Throughout the past couple of years, quick-serve restaurants have been forced to invest significant time and money to ensure the quality of customer experience despite significant external disruption. This has particularly been true since the pandemic’s onset, a time when restaurants had to pivot from serving diners in-house to getting their food to customers through other avenues.
The result in doing so, in many cases, is quick-service restaurants gave up control of their brand to others; think third-party delivery services, for instance. During this timeframe, the concept of channel blurring has increased. And while this practice presents a major opportunity for enhancing sales, such as introducing your brand to consumers through alternate channels, it comes with a cost.
Channel blurring occurs when retailers merge traditional sales channels like in-house dining with technology to order food online for takeout or delivery or offer items and services not typically associated with their industry. A great example is how quick-serves offer their food in convenience stores and/or truck stops.
If you feel like your restaurant’s reputation is suffering when the lines become too blurred, it’s time to take back ownership of your brand’s digital experience. Here are five things to consider.
1. Owning the customer data
Third-party delivery services, such as DoorDash, Grubhub or Uber Eats, enable quick-serves to get food to hungry diners, who rely on the convenience of online ordering and having their meals brought to their offices or homes.
However, quick-serves using third-party delivery providers relinquish control of crucial data and analytics to these outside companies. When a brand owns the entire customer journey, from ordering history to current request to delivery status, it can use that data to know what’s working and what needs to be improved. This includes order accuracy, delivery within a timely manner and food quality.
When third-party channels own the data, they push their own specials rather than yours. For example, they would suggest diners use points for delivery discounts instead of your food and beverages, which eliminates your brand from the savings equation.
Owing the data means you can go granular through analytics and see everything from how consumers use loyalty points to their likes and dislikes. Your own data, even when managed by another organization well-versed in doing so, helps uncover trends and enables you to understand business better.
2. Ensuring brand integrity
Further, by holding the digital experience reigns, restaurant operators can make sure delivery lives up to its brand promise. This also ensures the customer experience aligns with your values, objectives and brand integrity. In doing so, you are better able to build brand loyalty, which, naturally, leads to greater customer retention.
For example, Chick-fil-A owns, operates, and franchises its own restaurants. This enables the company to own all aspects of the brand experience, from menu development to restaurant design to which lane of the drive-thru to use, depending on whether or not diners order and pay ahead on the Chick-fil-A app.
3. Improving diner personalization and loyalty
Controlling the brand’s digital experience helps improve the customer journey. Having a first-party app, for instance, enables a more seamless and personalized diner experience.
This is because it:
is designed and optimized for your brand’s offerings and processes.
empowers a QSR to directly communicate to customers and present your brand exactly how you want.
allows your diners to tap into and benefit from your loyalty program.
For example, if a consumer goes to the Starbucks app, they might be greeted with, “Good afternoon, Sarah! It’s Double Stars (loyalty points) for Days. Order ahead, start earning rewards.”
Third-party delivery aggregators don’t have quite that personalization power. Sure, they enable a customer to see what brands they have recently viewed, provide Amazon-like suggestions such as, “people who eat at similar restaurants also like …” and give discounts or free delivery once spending a certain amount. But they don’t allow customers to tap into a quick-service restaurant’s own loyalty program.
4. Eliminating hefty third-party fees
Plus, third-party services come with fees, some of which are worth it and others not. On one hand, having your menu available to an aggregator will likely get you more orders.
On the other hand, those companies cost big bucks. Delivery providers charge as much as 30 percent, depending on the level of service you sign up for, which eats into already-thin margins. As you know, in many markets, these companies pick up add-on orders like groceries and medications. What happens if a driver combines other stops to a food order? How long does that add to the delivery and when something goes awry, what happens to your brand reputation?
Quick-serves relying on third parties care most about how their food is delivered, not ancillary services.
Don’t misunderstand: third-party services can do wonders for a business like providing in-app advertising to boost visibility. But so, too, can building out your business and brand reputation with your own delivery service or creating your own app. And having total control of customer data, which is key.
5. Weighing the costs and knowing nothing is free
There’s a caveat to owning the entire brand experience. Doing so involves a significant investment in time and resources. It might even require employing an in-house tech team. This is the route most big brands take.
However, quick-service restaurants can also purchase and white label off-the-shelf software and configure it to your needs. Many brands, particularly mid-sized restaurants, use this tactic so they can personalize what they want and ensure the brand remains intact.
As new technology comes onto the scene and consumers get used to it, channel blurring is likelier to increase. Finding additional revenue streams is a great tactic, but not at the expense of your core brand.
Always remember: data is key to everything revolving around improving customer experience. Oftentimes, quick-service restaurants rely on an outside vendor to provide customer data. This has nothing to do with relinquishing brand control. Rather, companies exist to centrally monitor and manage guests’ experience, wherever they visit you.
Channel blurring will continue, and that comes with pluses and minuses. However, owning the digital experience means more than making a single sale. It means having the ability to use your own data to improve the customer experience. In doing so, you are likelier to turn that single-sale customer into a lifetime advocate.
Achieving operational excellence
Achieving the highest level of customer experience success often requires the help of an objective outside provider well-versed in what data is most important to collect and how to best interpret it. It’s also necessary to audit how well you are living up to your own standards across your locations through audits and mystery shopping. With the right partner, you concentrate on what you do best, providing delicious quick-service meals, while your outsourced partner makes sure you are capturing relevant, consistent and actionable data.
Customers crave consistency. And while it’s true third-party delivery services (aggregators) may provide a larger audience, there’s no time like now to take back control of your brand and provide consistent, powerful experiences.
Laura Livers is the Head of Strategic Growth at Intouch Insight.