It’s been an up-and-down year for the restaurant industry. While household names like McDonald’s are experiencing a resurgence, fast-casual and casual dining restaurants are struggling with falling traffic, forcing chains like TGI Fridays, Applebee’s, and Buffalo Wild Wings to scramble simply to stay competitive.
Customer demands are changing rapidly and the stakes for restaurateurs are rising. Accenture’s recent survey found that an astonishing 82% of consumers prefer loyalty programs that are tailored to their specific profile. Research like this consistently points to the same conclusion: today’s consumers demand personalization.
In a busy, crowded, speedy casual dining environment, however, offering a personalized experience is incredibly challenging. Thankfully, new technologies are enabling restaurants of every size to offer their customers a uniquely tailored experience every time they come to eat. Here are two easy ways to leverage those technologies to deliver a better customer experience.
Create a Two-Way Conversation Outside the Restaurant
The premise of restaurant marketing is to connect with customers. However, the communication that restaurants initiate and respond to are often opportunistic, one-directional, and fail to drive value. Sometimes, they’re not even directed at customers. Fast food chain Wendy’s, for example, consistently makes headlines for their witty quips at their competitors and teasing responses to their customers. These marketing efforts have garnered Wendy’s a good deal of press, but have failed to consistently drive sales to a level that meets investor expectations.
Restaurant marketers must evolve the way to they engage with consumers to create a genuine, two-way conversation with them.
A successful two-way conversational experience has three key attributes:
- First, it’s personalized - instead of using generic mass-marketing messaging, customers expect a conversation to be tailored and directed at a specific individual.
Ex. Tide’s play on a trending topic is creative, but also impersonal.
Ex. Conversational marketing blends traditional marketing, sales, and customer service in an experience that is completely tailored to a customer’s needs.
- Second, it’s proactive - to establish true personalization, conversational marketing campaigns must not only be responsive to a customer inquiry, but proactively seek out opportunities to engage them. Retailer Gap has been exceptionally proactive about tailoring campaigns to make customers feel special, even offering them unique offers for their birthday. Embracing the conversational approach has helped lead Gap to an impressive rebound in 2017.
- Third, it’s social - every good marketing campaign has a call to action, but great conversational campaigns use CTA’s that inspire social interactions. An example of this is the gift-to-reward offer: “Give your friend a $25 gift card and earn $10 for yourself.” Another example is the bring-a-friend CTA: “Free dessert when you bring a friend for dinner.” These types of CTA’s turn customers into advocates and drive referral traffic because they encourage and incentivize patrons to share. It has the added benefit of creating a more positive social experience for the customer, which only helps a brand.
Create a Two-Way Conversation Inside the Restaurant
Conversational marketing can be seem intimidating to restaurant marketers due to the sheer amount of data required to create a personalized experience. One great way to gather that data is by bringing two-way conversations inside the restaurant.
The solution to creating a two-way conversation inside the restaurant can be found in an unlikely hero: robotics. Often thought of by the restaurant industry as a backend technology, robotics are taking a more human form and proving their value in the reception area.
Humanoid robots offer an extremely effective, cost-efficient way to engage customers in a two-way conversation while capturing valuable information that enables marketers to tailor campaigns for individuals. These devices leverage advanced emotional recognition and natural language processing technologies to initiate rich conversations with restaurant visitors.
Today’s robots can engage customers with a variety of advanced interactions, educating customers about the menu, playing games, dancing, and posing for selfies. Critically, however, restaurant-ready robots proactively ask customers questions. Their friendly physical form charms and disarms guests, while their conversational abilities capture important, actionable information about the customer like anniversary and birth dates, and other lifestyle information.
They can also collect the guest’s mobile number or email address. Restaurant marketers can leverage this data to deliver targeted, timely offers to customers that re-engage them in a personalized way. Through these kinds of conversational campaigns, humanoid robots drive the data collection needed to truly hone external marketing campaigns that deliver the greatest value and most unique experience to each customer.
The Bottom Line
Conversational marketing outside and inside the restaurant work hand-in-hand, enabling top tier restaurants to offer a personalized, interactive, engaging experience to their patrons. By embracing a conversational approach, restaurants of all sizes and styles can build brand loyalty, drive advocacy and referrals, boost both revenue and margins.
For chains looking to optimize their cost per acquisition and mobilize their customer base, centering core marketing strategies around two-way conversations with customers is a phenomenal way to get started. Over the next decade, however, conversational marketing will evolve from a state-of-the-art way for restaurants to gain a competitive advantage to something that is simply table stakes.