Anyone who works in operations can tell you that influencing, let alone changing, customer behavior is not easy.
And yet, that’s precisely what quick-service restaurants are going to have to be able to do in order to survive, both now and post-pandemic. The restaurant industry is undergoing seismic changes—anyone who’s interacted with a restaurant in any capacity since March knows that. While the fallout from the pandemic has been harsh, with thousands of restaurants closing and thousands of restaurant workers out of a job, it’s also true that COVID-19 presents an unprecedented opportunity to transform the way the industry runs, so it’s more sustainable in the long-term.
Part of that opportunity lies in transforming the customer journey. Here’s why.
It’s better to shape your customers’ journey than adapt to it
In a perfect world, you’d engineer the customer experience down to every detail, and customers would follow it precisely. But as we all know, customers often have their own ideas of how they want that experience to go, and often, the best thing a restaurant can do is adapt to what their customers are already doing.
Here’s a real-life example.
When a large coffee chain launched their mobile order ahead option back in 2017, they projected that only a small percentage of people would use it. But that’s not what happened. Instead, customers flocked to it, and not just the ones that were ordering from home or from their cars on the way to a location. People inside the restaurants realized they could also use the order ahead feature to essentially cut in line.
In many stores, it got to the point that baristas weren’t even making drinks anymore for the people who were physically waiting in line—only filling mobile orders. Finally, they started adding secondary production lines, so that both in-store orders and mobile orders could be filled within a reasonable amount of time.
Instead of anticipating pain points and designing the customer journey correctly to begin with, the chain had to follow what their customers were doing, and adapt on the fly. That’s better than not adapting at all, of course, but it’s far from ideal.
Now is the time for quick-serves to break the mold
How are your customers behaving right now? Where are the pain points? Are your order pickup areas too congested? Are delivery times during peak hours too long? Is your kitchen staff overextended?
Because it’s stretching on for so long, this pandemic truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a hard look at your business and change what needs changing. Nothing should be sacred.
Maybe your menu is too large—the desire to have no objection points, in terms of customer preference, could mean that you’re not executing meals as well as you could be.
Is it imperative that you have a cashier? (I’ll just give you the answer to that one: No, it’s not.)
Are you empowering people to use their own mobile devices within your restaurant? Are you offering self-service?
This is especially critical for quick-serves that attract a busy lunch crowd. Most people have a scheduled break, about an hour, and that’s a short time to serve a lot of people. So how do you optimize that?
By creating a faster experience. You let them order ahead, and check in at a table when they get there. Once they check in, the kitchen makes their food, a staff member delivers it, and the customer can pay (if they haven’t already) right from their device.
The thing is, these are not new problems. Customers have never liked waiting in line. They’ve never liked waiting for their food. And realistically, these solutions should have been thought of years ago, once mobile devices became mainstream.
The reason these solutions weren’t put in place is because they simply weren’t a priority. Business was good, the customers were there, and operations teams didn’t want to risk rocking the boat. The model was still functioning.
Well, now the model is not functioning. The model has been fairly well destroyed.
So instead of waiting until we can “go back to normal,” instead of trying to return to the days of customers waiting in line, on-premises, to order, to pick up food, and to pay, why don’t we double down and do something really significant?
Let’s make a brand-new model—one that responds to and anticipates customers’ pain points, and proactively shapes their behavior. It may feel risky, but it’s also the only real option for survival.
Rom Krupp, is the founder and CEO of OneDine, a comprehensive dining solution for restaurants which increases table turns and incremental sales while reducing labor costs. He can be reached at Rom.Krupp@OneDine.com.