As one of the top business trends of 2023, customer experience has never been more important. While restaurants focus on keeping up with the latest technological developments such as using artificial intelligence, QR codes, and ordering kiosks at their locations, there is one important thing to remember: the customer experience often starts online. 

Luckily, there are several steps restaurant leaders can take to build a superior digital experience—from location-based marketing to omnichannel experiences. 

1. Give each location the spotlight it deserves. 

One of the best ways to get discovered in your local markets and drive foot traffic is through localized digital marketing. Restaurant brands can make the most of it by capitalizing off online listings and directories. They can even take it a step further with a local page or website for each location. 

The reason for this is simple: the restaurants that make it easy for customers to find information will come out on top. A localized online experience includes everything from the location’s hours, address, and contact information to local specials, menus, and events. 

2. Integrate all digital marketing efforts. 

A great marketing strategy is not only creative, but also cohesive. A brand’s social media presence should mirror its website, which should mirror its paid ads, and so on. Having too many separate platforms can be a lot to juggle—especially for brands with dozens of locations. 

The simplest way to ensure all information remains accurate and up to date is to integrate as much as possible. Doing so is a huge time-saver for restaurant leaders and ensures a cohesive online experience. Leaders should seek out helpful software and tools that can help streamline their efforts and provide clear communication to customers. 

3. Invest in reputation management. 

These days, more customers than ever are checking a business’s online presence before visiting. Poor SEO, misinformation, lack of mobile optimization, long load times, duplicate listings, and bad reviews can all affect their perception of your brand. 

Of course, we can’t control everything that’s posted online, so we must focus on what we can control. Monitor each of your location’s presence regularly—whether it’s manually or through a reputation management system. Search for your locations online and click through your website and pages to identify any issues that may hinder a smooth experience. 

4. Balance brand consistency with franchisee autonomy. 

Speaking of location-focused websites and listings, franchisors have another aspect to consider: their franchisees. Sometimes, duplicate listings can occur when the leadership team creates a page on behalf of the franchisee and a franchisee creates their own. Similarly, when franchisees acquire existing locations, there may be old listings that have not yet been deleted or they may have trouble accessing them. 

It’s all about collaboration. The last thing you want to do is to confuse your customers. Franchisors should work hand-in-hand with franchisees when setting up and maintaining their web presence. 

5. Conduct primary research. 

As with everything else in business, innovation is crucial for success. Even if you have a strong online presence, there is always room for improvement. 

The best way to enhance your customer experience is to go directly to the source. Conduct primary research through focus groups and surveys. Don’t just read your customer reviews; implement change. Lastly, encourage your fellow leaders to put themselves in the customers’ shoes. 

This is not only about recognizing your strengths, but also about identifying your challenges from a consumer perspective. What bumps are there that may be getting in the way of an excellent customer experience? Do your pages take a long time to load? Is your app fully integrated? The more questions you ask yourselves, the more you can improve. 

The Recipe to a Competitive Digital Customer Experience 

Your online presence can be what sets you apart from competitors, so it’s never been more important to analyze it. Structural components like localized-based pages and regular auditing are two of the most overlooked areas of marketing, but can make a world of difference. This is not only true for customer experience, but also for things like brand awareness, recruitment, and franchise development. 

At the end of the day, digital is the best way to give customers a taste of what you have to offer—so savor every bite. 

Daniel Rust is the CTO and Co-Founder of DevHub, an all-in-one, location-focused platform providing restaurant leaders with the recipe for a better digital customer experience. After meeting Cofounder Mark Michael in high school, the pair graduated from Central Washington University before launching their company in 2007. 

Outside Insights, Restaurant Operations, Story, Technology