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Self-Service Kiosks: Ushering in a New Era of Customer Service and Loyalty

Gene Yasuda
Content Strategist
This is a syndicated post, view the original post here

The benefits of self-service kiosks have long been touted: Lower labor costs. Greater check average. More transactions. Increased revenue.

Yet, many food and beverage operators who stood to gain the most – from concessionaires to quick-service restaurants – shied away from kiosks, reluctant to send customers to faceless ordering stations.

But now, thanks to emerging technologies, kiosks aren’t regarded as impersonal bastions. To the contrary, some of the biggest brands in food and beverage, such as McDonald’s and Panera, are recognizing them for what they truly can be: pillars of personalization. Professional sports teams, too, are using them in their stadiums, ushering in a new era of customer service.

For those still on the fence, it’s time to take another look at kiosks – or risk getting lapped by the competition.

Indeed, kiosks are the centerpieces of a major remodeling initiative underway at McDonald’s. In an effort to create the “experience of the future,” the world’s largest burger chain is incorporating kiosk ordering and Bluetooth-enabled table service. According to a Chicago Tribune article, McDonald’s expects to remodel 650 restaurants this year alone, raising its total of kiosk-enhanced, U.S. restaurants to 2,400. It plans to equip all of its more than 14,000 domestic locations with kiosks by 2020.

According to the company, upgraded restaurants are generating sales gains of 4 to 8 percent, and the kiosks are contributing to higher average customer spending. But one of the main reasons driving McDonald’s digital investment is the opportunity to offer more personalization. The company anticipates kiosks will be able to recognize or track the following: a personal profile from a customer’s mobile app storing favorite meals; different orders depending on time of day; and loyalty points.

Such advancements are a far cry from the early days of kiosks, which, like many new technologies, were shadowed by uncertainty.

“You’re directing people to an interaction that is non-personal, and you’ve just sacrificed the inconsistency of the human with the design of the machine,” said Ned Rowland, Oracle Hospitality’s sales consulting director for food and beverage. “And so, in doing that, you have to carefully think through all the after effects of what you’ve just done. And that’s what scared so many people from using it.”

But as innovations such as facial recognition (biometrics) and artificial intelligence accelerate kiosk enhancements, food and beverage operators can’t afford not to capitalize on the competitive advantages they will deliver. It’s just as important to realize that kiosks cater to contemporary buying behavior, especially among millennials, who covet “zero-friction” shopping experiences. In other words, providing them the opportunity to buy on demand: No waiting. No headaches. No hassles.

“It becomes a great opportunity for loyalty and for guest recognition and for measuring who is your customer – are they a core customer or are they new trial?” Rowland said. “What’s their demographic, psychographic, geographic (profile). Learning all of these things becomes possible with kiosks.”

He added: “You can get messages across that you’d never be able to get through servers or cashiers. It’s a platform, a medium, that’s an extension of everything you do. It becomes a place for eye balls to be connected to things other than what they’re ordering. It’s a huge opportunity for brand expansion, product suggestions, new offers.”

Such a comprehensive outlook is exactly what Panera had in mind when the restaurant chain launched its “Panera 2.0” initiative – a series of integrated technologies, including kiosks, to enhance the guest experience.

“Panera 2.0 is an investment in the customer enabled by technology and powered by operational excellence,” said Ron Shaich, Panera’s chairman and CEO, when the initiative was unveiled. “It’s more than a mobile-payment system or simply a digital-ordering process. It’s an integrated, comprehensive, end-to-end solution that we believe will reduce friction such as wait times, improve order accuracy, and minimize or eliminate crowding – all while creating a platform for an ever more personalized experience.”

Panera made kiosks available in addition to cashier stations to reduce wait time for guests. The highly visual stations feature a “product builder” to assist with order accuracy and customization, and the kiosks are capable of saving customizations, past orders and “favorites” for easy ordering on subsequent visits.

Nowhere is minimizing wait time more important, arguably, than in sports stadiums; fans repeatedly say they’ll abandon long concession lines for fear of missing game action. That’s one reason why Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins participated in a kiosk initiative, featuring Oracle Hospitality’s Simphony point-of-sale platform and Workstation 620. The deployment may generate other benefits as well. According to a major Oracle study (The Fan Experience: Changing the Game with Food & Beverage), U.S. fans, on average, reported they would spend an additional $20 for food and beverage if wait times were cut in half – representing a 43% increase in typical spend per party.

But for food and beverage operators to achieve maximum value, it’s imperative that kiosks be part of an integrated solution. For example, pairing Oracle Hospitality hardware – kiosks and Kitchen Display System – not only improves operational efficiency but generates invaluable business insights.

“KDS provides work screens that are digitized, which will separate an online POS system order from a kiosk order from an in-house order from a phone order – and it’s going to track all of those and make sure you don’t lose any of them,” Rowland said. “It’s going to collate and collect them and report on them, and tell you which channel is giving you what amount of revenue at what time and with what products.”

The ability to gain such intelligence is just another reason why the adoption of kiosks has passed the tipping point. Major brands ­– from food and beverage to sports and entertainment – are confident now that they’ll reap a healthy return on investment.

“If you’re looking for a reference point, all you need to do is take a look at the big boys,” Rowland said. “If you haven’t moved toward kiosks yet, it’s time to pay attention.”

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