There’s no doubt the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the restaurant industry, making the past fifteen months a never-ending uphill battle. Amid the chaos of mandatory lockdowns and wavering safety regulations, only the most adaptable were able to stay afloat. In fact, nearly one in six restaurants closed their doors in some capacity last year. Restaurants that fought to hang on were faced with a plethora of challenges. Following new health guidelines all while remaining profitable meant thinking beyond plexiglass dividers and social distancing signage.
From meal kit delivery to ghost kitchens and more, restaurant owners put on their creative hats during this time period. But with restrictions loosening and people leaving their homes for the first time in over a year, creativity won’t be the only thing keeping diners satisfied. Service industries have been forced to shift how and where they communicate with their customers, making digital customer experience (CX) an essential component of the restaurant business model moving forward.
Building Foundations for Success During a Pivotal Time
The CDC’s updated guidelines for people who are fully vaccinated means change is upon us. People are stepping out of their bubbles, and restaurants have a limited chance to make a strong “first” impression. If restaurants don’t provide a seamless customer experience off the bat, one in three customers may walk away after just one poor interaction.
From poor ordering experiences to flooded phone lines, unsatisfactory communication during this transition time threatens to be a deal-breaker for restaurant-goers. Additionally, with the unpredictable complications that labor shortages and supply chain disruptions have recently caused, it’s important for restaurants to focus on areas of the customer experience in which they have most control.
As restaurants prepare for an increase in demand, digital CX is vital to ensure a smooth experience for diners. However, many companies are unaware that there is still work to be done. Businesses underestimate how often customers have poor experiences by an average of 38 percent. To help restaurants establish loyalty and build foundations for success, I recommend focusing on the following digital CX improvements during this crucial time:
1. Utilize digital resources to streamline communication with customers
Given that 46.5 percent of the population is now vaccinated, restaurants need to be prepared to handle a rush of reservations while simultaneously sustaining takeout operations. Leveraging digital channels like websites, social media, text and email, to manage reservations, handle carryout orders and communicate pick-up instructions to eager diners is essential to thrive in a post-covid world.
As restaurants prepare for an increase in demand, digital CX is vital to ensure a smooth experience for diners.
Whether restaurants are conveying safety procedures to diners or providing information about where and when to pick-up food, streamlined communication also goes hand-in-hand with a simplified customer experience. In order to maintain clarity with customers, messaging across all digital channels must be uniform and consistent throughout.
2. Optimize the digital ordering experience
Despite an anticipated return to normalcy, digital ordering will remain a vital component of the “new normal” dining experience. For both in-store diners and patrons who are utilizing to-go options, having control over when meals are ordered is an attractive option. Not to mention, it eliminates half the work for the restaurant staff. With digital ordering also comes the infamous “curbside pickup”: a term foreign to many prior to 2020. With the convenience and efficiency it brings to the table, curbside pickup isn’t going anywhere. That said, brands must leverage digital to make this service the effortless process it was created to be.
For curbside implementation, brands that dedicate customer care resources to solving problems and answering questions will thrive. Restaurants should keep the line of digital communication asynchronous, through clearly conveying how, where, and when customers can pick up their food. Constructing a strong infrastructure to answer questions, solve problems and ensure customer support will not only foster brand loyalty, but allow restaurants to gather key customer data.
Moving forward, digital ordering will also continue to play a role in in-person dining. For sit-down diners, having the authority to order food and drinks without the extra step of waiting for a server is ideal. However, a broken system means longer wait times, lost communication, and disappointed diners. Guarantee staff efficiency and diner loyalty by investing in the right solutions for your restaurant business.
3. Prioritize QR codes
Post-lockdown, QR codes have proven to be a fundamental resource for both takeaway and sit-down services. Not only does this technology make restaurants safer, but it promotes productivity and expedites the ordering process for all parties involved. For example, customers can scan QR codes and place orders via their smartphones when dining in, or to alert the restaurant when they have arrived to pick-up their takeout. They can also facilitate contactless payment, manage an online waitlist, solicit diner feedback, and more, minimizing the time restaurant staff spends with diners.
Investing in digital services that leverage QR codes can take your customer service to the next level. Serve and attract more guests by utilizing QR codes to direct potential diners to a chatbot to answer their questions or share timely promotions. At the intersection of automation and digital CX, the opportunities for your brand are endless.
Secure Much-Needed Brand Loyalty with Digital CX
As the restaurant industry repairs itself post-coronavirus, capturing customer loyalty is pivotal. Consumers are hungry to leave their homes, and providing exceptional service has never been more important. Without a seamless digital customer experience before, during and after dining, restaurants risk losing valuable customers long-term.
Now is the time for the food service industry to invest in digital CX. With the right systems, brands can both foster and maintain positive customer relationships. Through utilizing digital CX to streamline communication, enhance online ordering and improve user experience, your company can lead the way to rebuilding the restaurant industry.