Rosalind Mullen reports
If you thought technology had nothing to do with providing a warm and personalised customer welcome, think again. Your competitors are already greeting restaurant diners with their favourite tipple on their birthday, solving issues in real time before customers even make a complaint, or personalising hotel guest experiences by enabling them to select the room layout they prefer. And it's all down to technology.
"Technology is an enabler. It gives you the tools to deliver the best experience," says consultant Francesca Danzi, who is currently advising Cheerfy, a customer recognition management (CRM) system that uses a hospitality business's existing Wi-Fi to build up a profile of individual customers.
Key benefits of Cheerfy's technology are that when a registered customer walks in, the manager or maÁ®tre d' is notified of the guest's name and preferences. They can, for instance, see on their device that it is the guest's birthday and offer them a complimentary glass of wine or whatever fits their taste profile, and the manager can send a personalised welcome message with menu recommendations. Any purchase feeds into the guest profile.
"Today, to build customer loyalty you don't just need valuable reward; customers want to be valued in a mutual relationship. It is more emotional. The more that you add an emotional side, the stronger the bond is," explains Danzi. "They want you to remember their name and prepare their coffee as they like it."
Danzi, who helped transform Burberry into a digital luxury brand, adds that the retail industry has been gathering customer data for at least a decade. "We mapped the customers' journey before, during and after they visited the store to keep the experience high. Restaurants can learn from this. Customers want to be acknowledged and they will give out data if they get something in return. Customers are your best marketeers beyond the restaurant."
What's attractive about many of today's CRM systems is that they don't involve clunky questionnaires, bureaucratic loyalty cards, impersonal email dumps or huge investment. Cheerfy, for instance, uses an outlet's existing Wi-Fi. Customers don't have to download a user app, nor check in. The first time they visit the restaurant, the customer receives an initial alert and clicks once to register. That's it.
Chief executive and co-founder Carlos Gomez explains: "Most customers' phones are already tuned to Wi-Fi, so once they have registered with one click, they are automatically connected to that restaurant when they walk in. They are also automatically connected with any other restaurant that uses Cheerfy."
First impressions count
Through boosting your knowledge of the customer, you can create loyalty and revenues, adds chief operating officer and co-founder Adrian Maseda. "Arrival is crucial. That is when you can have an impact on the customer. But you can also message them on departure, thanking them for their visit or recording their feedback."
It's up to the restaurant to make the technology relevant to the brand's DNA. The platform, for example, allows the restaurant to identify high-value or VIP customers, so when service is busy it flags up their arrival.
Consultant Stephen Macintosh, another Cheerfy adviser, points out that far from being impersonal, collecting data ensures streamlined personal service: "A great maÁ®tre d' knows everyone by name, but the industry is very transient and competitive. If you lose key staff, you lose your index of information. If you don't connect the next time the guest visits, they will be unlikely to return," he says.
Having notched up experience as a general manager at various London restaurants, Macintosh was frustrated that traditional methods of gathering data connected only with the person making the booking rather than all the guests.
"Feeling cared for and special is the ultimate reason why people return, so when you gather information in a quick, immediate way, it allows individual service. It means the restaurant connects with people on a deeper level. You can target the customer without taking a mass market approach," he says.
There is a backlash against mass marketing, agrees Maseda. "In the past, people sold products, such as cups of coffee. Now, customers want an experience and that needs to be relevant. It is not much different to Netflix suggesting a choice of films that are similar to the movie you just watched. People don't want to be spammed with the same messages as everyone else. They expect personalised treatment. That drives loyalty."
But aren't most people protective of their personal information? "People are less and less concerned with infiltration," says Maseda. "And it isn't necessarily generational. Facebook started with a younger crowd and that has expanded. My dad is now on Facebook. Millennials in particular are not worried. Some 75% who connect offer information."
Gomez adds: "One side we take seriously is that people don't share what they don't want to share. But in restaurants, a waiter writes notes about guests to improve service the next time. Our system adds a superpower to a world that already wants to make a difference."
Make it personal
So what results are businesses seeing? The pair claim that the opportunity to create a loyal customer is 10 times higher if that customer registers with their product. And some 80% of registered customers use social credentials to provide a richer profile, which is a good sign of engagement.
"We are enabling restaurants to learn about their customers and to recommend products. The point of sale shows what people are ordering, but doesn't offer much information about the customer. But now you can put a name to those transactions," says Maseda.
Another digital customer experience company, Airship, provides customer relationship management for casual-dining chains such as Living Ventures and Revolution, by taking customer data and creating a single customer view that clients use to drive recognition.
"In layman's terms, imagine a massive funnel that you pour all your raw data into," says commercial director Dan Brookman. "We take that information and use a variety of tools to create customer profiles that allow you to see them in a whole new way. This means you can market to them better."
The company's most recent innovation is Airship Milestones, a tool that measures customer engagement over time and against a set of 24 algorithms. Airship sends around a million emails a day to clients' customers. These range from delivering loyalty rewards and sending birthday greetings to reminding a customer that it is time for another visit based on frequency or monetary triggers.
"A customer should constantly benefit from giving their data to a brand, whether this is through more relevant and timely communications, a better online experience or that when they visit your business they receive recognition - not only if they swipe an app or card," says Brookman. "And every piece of digital marketing should be measureable."
The initial cost can be substantial, as you are implementing a two- to three-year strategy, but Brookman says his clients work on between eight and 12 times return on investment.
Rooms for improvement
Personalising a guest's visit need not be rocket science, however. Alastair Campbell, former customer and markets and strategy director at glh Hotels, has picked up several awards this year for his personalised room-booking initiative, Choose Your Own Room.
Guests at GLH's properties can use their phone or computer to select the room they want. Every room has been photographed with 360-degree views so guests can see all aspects.
"It is a massively under-met need," says Campbell. "I can't think of anything else that you pay £400 for before you see it. For instance, some guests don't want to be near the lifts, others do. Neither is a majority, but they all have an intense preference and now they can personalise their stay."
GLH has emulated the personal touch in other ways, too: "Mostly, chain hotel dynamics suck the management decisions away from hotel, and this includes the guest experience, but we reversed it. The customer relationship manager will call guests before they arrive, which creates a warmth. Rather than predict what they want, the hotel asks them."
Real-time feedback means happier customers
Simon Gaske, customer experience director at bar and club operator Novus Leisure, whose brands include Tiger Tiger, has worked with retail technology specialist Red Ant to create a real-time customer feedback app called Customer Experience Dashboard.
It allows Novus to monitor social media comments about its venues, enabling staff to address problems in real-time, deliver better service and boost business. Staff in each venue monitor a dashboard via a smartphone or tablet.
"It's not in your face; the customer doesn't know," explains Gaske. "If Twitter is alive with comments about a venue's toilets, we go and fix that problem."
Results from trial venues revealed that the system reduced social media response time from 12.25 hours to 90 minutes, while negative sentiment fell to 8% of all posts compared with 12% across all other sites.
Features include gathering instant updates of customer experiences; combining Twitter, Facebook posts and instant messaging into one feed so that staff can read, reply to and act on customer comments and enquiries; and the ability to post content to these social channels.
By fixing a problem on the spot, staff can head off any complaints and have happier customers. If anyone slips through the net onto a review site, the dashboard then triggers the need to respond.
"We publicly respond. We are not afraid of displaying to other customers how we handle situations," says Gaske.
"There is an investment, but it is like-for-like with the traditional systems," says Gaske. "Our chief executive is customer-focused. He wants to ensure customers tell more people about us and spend more money with us."
Phase three will highlight who is talking about the venue and enable the dashboard to marry with the tills to reveal in real-time how sales are affected by poor or good 'conversations'.
"Listening to the customer through a variety of channels, for example Trip Advisor, is crucial - a way for us to grow our sales via repeat customers," says Gaske
Customising the customer experience
Autogrill is an international chain with more than 4,000 restaurants in over 30 countries and it is about to trial Cheerfy in Spain. Head of marketing in Iberia, Daniel Rodriguez, explains why he is looking for digital customer relationship management.
What is the profile of Autogrill customers?
We operate in airports, railway stations and on motorways, so have a wide customer profile - families, business people, commuters and truckers. Most of these customers are connecting through their devices, so we need to embrace digitalisation as fast as possible to interact with them.
Which methods have you been using to connect with your customers?
We are a concession business, so customers use us for convenience rather than as a destination. At the moment, we have Vyaggio App, which helps customers locate our stores worldwide. However, there is probably not enough added value for them to keep the app downloaded in their smartphones.
We also use social media to listen to customers, to interact with them and to help them build a relationship with us. It has become a strategic means to connect with our customers.
Why are you choosing Cheerfy's system?
We want to see how it will help us to improve the customer experience through personalisation and customisation of the interaction between brand and customer. Cheerfy has an important key point - you don't need to download a specific app. We already offer free Wi-Fi in our stores, so it is clearly a friendly way to connect with our customers. We are going to test it in three stores in Spain across three concepts: table service, free-flow and counter bar. We want to understand how it works and assess which performs better.
Why is important to gather this type of information on your customers?
It will allow us to work on customising their experience. The more information you have, the better service you can offer to your customers.
And what business results are you hoping to achieve?
We expect to improve the customer experience, which should bring us more sales. We think it will be easy to manage and will be useful and friendly to customers.
Sponsor's comment: Cheerfy
Cheerfy is the in-store customer engagement solution for restaurants, pubs and coffee shops.
It boosts your knowledge about your customers, enabling instore personalised interactions that drive loyalty and increase revenues.
By integrating with your existing Wi-Fi network and your CRM/PoS, Cheerfy identifies customers as they walk into your store. This gives you the chance to automatically send personalised messages to your customers, such as a cocktail recommendation during happy hour or a congratulation for their birthday.
Even more, by notifying your employees of the arrival of VIP customers, Cheerfy lets you treat them to a greater personal experience and make them feel special.
All of this without a user app, customer manual check-in or additional hardware.