting to plug the numbers into a spreadsheet means that action plans can be executed immediately. Without the lengthy email chains from approval processes, launching corrections is as simple as signing off on a tablet and performing a future follow-up audit. 

The Future of Audits and the Brand Experience 

As hungry customers return to their favorite eateries, it’s critical to remain cognizant of the brand experience. While some changes are unavoidable, providing as much of a “business as usual” vibe can keep folks coming back. Choosing the right tools to manage their experience can mean difference between an enthusiastic review and a disenfranchised exit. As lockdown protocols relax, it’s the perfect time to reinvest in new solutions and re-examine the entire brand auditing process.