Food For Thought: The paradox of technology and the human touch

Our Sales and Partnership Manager, Paul Berryman brings us another 'Food for Thought' blog. This month he looks at the importance for hospitality businesses in balancing the advantages of technology adoption for customer retention and acquisition while still safeguarding that all-important human touch.

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Recently I went to grab a coffee from one of my favourite coffee shops and it got me thinking. Despite there being several coffee outlets within about a half a mile radius, a mix of well-known brands, smaller chains and the odd independent, I found myself walking to the one furthest away. And this isn’t the first time I’ve gone out of my way.

Why did I do this? It wasn’t because they serve up the best coffee and it certainly isn’t the cheapest coffee. It was because I like the people, I like their genuine service with a smile, the feeling that they know me and I’m valued. In fact, I’m not a big fan of loyalty cards (there are simply too many out there for me to either keep in my wallet or Apps on my phone) but I am signed up to theirs.

At this coffee and sandwich shop, a small chain of four, they have truly mastered the art of true hospitality through the human touch, whilst harnessing technology to make my life easier and make me feel valued.

In fact, I am now a frequent user of their click and collect feature in the App, and love the fact that despite the extra time to walk to the shop, my order is ready for me and served to me by familiar staff in a welcoming manner.

Customers love the convenience of technology. Is it enough?

More and more when the future of the hospitality industry is discussed, the conversation nearly always leads to technology. After all, consumers of all ages want speed, efficiency and a no wait experience. From easy smartphone ordering, drive-thru’s and disruptive mobile app delivery providers such as Just Eat, Deliveroo and more recently Uber Eats, technology has changed the restaurant and takeaway world. And customers love the convenience and control it brings.

The paradox: How technology is helping all types of restaurants stay human

Humanization and automation. We want both. With the rise of technology across our sector and the many operational, revenue and customer experience benefits it brings, there is a fine equilibrium between balancing technology and maintaining the all-important human touch.

In tough economic and politically uncertain times and with fierce competition, many operators are being forced into using technology to attract customers, improve the customer experience, drive efficiency and cut costs. Whether it’s making dining reservations, providing nutritional and allergy information, click and collect, splitting bills, streamlining order and kitchen management processes, technology in the restaurant industry is making things simpler and more transparent. And those adopting technology are seeing the advantage. But human interaction is still king.

A people business

Even with the advent of complex technology such as AI and predicative analytics, restauranteurs need to stay true to who they are as a business. The one constant trend is the value of humans in building relationships with customers.

Human interaction remains core to the hospitality industry. Shared moments of personal service are the real experience that restaurant guests’ value most. But the more we replace the front-end guest-facing side with machine-managed interactions, the more we risk losing touch with customers.

Innovation in personalisation and customisation

The answer is not to avoid or drive out automation and self-order but to consider how we use technology to deliver personalised experiences to customers.

Restaurant technology can and will enable a more personalised, convenient and valued customer experience when implemented correctly. Take advanced CRM applications such as Como or Yoyo and their ability to work in an omni-channel environment and empower serving staff to immediately greet customers with a warm welcome driven by knowledge of the guest’s name and preferences. Or the rise of digital menus and self-order technology that provides customers with the customisation, order control and product information they crave today.

The human touch reigns

Restaurants are increasingly expected to deliver a new and different experience.  One that leaves a lasting memory, distinguishes them from their competitors and embraces not just technology but the future. And what is that future? Here come the millennials. A generation of digital natives with significant spending power. In fact, millennials already account for an average of 29% of revenue for restaurants

Interestingly, 72% of tech thirsty Millennials value human interaction with restaurant staff, whilst 47% of Millennials want to be able to order food at a restaurant before arriving. And with 13% of their income being spent on dining out, getting the technology and human balance is critical. As is, ensuring we don’t alienate other customers.

In my opinion, technology in our sector should be about benefiting everyone from empowering staff to interact freely and knowledgeably with guests to communication between front of house and back of house staff. It should give customers the autonomy to browse menus and product ingredients, order and pay in a way that is convenient to them and use intelligent data and CRM applications to bond the relationship between customer and brand.

Finding the right solutions: Key questions to ask yourself

Introducing the right technology into any restaurant, QSR or bar outlet is a necessity, and there is some great technology out there. But can too much tech and in-store digitisation take us away from our core principles of the human touch, the foundations of our business?

For restauranteurs, it’s not about investing in every new piece of technology that comes to market. It’s about investing in the right solution for your outlet and your customer. A good starting point is to ask yourself a few simple questions:

  1. Does is solve a common pain point of the customer experience or will it exceed your current customer experience?
  2. Would its implementation enable your staff to offer a more personalised and attentive service to your customers?
  3. Do the features offer something different, a wow factor, for customers, or will the tech help operational efficiency which in turn will enhance the guest experience?
  4. Will it work towards establishing a balance between technology and the human touch?
  5. Does your EPoS and the new technology integrate easily? Do the vendors have an open or closed approach to API?

Today, technology remains an essential ingredient to a good dining experience, if it is used to the right degree. There are ways to include technology in a full-service experience that does not completely take away from the overall experience. And, if the consistent evolution of technology in the restaurant space tells us anything, it’s that it’s not going anywhere.

Although technology will always have a presence in the future of outlets of all shapes and sizes, some things should remain consistent, including the contact between our front of house staff and our guests. Customers should be able to control the experience to the extent they want, but still be able to fall back on our staff to make sure they are really getting the best restaurant experience possible.