By Amy Allen
If you're a restaurateur, chances are you've toyed with the possibility of building an app—that is, if you haven't done so already. In the restaurant industry, an app can be a useful tool for guests to browse menus, place orders, make reservations, and even collect and track their loyalty points. They're often touted as the next big thing in customer loyalty initiatives, and with good reason. Your guests will be more likely to stick with your brand if they can manage all their interactions with you from one centralized place.
|Amy Allen is manager of content marketing and social media at Benbria Corporation, a mobile engagement solution.|
However, apps aren't necessarily the golden ticket to success. Studies have shown that app use is way, way down among smartphone owners. In fact, more than 60 percent of smartphone users download an average of zero apps every month, and most of those are opened only once.
Moreover, the majority of smartphone owners spend 80 percent of their time in just five apps, the most popular of which are Facebook, YouTube, Maps, Pandora and Gmail. Consumers are less and less willing to clutter up their phones with apps they won't use on a regular basis. Against such steep competition, your app is unlikely to be used by most of the consumers who walk through your restaurant's door.
So, if apps aren't the most effective way to win guest loyalty, what's the solution?
The guest experience
When guests patronize a restaurant, they look for more than just good food. They expect to have a well-rounded experience — an experience shaped by the cleanliness and ambience of their surroundings, as well as the quality of the service they receive. In fact, 68 percent of consumers are willing to spend more with a brand that offers them exceptional service. The best food in the world will always leave a sour aftertaste if the experience that accompanies it is lacking.
You can't always prevent surly employees and crumbs on tabletops, but you can give your guests a way to let you know when these things become an issue, and you can pledge to resolve them so they don't affect future guests. The key to an exceptional guest experience is making sure your guests feel they are valued at every stage of their visit and helping them build an emotional connection with your brand.
A two-way dialogue
Statistics support the importance of messaging. Roughly 75 percent of consumers would rather use text than voice to communicate with front-line team members. Moreover, with 90 percent of consumers in agreement, texting commands a higher customer satisfaction rating than either phone (77 percent) or Facebook (66 percent).
There are several reasons your guests want to connect with you via messaging. Many of them may not feel comfortable approaching a front-line team member about an issue they're having with their experience. Others may not have the time to wait to speak to a manager. Messaging allows them to contact the brand behind a shield of anonymity, if that is their wish, or reach out after they have left the store, when they have a spare minute.
Instead of an app, or perhaps in addition to one, restaurateurs should consider making the brand available to guests via messaging. Giving them an outlet to quickly and conveniently express their thoughts about the experience — and receive a timely response from management, if the situation warrants it — will make them feel special.
When you create a guest experience that's about give and take, it demonstrates to the guest that they are contributing meaningfully to the brand. It makes them feel that their thoughts and feelings about the brand are being heard and valued.
Additionally, catching issues before the guest can air them on Yelp or social media can help brands control their online reputation. If you give your guests an outlet to tell you what needs improvement, it gives you the opportunity to address their problems and fix them, sometimes before they even leave your store.
That's why messaging is more effective than an app at encouraging guest loyalty — it helps brands build a real relationship with their guests that is based on dialogue, trust and transparency.