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To tech or not to tech in a post lockdown world

There’s much cause for renewed optimism in the hospitality sector. Great numbers of sites are reopening across the country and the Eat Out to Help Out (EOTHO) initiative has been an overwhelming success in its first week, driving people back into restaurants, pubs, bars and hotels.

Crucially, the EOTHO initiative gives us an opportunity to reinstate consumer confidence in the experience of eating and drinking out of home. Hospitality operators are far better equipped to deliver safe socialising, than the unsupervised gatherings that were happening in back gardens, parks and homes. I think it’s fair to say the outstanding, diligent work of the vast majority of hospitality businesses up and down the country has irrefutably proven this point.

Technology has a fundamental role to continue building customer confidence in the sector and many predicted that lockdown would accelerate the technological evolution of the industry, putting an end to manual processes and paper for good. But that hasn’t happened and the question “To tech, or not to tech?” in a post lockdown world isn’t as clear cut as some suggest.

The importance of implementation

The week before restaurants and bars reopened, more than half of respondents to the CGA Business Leaders survey stated technology was a priority for their business. Interestingly, from what we’ve seen, this sentiment hasn’t yet transpired into mass implementation of digital solutions at every stage of the customer journey.

For example, many operators have opted for disposal printed menus, over a digital solution, while others have chosen pen and paper track and trace systems over a digital approach. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If implementation is rushed, without proper consideration, processes and staff training, it can negatively impact service delivery and disrupt operations.

As we enter an accelerated period of digital transformation, it’s more important than ever that people are adopting and implementing technology for the right reasons – to enhance the guest journey – or else it will fall flat with both employees and customers. We know that if customers have a bad experience with an app they will be swift to judge and slow to forgive. Something introduced to enhance the customer experience, could, in fact, hinder.

Enhance the customer journey

Fourth are long standing supporters of the hospitality industry and our message today is very much the same as when the business was formed over 20 years ago – technology should give time back to employees to focus on great service. And there are many operators that have excelled at this since reopening.

Some businesses have turned to technology and gamification to enhance the customer experience – some operators using a TV to display the temperatures of customers as they walked through the door. The gamification adds an element of engagement and fun along with security and ease into what can be a very sterile start to the dining experience.

Many operators are also gleaning insights from the first re-opening weeks of trading to inform staffing levels across their business. Even in these unprecedented times, every data set you track will have a set of absolute truths that can be used to inform smart business decisions. This is a vital tool operators should have in their arsenal, and use, to ensure customer service isn’t sacrificed by fluctuations in demand.

But it’s not all plain sailing. There have been reports of challenges and frustrations from customers and team members about the introduction of new technology. Something which is exacerbated at certain touch points during the customer experience, such as waiting or paying for the bill. While a lot has changed, the core principles of hospitality, such as paying particular attention to the start and end of the customer journey, are just as important as ever and any new procedures, or technological solutions, should take all this into consideration as well as being fully tested prior to all and any customer interaction.

What’s next

Clearly, hospitality’s digital transformation journey has been accelerated by the pandemic. But, the extent to which it continues on its current trajectory will be determined by the successful implementation of the technology and the quality of the customer experience it delivers. In the end, it boils down to technology streamlining and enhancing the customer journey, along with giving teams more time to make guests feel welcome, special and delivering an experience that can’t be replicated at home.

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