In January, just a couple of months before the coronavirus mayhem began, Qdoba relaunched its entire digital suite. This included a website, mobile app, rewards, and back-end technology revamp, all in an effort to remove friction from the ordering and employee experience.

Qdoba upgraded online ordering through Olo, improving the flow and introducing a group functionality. DoorDash and UberEats delivery orders were integrated directly into Qdoba’s point of sale.

The fast casual’s rewards program relaunched through Patronix, emerging as a tier-based program that enables guests who spend more to move up to premium levels. Like similar programs, it targets a gamification model you might see in a hotel or airline program. Spend more to earn better perks. Almost like a VIP platform.

On the back end, Qdoba replaced its legacy online ordering, loyalty, and email service provider. The brand said the updated platform was powered by improvements to the employee experience and enabled by better use of guest data.

All of these updates arrived before a critical juncture. Adam Fox, the director of digital experience and media for Qdoba, chatted about the update and how it’s helped the brand navigate the pandemic.

To start, what kind of difference has the updated platform made during the COVID crisis?

The new platform has been a huge difference-maker that has helped us transform our business during COVID-19. In response to the dining room closure mandates brought on by the pandemic, we were able to launch curbside pickup in a matter of days. We added the ability to order delivery directly from our own website and mobile app. In addition to the new ordering channels we enabled, the platform’s ability to integrate third-party delivery allowed us to process marketplace orders with greater speed and accuracy. From a loyalty standpoint, with more ordering moving online, we’ve seen a spike in Qdoba Rewards member acquisition. We now have the tools to continue engaging with these guests and drive incremental visits to Qdoba. We’re able to identify guests by ordering channel, analyze their behavior and better understand how to bring them back to Qdoba.

With the relaunched rewards program, what are some key differences versus the old setup. What are some key features of this version?

One of the most important steps we took when relaunching our program was listening to guest feedback. Our Rewards members told us they love our tier-based program, where they advance tiers as they accumulate visits plus earn points for every dollar spent. But they also told us the program was difficult to manage, so we focused on making it easier to earn and redeem rewards on our mobile app and website, as well as within the four walls of the restaurant. We simplified the process for converting points into free food, and made it easier for guests to claim points when they forget to scan their rewards app.

Elaborate on the gamification spirit of a tier-based setup, which is often found with airlines and hotels. What about that model appeals to Qdoba? How do you think guests will engage?

Our guests love that they can earn status by eating at Qdoba. We have longtime Champ (top-tier) guests who still proudly carry the physical card they picked up 10 years ago. And we see newer fans taking to social media to share their achievements. We’re happy to see so much passion around our brand and want to continue giving our fans this outlet to engage with us.

In terms of reducing friction, how does the new platform achieve this? And how critical is that to lasting loyalty success for restaurants?

On the Rewards front, making it easier for guests to earn points on all of their visits is a critical enabler of a frictionless experience. It was one of the biggest drivers of guest relations contacts and something we actively set out to solve. Delivering more personalized, relevant messaging is dependent upon having a complete and accurate view of the guest. We’ve made a lot of progress in this area, and it will help us unlock rich insights that will help us deliver a better guest experience.

Talk about some other consumer-facing changes, from the website to mobile app. What can guests expect? Why were these updates needed?

In addition to the loyalty program changes, we also relaunched our website and mobile app. Our previous platform did not make it easy for guests to order online. Our new platform allows guests to order what they want, when and how they want it. One example of this is future orders—our guests can now place orders not just for later the same day, but also for days in advance. This has been a huge convenience factor for those who want to place their lunch order the night before. We’ve also looked at how guests use our menu; in this era of customization, we’ve made it easier for guests to create their own entrees but also added pre-set builds for guests who want a more chef-crafted experience.

On the back end, Qdoba replaced its legacy online ordering provider, loyalty provider, and email service provider. What prompted this decision?

To deliver the personalized, relevant messaging that guests expect, we wanted a unified loyalty and CRM system that leveraged the same database and derived the same set of insights about our guests. We selected Paytronix because of their insights-driven approach and deep restaurant industry expertise. With online ordering, we selected Olo because it was critical to choose a provider that not only offers a frictionless ordering experience but also helps us navigate the rapidly evolving world of third-party marketplaces. While we chose both Olo and Paytronix for their standalone technology, the prebuilt integrations between Olo and Paytronix helped us deliver a smooth launch for our restaurant teams and our guests.

What does the new version do that the old one didn’t?

Our new online ordering platform integrates DoorDash and UberEats directly to the Point of Sale. It’s been a huge win for our restaurants—they are able to prepare delivery orders without having to manage multiple tablets or ring orders into the point of sale. We’ve also added secondary make lines to many of our restaurants that handle a lot of digital orders. Being able to process these orders faster, or on a secondary make line, not only improves speed and order accuracy for our digital guest, but also provides a better ordering experience for our guests who visit us in-restaurant. On the Rewards side, being able to take action on our guest data has helped us provide more relevant communications to our guests to drive increased visit frequency.

How has the online ordering platform in particular changed?

In addition to the delivery marketplace integration, the online ordering platform is better equipped to handle customizations that our guests want to make. It’s much easier now for our guests to modify either create-your-own items as well as our chef-crafted builds.

How essential was it to integrate DoorDash and UberEats orders into the point-of-sale? Had operators been asking for this?

Our restaurant teams have embraced the shift to digital ordering and delivery, but until recently, the process has been challenging. The integration to DoorDash and UberEats was an essential part of our launch. Successful digital transformation impacts not just our systems but—critically—our people and processes. We’ve been able to process digital orders so much faster, and that’s enabled our front-line teams to spend more time engaging with our guests

Dive more into the “human touch,” element of all this. How do you balance adding more tech but also making sure it doesn’t replace the human experience?

Every interaction with Qdoba is touched by a human, whether that’s an order going down the line in a restaurant or through our mobile app. Being customer-obsessed starts with providing a great team-member experience, and we’ve been evaluating technology with our restaurant teams’ experience in mind. Hospitality is a key pillar of our culture, so we’ve been laser-focused on improving productivity so our teams can provide the flavorful and personalized experience our guests love us for.

Overall, how do you see digital aiding Qdoba’s growth in the coming months and years?

We’re seeing significant growth from orders that originate outside the restaurant, including catering in addition to online and third-party orders. Guests are looking for a convenient ordering experience, and we’re committed to meeting their needs in their channels of choice. We’re also getting a lot smarter about our guests—when and how often they come in and how we can better meet their needs. That rich customer insight will be a critical driver of growth in the coming years.

Fast Casual, Story, Technology, Qdoba