The way hospitality businesses capture, store and use their customers’ data is changing, with GDPR having a wide-reaching impact on the sector. In parallel, new technologies are generating both challenges and opportunities for the sector. The Hostech 2018 conference looked at how the hospitality industry is managing technical challenges and adopting new tech.
Driving brand loyalty in a digital world
Restaurants use much of their customer data for building brand loyalty. The amount of data they have has increased but there is a trend towards customers becoming increasingly disloyal. “It is easy for customers to switch in and out of brands,” said Celia Pronto, chief digital officer at Casual Dining Group. “Everything is driven by reviews. Reviews have become the de facto research process”, she added.
Operators need to use digital platforms to communicate with their customers in a way that speaks directly to them, in turn encouraging engagement and loyalty. Be At One is achieving this through its app, which it launched five years ago. Chief operating officer Andrew Stones said the app has driven increased loyalty and custom, especially at quieter times. He pointed out that standard guests visit its bars on average four times a year, compared with 11 times for the average app user. This increased number of visits is attributed to the ‘Appi Hour’ feature of the app. It works with Be At One’s staff delivering a code to app users, to be entered into the app. It then starts a one-hour countdown during which they can get discounted drinks.
Getting to know customers
Beyond driving increased customer loyalty, Be At One’s app asks questions to users through a Tinder-style function called Drinkr. Users swipe left or right to questions about the drinks, flavours and music they prefer. Other questions include ‘is the best hangover cure a glass of cranberry juice?’, ‘are dogs better than cats?’ or ‘love weekends in the countryside?’.
Andrew Stones, chief operating officer at Be At One, said they “want to understand what our guests want and encourage them to visit. Data is important, but guests are getting more cautious about how their data is being used. We need to find more creative ways of collecting it and collate guest preferences in a smarter way.”
Drinkr enables Be At One to build taste profiles of customers. If the data reveals that 70% of users like citrus cocktails, the company can work on a new citrus-based drink, then promote it to those customers and offer them a trial discount. He said that “from a marketing perspective, it is really important to be able to tailor every single message we send out to our guests. The days of sending mass emails to 300,000 people, where every message is the same, are gone.”
Stones then said Be At One was looking into using iBeacons to send notifications to bartenders when certain customers visit their bars. He said that “if a regular customer drinks in our Lyceum bar, all the bartenders will know them. But if they then visit a Birmingham Be At One, the staff there won’t know who they are.” Hence why, if they are an app user, he continued, an alert can be sent to the bartender’s watch, even including a photo of the customer, so that staff can easily offer the customer their favourite drink on the house. However, Stones asked the question of whether this approach could seem creepy, rather than premium customer service.
Mitchells & Butlers digital transformation
Technology is not just helping to boost brand loyalty. Alison Vasey, head of service transition at Mitchells & Butlers, explained that the group underwent a three-year digital transformation aimed at improving customer engagement.
The rollout included:
• Kitchen and table management systems
• The migration of all 16 brand websites onto a single platform
• Real-time pricing
• Online reservation and takeaway ordering systems
• New tills, hand-held ordering and integrated payment
Following the three-year project, the group saw a threefold increase in online table bookings.
The digital journey of the future
Alison Vasey, head of service transition at Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) described a future where various technologies would work together to make the customer dining experience as smooth as possible. Vasey went through an example customer journey, starting with a chatbot prompting a customer to download the restaurant app. Once installed, the customer would use the app to access a map of the dining room, book a specific table and send invitations to friends and family members. They could also enter their payment card details to facilitate payment, pre-order drinks for the table, and even book taxis to the venue. Members of the party could look at menus in advance, with those with food allergies only seeing the dishes they are able to eat.
Vasey then explained that the app would connect with a car’s sat nav, with the restaurant being able to see if the party is running late and respond accordingly. Once at their table, guests would order from a tablet, with the option to customise dishes, and check how long the order is going to take. Before leaving, each diner would drag and drop images of the items they ordered into a digital wallet and make payment. They could also provide feedback on the app, with money credited to their account as a reward.
A lot of the technology required to make this vision a reality is already available. However, Vasey admitted there were still hurdles, such as getting pay-at-table to work, informing customers about mobile payments, and getting them to engage with technology.
Technology integration is key
Tom Weaver, chief executive of tech company Flyt, believes it is essential that disparate technologies can ‘talk to each other’. “There’s Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana, and Amazon’s Echo with Alexa, which was its best-selling product this Christmas. There’s lots of take-up of this technology, but integration is key. One day people might be booking through Siri, the next time through Alexa – it has to happen no matter what interface they use. You need to plan for a world of increasing complexity.”
Similarly, customers are expected to download and use each restaurant app. Hence why Weaver voiced caution to any operator looking to launch one. He reminded the audience that there is a lot of competition for getting customers to download an app, with many people only downloading one or two a month at most. He encouraged businesses to create a digital strategy beyond apps, but rather based on the platforms where each operator can engage with their customers best.
Weaver then questioned how to deal with non-restaurant-specific platforms. Amongst others, he cited Snapchat, which is processing table bookings, and Amazon, which is moving into food delivery. He concluded: “Ten years ago, the biggest companies in the world were mostly in oil, today they are all tech companies.”
What you need to know about GDPR
The large amounts of data collected by hospitality businesses means that GDPR has a particularly big impact on operators. Chris Dunning, founder of consultancy TechQuarters, asked delegates “how many times have you walked into a hotel and had to provide your passport and date of birth, which is then scanned into their system? We are capturing a massive amount of data. In hospitality, the customer identification is a lot higher than other sectors.”
Dunning said that hospitality businesses need to identify what personal identifiable information (PII) they hold and where it is stored, as well as understand the individual rights of the people whose data they hold. PII is often stored on several company systems and devices, including but not limited to CRMs, mobile devices and laptops. He explained that mobile devices used by members of staff to capture PII need to be enrolled into the business. That way, IT departments can enforce policies to protect data, for example requiring staff to enter a pin code for unlocking their smartphones.
Since 25th May 2018, customers are able to contact an operator and demand a record of their personal data, then ask for it to be modified/deleted. Dunning cited a recent survey, which suggests that 27% of consumers might contact a business just to check it is compliant. This means operators must have internal processes to deal with such requests. In addition, he explained that companies should ensure they have the right procedures in place to detect, report and investigate a personal data breach. He recommended businesses to nominate someone in charge of data protection and compliance, as well as create the role of a data protection officer (DPO).