I remember talking about a future “customer digital journey” with senior marketers absolutely years ago when we wouldn’t only be considering a customer’s physical journey (parking their cars, walking to the restaurant, being welcomed and seated, ordering, being served, paying the bill and leaving) but also their digital one too. That time has now come with a speed and intensity that no one would have dreamed of then.
The sector has moved from a situation where, less than 12 months ago, maybe only 20% of customers might have booked a table (and then only on a busy Friday/Saturday/Sunday lunch) to one where every customer could be asked to book for every daypart in order to comply with test and trace and avoid customers coming up to a bar. One operator I spoke to has moved from 10% of covers being booked pre-covid to 90% being booked last week.
Customers are now being asked to book online for every bit of space – inside/outside/balconies/on the pavement/in beer gardens/in the bar/in booths. You name it, they have to book it. Reservation systems now have to be incredibly flexible to handle the variety of scenarios offered by operators.
This means that databases are growing exponentially, not only in terms of numbers of people, but also if operators have something like Wireless Social in their sites, in terms of the information they can collect via social on their customers. This is an absolute dream for marketers.
This richness of data allows operators to really drill down into the detail, to segment their customer base to the nth degree and then to micro target their social campaigns to these very specific segments. This can all be automated and measured. It is incredibly cost-effective marketing.
QR codes and order and pay at table apps help streamline the customer’s digital journey even further. No printed menus, shorter menus, no table service and saved labour costs for the operator and, potentially, even more customer information.
Customers can now (theoretically, perhaps) book ahead, scan themselves in and on to their table, receive a voucher, order their food and drink, pay for their food and drink, review their experience and order the same food again via Deliveroo, all on their phone. They may only ever, in the future, see the person who brings food and drink to their table.
This might not be the hospitality we all love and want but this might be the hospitality scenario that many customers would like. It may prompt some of them to consider the value equation though – what are they really getting for the premium commanded by eating out of home?
I think everything is up for grabs at the moment. The old world has disappeared and its gone much quicker than many of us would have thought or wished for.
The risk of course is that, with marketing departments being significantly slimmed down, there is little resource to analyse, understand and react to this amount of data. They have to find a way though. Marketers are in charge of the real customer journey because they now have the information that they always dreamed of having. It’s theirs and they have to use it wisely.
Of course, there are many operators and brands out there that have collected test-and-trace data by hand, do take walk-ins, don’t have customer Wi-Fi, still have printed menus, haven’t yet adopted order-and-pay technology, don’t deliver and don’t offer click and collect or any combination of these. They may have taken a very conscious decision not to build a customer database or to communicate with digitally with their customers.
Undoubtedly, there will be a place for these in the near future. Before too long though, most customers will be demanding (and expecting) that operators have thought through their end-to-end digital journey and made it work for both parties. We ignore their voice at our peril.