The following was previously published in an earlier edition of Marketing Insider.
In the QSR industry, technology was adopted at an unprecedented pace during the pandemic. Long procurement processes and careful vendor selection were replaced by survival of the quickest—as restaurants pivoted “overnight” toward offering digital ordering, curbside collection and home delivery services.
This led to the kind of shift that strategists constantly advocate: Sense demand, and change your rhythms to suit. Many leading QSR brands (whom we won’t name here) set sales records in 2020, then broke them the next month, and then the month after that. Business was beyond “good.”
Now that we've (largely) emerged from that period of disruption, some of those gains have failed to maintain pace. In terms of digital capability, the playing field has leveled such that it’s now a straight shoot-out between QSR competitors on more subtle aspects of the customer experience. As we know, CX is everything today.
With that in mind, and in order to outgrow the competition and continue the growth trajectory that was hinted at in 2020 and 2021, QSRs must consider three key principles:
First off, aim for intensity coupled with action. One of the hallmarks of companies that outperform their competition is a restlessness and ambition to adapt to everything. If you made big changes in 2020 and then remained stationary or rolled back to before, you’re behind.
Dissatisfaction with the status quo should be a lifelong mantra and be systematically managed. Are you keeping track of the steps you're making as you progress upward on the digital maturity curve? Are you critically assessing each system to ensure it's not holding back your business? Do you have a way to pilot new technologies and platforms?
Next, create distinction, but remain consistent. You're probably on Uber Eats and Grub Hub, and so is your competition. This isn't a bad thing, as your customers love having options, but they erode margin and chip away at the core elements of your brand. Only existing on a third-party platform is like only existing as a popup restaurant; you get access to customers, but you trade off creating a truly distinctive experience.
For customers to choose your app, you must offer something extra like loyalty programs that focus on meaningful, personal rewards, coupled with experiences that help digital guests get what they want out of their interactions with your restaurants—namely speed, value and personalization.
This necessitates taking responsibility for all aspects of your digital CX, owning your mobile application and website and tailoring both to the needs of your customers, your restaurants and your food. Your app will likely be the most frequent touchpoint, so it's an investment worth making.
Lastly, make your data accessible and actionable. One without the other just won’t cut it. Everyone in your business needs access to real-time, accurate, actionable customer data, which means empowering different parts of your business to mine what’s buried in the data. If you're locked into closed platforms—some of which don't give you access to customer data—then you're preventing your marketing, operations and restaurant teams from delivering what customers want: to feel like you understand and are fulfilling their needs.