using technology to enhance customer experience

Technology has become an increasingly present part of our lives. Whether it's remote working, streaming films, or ordering a takeaway, technology is involved in everything we do.

Hospitality is no different. Customers are now able to reserve tables online, order their food and drinks through a kiosk, and even provide detailed feedback on their experience through digital review platforms. These changes have permeated every corner of the sector, but how can operators make sure they enhance their customer experience?

Why is technology impacting the hospitality industry?

These changes to the industry were fuelled by the pandemic. After the first lockdown operators were forced to implement technology which made contact free service possible. These technologies consisted of reservation systems that stopped walk-ins, self-service QR codes that allowed people to order from their tables, and virtual queueing systems such as three rocks’ SmartQ Smart Booking solution, which helped hospitality businesses comply with the governments ‘rule of six’ throughout 2020.

This change has had a huge impact on the attitudes of customers towards technology. Now, most expect to use self-service or automated systems when engaging with a hospitality business, whether that’s pre, during or post visit. In fact, research we conducted in 2023 revealed that 62% of British consumers would consider trying a fully robotic restaurant, while 56% would consider an AI or automated self-service system such as self-ordering kiosks, if it meant faster and more accurate service.

How to ensure technology enhances customer experiences

The danger with any business change is that it could have a negative impact on a specific group of customers or stakeholders. This is something which businesses must avoid when implementing technology. In hospitality, this is critical.

Customers return to restaurants because they deliver an experience which they are used to and which they love. Changes to this experience could make them consider visiting another business. In an extreme example, a couple who love visiting a restaurant because it has very attentive and friendly staff may be put off if that operator installs self-service kiosks and introduces an exclusively self-ordering-based system. However, this could have been avoided.

That same operator could have brought in self-ordering technology such as kiosks and QR code ordering systems, but made it a choice for customers. Then, on arrival, this choice could be reinforced by the friendly and attentive team. This would enhance the experience for one section of visitors who perhaps want to order in their own time using technology, without compromising what others loved about the restaurant to begin with.

It isn’t about what technology is being utilised, it’s the way in which it has been implemented and used.

How can operators make the right choices when modernising their experiences?

It’s all about choosing the right technology and implementing it in the right way for your customers. This can be difficult, especially when you have different sections of your customer base who are each looking for their own type of experience. These three steps will help ensure that any technology is right for your business, and that you don’t change the experience too much for long-standing customers:

1) It’s all in the data

Before any decisions are made, hospitality businesses must first understand their customer. What days do they prefer to visit? How do they like to interact with the business? Do they normally book or walk in? What deals do they like? What menu items are their favourite? Do they come as a couple, in groups or as a family?

Knowing the answers to questions like these is crucial for understanding your customer, and learning about the type of experience they want. But how do you find these answers?

It’s all in your data. Data collection and analysis is what every hospitality business should be doing to help shape their overall direction and decisions. The best use of data comes through mature data analysis. This involves assertive harvesting processes at every customer touch point to collect large quantities of clean, secure and segmented information on customers, and then using this to analyse their behaviour to find trends. This information can then be used to form strategy and help leaders make the right decisions for their customers.

2) Don’t change everything all at once

With technology implementation, the end goal is to improve the way in which your hospitality business works in order to enhance customer experiences. If you rip up everything you’ve been doing and start from scratch, this becomes much harder to achieve.

To begin, make one change and see how it performs. Give it time to perform and make adjustments to see how a new implementation best fits with your operations. Then, if you feel it has helped enhance experiences for your customers, you can look at your next change.

There is a mindset that adopting technology has to be an all-encompassing process which will be disruptive to business operations. This isn’t the case. At three rocks we focus on frictionless implementation, allowing you to make amendments to your operations without disrupting or polarising your customers and staff.

3) Consider the importance of your staff to your core experience

With the emergence of technologies such as AI, the capabilities of solutions is growing at a staggering rate. This, coupled with the national skills and labour shortages, has encouraged more and more operators to adopt technology to lessen strain on staff. However, it’s critical that people remain a part of business operations.

Even for businesses like fast food chains for example, although most customers would enjoy an automated experience, there are instances where customers want or need a human touch. This is what operators must not lose.

When bringing in new solutions, spend time to get the balance right. For restaurant chains, this may mean running pilots in various locations, which offer different ratios of technology and staff. Once these pilots are completed, you’ll be able to implement a balanced operating model in each location.

For more information on solutions for experience enhancement, get in touch with the three rocks team at [email protected]