The data differences that put QSR customer engagement on steroids
Though the basic dynamics of the dining experience are pretty much the same as they've always been, with diners choosing a place, ordering and eating, any competitive QSR brand today knows there's a lot more that can, and probably should happen, along that path to really capture customers hearts.
Data is the difference now, and brands that aren't somehow collecting, analyzing and acting on customer data are missing huge opportunities to really build relationships that make customers feel special, and — perhaps more importantly in a business sense — loyal.
The example: A couple and their son
Let's take a simple example: A working couple with an 8-year-old boy goes out for dinner on a busy weeknight. As they wait for their orders, the youngster is probably hungry and squirmy.
Lots of restaurants offer crayons and that's great. But let's imagine the 8-year-old has a tablet to play with while he's waiting. And let's imagine that the tablet prompts him to choose his favorite superhero from a list of 10 options.
So this particularly boy takes a liking to the white Power Ranger and selects that superhero. Then, 10 minutes later, his burger arrives with his drink in a white Power Ranger cup he can keep.
And all that "engagement magic" was put in motion before the family had even ordered.
Making the 'data magic' happen
By identifying customers and proactively and systematically capturing and analyzing transactional data over time, restaurants can access a potential gold mine of insight that really is something like magic.
What did they order? How many were in the party? How often does the customer visit? Was it a family or a group of friends?
Answers to these questions can help a restaurant target promotions and services to particular groups - whether that is a family with small children who want superhero souvenirs, or a group of millennials who — based on past visits — qualify for the Margarita Club.
But today, restaurants fail to capture a vast majority of transactional data around meal orders, payments, and many other aspects of the dining experience. The data that is collected barely scratches the surface of what's possible.
As a result, loyalty and rewards programs are typically limited to generic "$5 off your next order over $30" or "Free drink" offers. That's just not going to make customers feel special, particularly when they're already being bombarded with such options on a daily basis.
Obstacles on the path to amped-up customer engagement
So apart from a lack of imagination, what's stopping restaurants from being more creative in their customer strategies? From a technology standpoint, existing Point of Sale (POS) solutions pose an obstacle.
For the most part, they operate as discrete server and terminal systems that only capture the transactional data that occurs within the restaurant. They don't connect to transactional data from orders placed online or via mobile apps.
Moreover, most POS solutions don't integrate with back-office data. As a result, if a customer buys a meal with points from a multi-partner loyalty program, that data must be communicated to the POS solution via a separate channel.
That means that extracting insights requires the time-consuming and complex task of mining data from myriad sources. And that, in turn, makes it more difficult to access that insight and act on it in real time — when the diner is in the restaurant.
The insights that overcome the obstacles
The good news is that increasingly sophisticated cloud and mobile solutions can collect, aggregate and analyze transaction data from multiple sources. By connecting POS data with back office data on past purchases and loyalty points, these solutions can break down the isolated towers of information within restaurant operations. This provides a platform to collect and analyze data and target customers and promotions with increasing insight and precision.
A solid technology foundation, coupled with a creative and innovative approach to the overall dining experience, can help restaurants engage with customers in a way that builds awareness, loyalty and repeat business.
And that's critical. As an executive of a national fast casual chain recently told me, "If the people who come to our restaurant once a year came twice a year, we'd noticeably increase our market share."