By Rick Thompson, Franchise Finance Managing Director/BMO Harris
Technology can do a lot for quick-service restaurants, from reducing operating costs, streamlining operations, enhancing customer loyalty and food and service quality, while creating more personalized experiences. But many quick-service restaurants hesitate with technology, fearing they will be unable to bridge the divide between its benefits and challenges.
Through regular meetings with our restaurant franchise clients, we have a unique understanding of their technology decision-making process and have learned firsthand what does and does not work with respect to this subject. Following are five best practices to help QSR leaders mitigate technology implementation challenges:
1. Favor tools that enhance the customer experience.
While technology offers a variety of benefits, it's important that quick-service restaurants not sacrifice the customer experience for the latest tech trend. While some technology is focused more on the operational side of the business, any technology that affects the customer — such as mobile ordering, customer apps, or digital signage — must also enhance their experience. Our clients recommend if it doesn't have customers' best interest in mind, move along.
2. Think big (data), but not too big.
With advances in computing, storage technologies and analytics software, restaurateurs can gain more insight into customer behavior and in-store operations than ever before. Big Data can help restaurants analyze in-store traffic, as well as schedule staff more efficiently, identify purchasing trends, fine-tune marketing, streamline purchasing and more.
But, with so many data points available, restaurants can track nearly any metric they want and that's not necessarily a good thing. The more information they capture, the harder it becomes to extrapolate actionable intelligence. So it's wiser to focus efforts on data sets that have the greatest impact, rather than casting a wide data net and tracking every piece of information available.
3. Data security for you and your customer comes first.
While technology has made it easier for restaurants to collect data on customers, as well as their purchasing behaviors, it has also created challenges around how to protect that sensitive information. Any operational benefits or enhancements to the customer experience will quickly evaporate in the heat of a data compromise with its resulting loss of business and the damage it does to a restaurant's reputation. Restaurants must understand evolving data security threats and have a data security plan in place to protect sensitive information.
4. Ensure compatibility.
Many of our restaurant franchise clients have grown through acquisitions, and often the new technology platforms they've inherited as a result are incompatible with their legacy systems.These clients caution that restaurants should assess their current technology platforms to ensure compatibility with any new tools under consideration, then upgrade those that are incompatible so their systems can communicate with each other.
5. Establish goals and prioritize.
Whether you want to cut costs, improve scheduling, or enhance the customer experience, knowing where you want to go is the first step in mapping out how to get there. So, while the new technology available to restaurant franchises offers nearly limitless potential, restaurants need a solid implementation plan to prioritize spending and maximize the use of that technology to solve their challenges.
The bottom line: In the past, many quick-service restaurant franchises viewed technology as merely a support function. Now, however, restaurateurs see it more for what it is — a strategy. These five tips are key to maximizing this tool strategically to learn more about customers, streamline operations, grow business and create a competitive advantage.
BMO Harris Franchise Finance Managing Director Rick Thompson is oversees a team charged with identifying the finance needs of a diverse group of national franchise clients.
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