As we’ve already seen, customer-focused technology seems to always be based around two distinct themes: integration and control. Integration of things like mobile ordering systems with advanced EPoS terminals can make the guest experience appear seamless; while an app can give the customer total control of everything from how they want their steak cooked to the temperature of their hotel room.
But the chain doesn’t end there. Perhaps the most effective use of technology comes when the customer has actually walked out of the door – if used effectively, online reservation systems and mobile apps can encourage repeat custom without the guest realising it. And this all begins with data capture.
“It’s not just about securing bookings,” advises David Miller, head of UK marketing at online reservations and marketing company Livebookings. “It’s now about relationship building and as people become less brand-loyal, loyalty is going to get much harder.
“More sophisticated technology that gives you more detail about their habits can help you retain that loyalty.”
Shannon Arnold, director of marketing for EPoS provider Maitre’D, agrees. “Integration with customer loyalty programs has evolved immensely and now allows business to provide valuable insight into customer databases and improve marketing programs, making them much more relevant and timely to customers today,” Arnold says.
“This is crucial in ensuring the success of a program and increasing customer counts, repeat visits and sales. Servers can even make suggestions based on customer history or extend a special offer or invitation for a patron’s birthday, for example.”
This is where a sophisticated online/mobile reservation system comes in handy. The basic details of any booking - whether a diner books for lunch or dinner, or if a guest books a spa treatment with their twin room – can be collected and used for future marketing.
Email marketing is still the main driver of repeat business and, as consumers have become ‘value hunters’, they are increasingly willing to go extra lengths to get the best deal – so these targeted offers are highly likely to lead to a direct increase in repeat custom.
“We can capture a lot more data this way,” explains Philip Blundell from Eagle Eye – the digital loyalty company supplies a code either by SMS or email to diners which relates to the offer they are looking to redeem. The code comes charged with the diners’ details and - crucially - is input back into a restaurant’s reservations system.
“The restaurant can see for example that a diner likes to take offers up on a Monday and can adjust their marketing accordingly,” adds Blundell. “From a consumer’s point of view, it is easier too as they don’t have to print out a piece of paper, they just need to take in their phone and access the email or SMS with the code.”
It is this more personable and ‘hassle-free’ approach to technology that will not only have your customers returning, but potentially seeing an improvement to service when they do.
In the three parts of this feature, we’ve analysed an array of customer-focused technological implementations from mobile check-in to ordering apps and fast Wi-Fi. But, as we look ahead to the future, perhaps the most efficient way of delivering all of this would be to employ a single, all-in-one system that offers it all.
Cardola - ‘an app designed by hoteliers for hoteliers’ – is exactly that. The multi-functional app first serves as a booking engine for customers to make reservations; then as a guest portal, presenting all of the hotel’s services and local information on an in-room iPad or the guest’s own mobile devices.
Hotel guests can use the app to place room service orders, book spa treatments or even book a round on a local golf course. Then, once they’ve left, their preferences are stored on the app and Cardola integrates with the hotel’s existing PMS systems to ensure guest records are accurate and up-to-date.
“Hotels are all about providing service and our application is all about that,” explains Cardola’s founder Tim Butterworth. “2012 was all about mobile enablement, focussing on enabling pre-stay interactions and promotion of amenities and services once the guest has arrived at the hotel.
“The next step is for hotels to adopt apps that increase the stickiness of a guest to a hotel or brand. Modern hotel apps will be all about opening the door to guests – before, during and after their stay, rather than restricting their use to just the initial booking process or once inside the hotel.”
Apps like Cardola are a sign of where things are heading. The two key themes of ‘integration’ and ‘control’ mentioned earlier are just as important for business owners as they are for their customers. As a customer wants technology to help deliver a seamless experience that they have complete control over, so the hotelier, restaurateur or publican wants to be able to deliver this technology using a single system which they can use to record customer data.
So says Clive Consterdine, director of sales and marketing for Zonal. “It’s about the full integration of managing the customer journey from the point where they are sat at home considering whether to go out and browsing to making that reservation,” he says.
“Then, arriving and being recognised - be it via someone that is greeting them or through recognition using technology that knows you have arrived because you are carrying a smartphone, and knows that you like a glass of Prosecco waiting on your table when you arrive.
"This continues all the way through to processing the order, being able to track how long it took you to place your order, how long it took to prepare your food, how long it took you for the food to arrive on the table and how long it took you to pay. To then collect all that feedback and information and have it stored against your customer record, you are in a totally different place to anywhere hospitality operators have been before.
“That technology is here now, but the challenge is ensuring that it is all-in-one system and not in disparate systems, because disparate systems are not as powerful and you can’t do as much with the information.”
This philosophy is beginning to be adopted by some of the larger firms. In the past year alone, restaurant and pub chains such as Giraffe, Prezzo and TCG have launched apps which allow diners to reserve a table, browse menus and – in the case of the latter two – place orders from their phones.
Similar developments have been occurring in the hotel sector, with Marriott, Starwood and Jurys Inn providing apps which offer everything from mobile check-in to smartphone key technology and check-out. Operators across the country are beginning to seize the opportunity and quickly picking up on the business benefits this customer-focused technology can offer.
Customer-focussed technology: The future...
The world of technology is, by its very nature, driven by innovation and change. And, as this feature has shown, ordering room service through smartphones, dining with on-table touchscreens and browsing drinks lists on iPads are not visions of the future, they are happening right now.
But where is all of this heading? What are the big technological developments that will impact restaurants, hotels and pubs in years to come, and what can operators do to stay ahead of the curve? We asked three leading technology experts for their views.
- David Backshall, EMEA sales director, Omnico Group
"The biggest development in customer-focused technology will be ‘personalisation’, in a word. With big data being the latest buzzword of the moment, the challenge for business is to segment and personalise all the data that is available globally about consumers and use that information to provide an exception customer experience in a way consumers will love."
- Shannon Arnold, director of marketing, Maitre’D
"There is a lot of movement within the payments industry with the emergence and adoption of mobile wallets (such as Google wallet). There are also trends that are emerging with regards to tablet-based solutions, which go beyond the order-taking process.
There are now new solutions where tablets are made available to the customer after they are seated and range anywhere from allowing the customer to place orders themselves, to the customer to providing on-demand entertainment, menu suggestions, access to the social media profiles, prompting them to share their experience at the restaurant.
- Clive Consterdine, director of sales and marketing, Zonal
"Mobile payment is definitely going to be the big growth area next year. It is particularly useful for people doing fast dining - if you are in an office and you want to go to lunch, but you know you have only got a short period of time. If you can secure your table, order your food and pay for it before you arrive, that will encourage you to go out at lunchtime.
"I think that enabling consumers to behave as they are behaving with other areas of retail is going to be where hospitality operators are going to have to arrive.
For all of our articles in this customer-focused technology special feature, click here.