The Master Report: Why technology is aiding the human touch for F&B players

This post is sponsored by XGATE under the Master Report series.

Tantalising menus are no longer going to do the trick. To keep customers coming back for more, F&B players today need to up their game.

The customer experience is one of the essential components of every business, as it holds the key to the hearts of customers and keeps them coming back for more. Customers no longer just look for products or services that satisfy their wants and needs; they look for products or services that speak to and resonate with them.

The food and beverage (F&B) industry is no exception when it comes to this phenomenon. Amid the rising number of restaurants and eateries, competition is no doubt getting tougher, and where, a tantalising menu isn’t enough to ensure retention or growth.

According to a 2017 study by Deloitte – “Through guests’ eyes: Serving up a great restaurant customer experience” – quality, value, sanitation, location, and staff have become basic requirements for customers to even consider dining at a restaurant, while the ability to deliver consistently engaging and memorable customer experiences that drive a connection to the brand is more critical than ever.

The study added that customers look for five components when it comes to determining a great customer experience: being engaged, empowered, heard, delighted, and known.

Customers feel engaged when they are interacted with in a genuine way and they feel empowered when they are given the ability to customise to their specific needs, and when they are provided with real-time information to help them make decisions.

Customers feel heard when restaurants demonstrate awareness of their situation and acknowledge their needs, and feel delighted when restaurants create personalised experiences for them that they will remember.

Last, but not least, customers hope restaurants remember them and their preferences, as well as anticipate their changing needs.

Out of all five components, the general trend across various demographics such as age groups, income groups, regions, and genders, shows that F&B customers place the most emphasis on being engaged (30% to 38%). This is followed closely by being empowered and heard (17% to 23%), and then being delighted and known (11% to 14%).

Customers were also found to expect more empowerment as compared to engagement and delight when it comes to takeout and delivery services, but want more engagement when it comes to dining in a restaurant.

Will digitisation compromise customer engagement?

Another trend in the F&B industry is the increasing number of F&B businesses embracing digital transformation and digitising their operations to ensure a more efficient and smoother process for customers. More restaurants having digitised ordering systems, or launching applications so customers can provide their feedback.

Efficiency is increased with digitisation, but will the engagement component in the customer experience take a back seat?

Albert Cuadrante, head of digital commerce and customer loyalty for the Philippines businesses of Jollibee Foods Corporation, does not think so. He noted there has actually been a marked increase in customer engagement since Jollibee launched its various digital touch-points. This is especially so in the area of delivery, which is Jollibee’s fastest growing channel across its portfolio of brands.

According to Cuadrante, Jollibee’s digital transformation efforts have significantly improved its customer experience. The launch of its self-order kiosks has been able to reduce queuing times by half, and its web delivery service allows customers to check on their order status so they know exactly when to expect their delivery.

When asked how Jollibee maintains the human element of engagement despite digitising, he said the ingredient lies in treating technology as a tool to enhance human interaction rather than replace it. He added that before adopting any technology, the team at Jollibee makes sure it understands exactly what customers need and that the technology adopted will be able to address those needs.

“We do not go digital for the sake of joining the digital transformation“We do not go digital for the sake of joining the digital transformation bandwagon. All our digital efforts are aimed to improve the customer’sexperience across touchpoints and smoothening critical friction points throughout their journey,” he said.

To him, technology and the human touch have the ability to coexist in aF&B business. Moreover, technology can be used to alleviate routine tasks in the store, leaving its staff with more time to interact and attend to customers.

Eugene Lee, regional director of marketing for the Asia business unit at McDonald’s Malaysia, agrees that technology and the human touch can go hand-in-hand. He outlines a similar strategy as Jollibee’s, where even though its ordering system is digitised, its table service feature ensures that engagement levels with customers is not compromised as the staff get to interact with customers when they send over the food orders.

Lee is of the view that despite communications being digital, it is still a human sitting behind the computer inputting those interactions. So when his team at McDonald’s communicates with customers and responds to them – whether it is on social media or through email – the team makes it a point to add a human touch to every note sent so as not to compromise the engaging factor of the customer experience.

For Lee, going digital is just another means of interaction.

Businesses only lose the human touch when their responses become robotic.

His advice to businesses looking to digitise is to stay away from too much “standardisation” when it comes to interacting with customers and to always remember that it takes a personal touch to make a customer feel special, even if it is just a simple response to a Facebook comment.

Jollibee's Cuadrante, on the other hand, emphasises that businesses have to find out which digital solution fits them the best. This first requires a deep understanding of their customers. He summarised his point with a quote from Steve Jobs:

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology - not the other way around.”

This sponsored Master Report by XGATE was first published in our March 2020 issue.