As part of their weekly Friday Opinion column, Propel Info is featuring guest posts from Eko’s management, sharing their take on interesting topics concerning technology in the hospitality industry. Propel is a leading UK publication which has the largest readership in the casual dining and food service sectors. Read the second instalment of the series here, from Eko’s VP, Head of Customer Operations Kylie Mansfield.
Improving customer experience from within, by Kylie Mansfield
There’s a common belief that the food industry is one that lags behind when it comes to embracing technology. Whether or not this statement is a misconception or a fact depends on which side of the coin you look at it from. If you did a quick Google search for technology disruption in the food industry, you’ll find countless articles about consumer-facing innovation around the world, whether it be the rise of online orders and food delivery, e-wallet payment systems, voice ordering and much more. This is happening everywhere, whether it be in big fast food chains or independent local cafes. In that aspect, it’s hard to argue that this industry falls behind at all – in fact, it may be one of the leaders for tech innovation right now.
But what you’re less likely to hear about is the growth of technology advancement within food organisations itself, for internal purposes like enabling staff training, empowering better communications, and digitising HR processes. This is where the food industry still lags behind, with many companies still using bulletin boards for staff announcements, paper-on-clipboards for shift swaps and quick one-day trainings for an employee’s onboarding.
Let’s take a look at KFC. Only last year did the global fast-food giant decide to significantly transform the way they work internally by investing in top-quality digital employee tools. One part of that was technology that enabled staff to communicate better within and across teams. Workers from dispersed branches could now share ideas on how to execute promotions, trade low-running stock from one location to another, and even run friendly cross-branch competitions. They saw employee engagement and team spirit soar as a result, which translated to happier frontline staff serving customers with top effort.
They also invested in a built-in knowledge center, where staff could easily watch training videos straight from their phone and learn things like how to operate machines and how to properly close shop. As a leader in an industry that faces extremely high turnover, KFC used these technologies to tackle the issue by enabling better learning opportunities and making room for long-term career growth. Even better, they did it using tools that are familiar to their millennial-heavy frontline. Again, this resulted in better experiences for customers thanks to consistently well-trained staff across all branches.
To think that such a global brand only just realised the importance of digitising their workforce management strategy doesn’t pose very well for the rest of the industry. But it’s a key example from an industry leader that the way to achieve the best customer experience is by empowering the workforce. There are many potential benefits that can be unlocked if only restaurants invested as much money and time into their employees as they do their customers.
So why is this not happening on a larger scale? In a recent discussion with hospitality expert Ian Daly, I learnt that the main problem here is not actually the existence or availability of these employee tools, but rather the willingness of business owners to adopt them. Digital employee tools today are becoming much more readily available and affordable. But, as part of the service industry, it’s common for restauranteurs to still maintain the deeply ingrained philosophy that “the customer must come first”.
When service is the product, it’s easy to fall into the trap of investing solely on customer-facing aspects of the restaurant – redesigning the dining space, buying fancy kitchen gadgets to cook better meals, offering discounts and promotions. While this can undeniably bring in a surge of demand, companies will still struggle to deliver good experiences if staff continue to leave, teams don’t talk to each other, and workers are not fully equipped to do their job. The real key to unlocking better customer experience is to invest in the people who directly interact with your customers: your frontline staff. As Ian said to me, “paying attention to the development of your people alongside the development of your product is how you’ll really achieve success.”
Customer satisfaction is the goal of any restaurant – but it seems the way we’ve been working towards that goal may not be as effective as we once thought. As restaurants invest in consumer-facing technology, they must not forget to match that with investment in internal employee technology if they want to achieve the best results. It’s time to readjust the mindset of achieving success from purely looking outward to also looking inward.
Kylie Mansfield is VP, Head of Customer Operations at Eko, a customisable and bespoke mobile-first platform that drives employee engagement, enables effective training, and strengthens operational efficiency.
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