Why Mobile Apps are Key for the Customer Experience
With 80 percent of Americans owning smartphones, QSRs must prioritize mobile marketing. The once-anonymous customer relationship is now one that can be managed. But why does downloading a mobile app for a fast food restaurant matter?
By now, awareness of Burger King’s simple yet brilliant marketing campaign to geographically conquest their arch rival (pun intended) McDonald has made it to mainstream media. Capitalizing on a few basic tools at their disposal—their newly launched app, geo-location data and a not-to-be-believed promotional price point of $.01 for a Whopper (if you were within 600 feet of a McDonald’s)—they were able to drive well over 1 million downloads of their app at relaunch. Cool stunt. Great success. But why does downloading a mobile app for a fast food restaurant really matter?
With nearly 80% of Americans owning smartphones, it’s important for all industries to orient their marketing strategy to prioritize mobile devices. With that, QSRs are quickly moving to online, app and kiosk ordering. The quick read into this move is cost-cutting: Technology reduces the number of orders that the restaurant would otherwise have to process manually and provides a more seamless customer experience.
While technology and automation can drive efficiencies, it masks the real impact of these changes. Ironically, the removal of human interactions in the ordering process gives these restaurants a better understanding of their customers. The once-anonymous relationship with a customer is now one that can be managed and valued. As QSRs continue to embrace new technology, we are still in the early stages of how this approach to customer service can be used to build customer loyalty.
As a New Yorker who values efficiency and timeliness, I look to my own experiences with QSRs, predominantly Starbucks. As part of my morning commute, I appreciate the chance to order breakfast on the Starbucks mobile app while six subway stations away from my stop. And when I arrive, my cold brew and sous vide bites are waiting. Not only does the mobile app provide a more seamless experience, but it also saves my order and provides a quick and effortless process for repeated ordering. My own anecdotal research from my morning visits at Starbucks is that there are more mobile orders being prepped than in-store orders. Why? Because customers demand convenience. Beyond that, it’s important for marketers to understand the impact of mobile apps for QSRs besides ease and lowering operating costs. Let’s take a step back and explore some of these benefits.
It would be borderline creepy for a person behind the register to size me up and offer me a discount based on my “likes” or perceived buying habits. A cashier’s ability to make a real-time decision on how to greet me is one thing; personalizing my options is far more tricky. Sure, they can let me know about the current promotion, but they are likely to also offer that same promotion to the next person in line. However, mobile app purchases provide the QSR with far more information about the individual’s preferences: What do I usually buy and when? Where do I buy it and how frequently? Have my habits changed? Understanding when a customer is interacting with the brand makes it easier to directly personalize the customer experience to drive purchase behavior and retention.
Yes, I collect stars on the Starbucks app. I am not ashamed to admit it. You do too. Does it really change my behavior? Not overtly, but I can’t honestly say that I haven’t made a rash decision or two to achieve the satisfaction of maximizing a promotion. I am a sucker for gamification of any kind, as are many consumers.
Order Pattern Recognition
Let’s talk about consumer behavior. If algorithms could talk, they would quickly reveal that I am a creature of habit. My buying habits don’t change often, but when they do, there is likely a reason, whether I am aware of it or not—perhaps a brand has stepped up its user experience or has been sharing promotions more appealing to me.
Machine learning couldn’t care less about feelings, dieting or stress levels, but it can definitely determine patterns. Marketing is all about determining patterns. After all, every basic marketing strategy—online or offline—is about identifying and applying behavioral patterns to the desired intention. QSR marketers can now collect customer data and drive behavioral and contextual patterns to drive 1:1 interaction and establish customer loyalty.
No, the app or kiosk isn’t going to order based on a customer’s thoughts. But predictive algorithms can now identify shared attributes that customers possess that are similar to other individuals. Marketers now have the ability to segment customers based on their proven interests and past orders, making it easier to target and provide incentives.
Mobile app users can receive personalized recommendations: “You ordered this entrée… You might enjoy these items as well.” Menu options are growing as customer needs diversify, to the point where many restaurants can’t display all the options available. Understanding greater buying patterns and predicting potential opportunities to upsell items for each customer simplifies the complex. After all, everyone enjoys the serendipity of finding a new favorite guilty pleasure.
Various marketing touchpoints, including mobile apps and kiosks, are all pieces to a complicated customer experience puzzle—one that can never be finished. Each customer’s journey with your brand is different and each individual will interact differently. QSR marketers should use these data points to define each customer’s unique journey and align with it. A customer who is incentivized by promotions may not care about healthy options, so tailor your promotional offers to them accordingly. Another customer might be a spontaneous decision maker, so engaging at the right time with the right message will get them to your restaurant. They key is to help each customer own their specific journey. They will thank you for it with loyalty and repeat visits.
The shift to digital ordering for QSRs isn’t easy. There is a lot of data that needs to be collected, mined, scored and activated in the ordering process, in marketing programs (online and off) and in-store. But QSRs shouldn’t miss this opportunity to not only save overhead costs and improve efficiency but also drive sales through effective upselling, increased customer loyalty and higher retention.