step ahead. Elly Earls reports
A month ago, the thought of using your smartphone to chase augmented reality cartoon characters through the streets of London was not likely to have entered your head. Now, Pokémon Go is part and parcel of
life in the capital, having surpassed both Tinder and Twitter in popularity within days.
And hospitality operators should sit up and take notice. While Pokémon Go is an extreme example, the digital landscape can quite literally change overnight, making it imperative for them to team up with mobile solution providers that are one step ahead of the game, ready to react to technology advances and the evolution in customer expectations that inevitably follows before things move on - again.
What guests love today Following a huge amount of evolution in the space of only a few years, the most advanced mobile solutions available to hospitality operators not only reduce frustration for guests by allowing them to order, pay and give feedback right from their smartphones, they're also delivering big benefits for operators in the form of unprecedented amounts of customer data. In some cases, where this data is combined with Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi technology, restaurateurs are reaching the point of greeting their guests by name when they walk in.
But it's actually some of the more basic features of today's mobile solutions that are proving most popular with end-users - not least the ability that many of them offer to pre-order.
Wi-Q, for example, a cloud-based HTML solution for ordering and payment, has seen a big rise in demand from takeaway outlets who want to speed the process up for their customers. "Customers want to order on the train
or from the office and collect when they're ready without having to wait," says Stephen Kennedy, non-executive chairman of Wi-Q.
"The main feedback from diners is that they love the convenience and speed."
This has been borne out by the experience of one of Wi-Q's newest customers, coffee house Red Eye Coffee Roasters, which implemented the solution a month ago. "We're based on a business park in Galway, where a
lot of people want to have lunch at the same time," explains co-founder and director Steve Delaney. "With Wi-Q, they can order in advance - in only 30 seconds if they have Paypal account - and the food is ready for them, reducing the queuing time and spreading work out over a longer period for our staff."
Similarly, at EPoS provider Zonal Retail Data Systems, the biggest growth over recent months has been in pre-order apps, which are working particularly well for theatre groups to boost sales in the interval.
"Many people forego the interval drink due to the long queues and crowded foyers. The new app tackles this problem by allowing theatre-goers to pre-order drinks and have them delivered to their seat, avoiding queues and hassle," says sales and market director Clive Consterdine. He adds that venues that have rolled out the solution have seen very strong uptake, with revenue growing exponentially. At mobile payment app provider Flypay, the bill-splitting features are proving the most appealing to diners.
"People really love the flexibility around how they can split the bill - we have a lot of feedback saying it diffuses the tension at the end of the evening," says Flypay chief executive Tom Weaver. "Our bar tab solution has also been really great for groups. It cleverly splits the bill between everybody who's there and essentially makes it a more democratic night out!"
Operators' favourite features Loyalty programmes or integration with operators' already-existing loyalty programmes are fast becoming another popular feature of the latest mobile solutions - for diners and restaurateurs alike. "Operators want apps that become part of their users' lifestyles - not just something that is used once or twice and then abandoned. Because of this, we've found that integration of our app with loyalty programmes is a popular element," says Gillian Jones, head of business development for mobile ordering and payment firm QikServe.
"Giving diners the opportunity to use their app on a regular basis to earn rewards and receive discounts can be a powerful way to ensure regular 'lifestyle' usage, while the valuable customer data collected by these programmes is also very useful for operators, making this feature a win-win."
And it's not just through loyalty programmes that operators are using mobile solutions to gather that allimportant customer data. Mobile payment app provider Zapper, for example, offers its clients an advanced payment
reporting portal through which restaurants can really dig down into their transactional data, tracking trends and analysing reports as well as instantly receiving updates on feedback customers leave after a meal.
The information they can glean from their customers' purchasing habits then means follow- up marketing material and rewards can be tailored to each individual user, something Mark Bower, manager at Zapper client Goburrito has found invaluable. "The online portal means we can keep track of regular customers and the amount they spend per transaction. We can now offer our returning customers better deals," he explains.
For Consterdine, these sorts of personalised promotions are undoubtedly the way forward. "Where apps become really appealing is when operators take the time to use them to engage with and optimise the customer experience," he believes. "If you know your customer visits your restaurant with their family, then family offers are going to be much more meaningful than a promotion directed at a young couple."
Yet crucially, even the most well thought-out features will not be successful unless they're simple for both operators and customers to use. "If it's not easy, people will go out and find something that is," says Jim Wilkinson, business development director for sports, leisure and hospitality at EPoS provider MCR Systems.
"Give me something I want and make it simple for me and I'm more likely to come and do it again. But put a barrier in my way and you'll have to re-incentivise me. The old adage of 'get it right first time' really applies here."
Kennedy agrees. "Wi-Q not being an app is the best example. Customers don't want to have to find and download an app, log in and update it before they have even started. Using the venue's Wi-Fi is simple, secure and instant, and that's why Wi-Q works so well," he says.
The future's integrated As technology continues to advance and customer demands along with it, not one mobile solution provider plans to stand still in the months and years to come. And there's one common trend: integration. QikServe, for example, had previously only been available as a standalone app, but the company's latest move has been to introduce a software development kit (SDK) to allow businesses to build its mobile ordering and payment capabilities into their existing mobile solutions.
"Many operators have already made some investment in mobile applications, so asking customers to use a separate app for ordering doesn't make sense," Jones explains.
And Flypay's newest product, Flyt, which was designed to give hospitality businesses the flexibility to innovate quicker, will take this idea to a whole new level. "The philosophy behind Flyt's platform technology is simple:
to say goodbye to all the hassles that get in the way of having a great time by enabling a wave of digital commerce experiences across the customer journey, working collaboratively with many other companies in the
sector," Weaver explains.
Looking at specific technologies, providers and operators will also need to keep their eye on new developments in Bluetooth and augmented reality. "These developments might quickly advance and become relevant to users
and operators in our market," advises Jones.
Although ask Zapper, and the former already has. The company is using smart Bluetooth to attract nearby users into their client restaurants with alerts straight to customers' phones about important daily offers, last-minute
events, menu changes and more.
Ones to watch
Yumpingo Tired of being asked to go home, log onto a 50-character web address and spend 20 minutes filling out a review form for the chance to win a bottle of wine, Gary Goodman decided to take matters into his own hands and build a review platform that actually captures what guests think then and there and can be actioned by kitchens almost immediately.
Enter Yumpingo. A review and analytics platform for the restaurant industry launching this summer, it captures real-time, dish-specific reviews through a web app by asking customers two questions: 'What do you recommend?' and 'How was your meal?'
Not only does this result in better experiences for customers, who can ask everyone dining in the restaurant for their recommendations rather than relying on out-of-date TripAdvisor reviews, it's great for operators, who can use the instant feedback to fix problems on dishes before they escalate.
Early feedback from operators has been overwhelmingly positive. "One head chef asked for a magic wand scenario where (like the Beano he read as a child) he could see thought bubbles with what his customers actually
thought of the food he wanted them to love," Goodman recalls.
"Yumpingo delivers on this feature brilliantly and it is really exciting to see how well people are engaging with the app. In commercial pilots, we have delivered over 200 reviews in an hour for a service. The data we are delivering is transformational."
Brasserie Blanc, which started testing the system in July, can't wait to start reaping the benefits. "It's really intriguing that we'll be able to get live feedback from people who are eating in our restaurants," says the group's marketing director Kathryn Coury. "I also love the idea of guests recommending to guests, particularly as we have quite a large menu and people might not have had some of the dishes before."
"Plus, if there's an issue with portion size, say, we can act accordingly, which is absolutely great. All we want to do is give people the bestlooking, best-tasting food, for good value, and this platform should help us to achieve that."
Cheerfy Remember Minority Report? That bit where Tom Cruise's character walks into the Gap, is immediately recognised via a retina scan and asked whether he enjoyed his prior purchase? Well, we might not quite be at the retinascanning level yet, but Wi-Fi-based customer recognition tool Cheerfy isn't too far off.
"We offer that super-personalised experience, where the business is able to recognise you and treat you personally because they know of your interests, when you were there last and what might be of interest to you
next," explains co-founder Adrian Maseda.
The way it works is when a customer enters a Cheerfy restaurant for the first time, they are advised to connect to the venue's Wi-Fi, in order to be offered a better service and a more personal experience, and register with their social credentials. From that moment on, they will be automatically connected and detected every time they enter any Cheerfy business.
And their profile isn't only populated by information from their Facebook or LinkedIn account. "It can be built out by the business from three sources of information - the information the customer gives them when they register in the first place, information inputted by employees as they learn things about the customer, and information in businesses' existing customer databases," says Maseda.
Both high-end restaurants and casual chains have seen benefits from using the solution. "When you talk to the high-end operators that have a philosophy of excellence in customer service and want to create a more personal
experience, they're very much into using Cheerfy to understand who their customers are and make sure every employee in their business knows what each customer likes and dislikes," says Maseda.
"On the other hand, in lower-end chains, their approach is more towards automatic messaging, recommendations and campaigns; in other words, engaging customers electronically to either keep them informed or send them promotions."