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No kiosk is an island … why restaurants need a digital self-service strategy

This article was first written for Kiosk Marketplace on 23 July 2018. View it in its original format here.

Increasingly, today’s restaurant operators, driven by a commitment to improving the in-store guest experience, combined with the prospect of being able to reduce costs and increase average transaction values, are considering deploying self-service kiosk solutions.

For many, this will be the first step into the world of digital self-service. A step that is fraught with potential pitfalls.

The kiosk is often the “gateway drug” to a world of self-service. Rollouts of mobile ordering, pay-at-table and self-checkout options often follow an initial investment in kiosks.

But what is the strategy behind these decisions? Sometimes, the need for speed overrules the need for strategic thinking.

Challenges abound

Without a clear strategy in place, operators can become embroiled in complicated and time consuming engagements with multiple providers as they try and implement a digital self-service experience that is consistent across all channels.

It’s not easy; in addition to integrating with POS and other back-end systems, creating a consistent guest experience requires unifying multiple guest-facing interfaces. And workflows can also end up being different and unconnected to the experience in other channels.

As customers move between channels, their experience isn’t the same. The purchasing flow and look and feel might be noticeably different, and that’s damaging to an operator’s brand. Customers don’t see a brand’s kiosk interface as being any different from its website or a mobile app — they see it all as a single brand, so consistency really is the key.

Customers expect to have the same experience across all a brand’s channels — navigation menus should be structured in the same manner, buttons should appear the same, and migration from one channel to the other should be intuitive — not requiring head scratching as they wonder how to customize their burger or pizza.

By not thinking strategically about digital self-service, operators leave themselves open to a fragmented, inefficient operational nightmare while also potentially exposing customers to a disjointed, confusing guest experience.

The past few years have seen brands in the industry go from tentatively considering a kiosk solution as the first stage of their self-service evolution to frantically testing web, mobile and tablet ordering with suppliers of all shapes and sizes. This has led to many operators facing big digital strategy dilemmas.

As brands try and reconcile hurried purchases of the latest trending technology with a differentiated customer experience and the complexities of multi-systems integration, there is a dire need for a better, smarter way of working.

One platform to rule them all

Cue the move towards one simple integration platform. A master data exchange service that can bring together data from any relevant back-end systems to provide a single source of information for all guest facing services.

The beauty of this wider integration is that it is now no longer about the consumer channel — these can be turned on and off as needed. It is about being able to harness the power of POS, CRM systems and databases, payment solutions, marketing and loyalty platforms and more — giving operators a single point of truth for all their customer data.

This type of closed loop activity can only happen with one common underlying platform that can draw information from one system and use it to inform others and vice versa. As a digital strategy develops, this master integration platform serves to simplify the mounting complexities around siloed back-end systems.

A platform approach is also the first step to allowing customers to maintain the context of their journey — regardless of channel. For example, the customer of the not-too-distant future might choose to start their browsing on their tablet at home and finish their order on the kiosk in the restaurant. By allowing guests to continue their journey where they left off on whatever device they choose to use offers huge convenience and brand differentiation.

This omnichannel experience is still not offered in the restaurant sector, but operators who want to achieve it tomorrow will need to start thinking about their digital strategy today.

So how do we get there?

So what can a restaurant operator do to ensure they take a more holistic approach to their digital self-service strategy? For a start, think about integration. Integration between channels (kiosk, mobile, web, etc.) and back-end systems (POS, CRM, etc.) is key, which is why a platform approach can unify and maintain context for the customer across channels and to drive operational efficiencies.

Operators also need to adjust their viewpoint. Rather than seeing a kiosk as a separate solution, a platform can bring them together with other channels so a single customer view can be presented across any channel, a transaction status is accurate in real time, and a comprehensive customer profile of past behavior can be seen.

It’s important to know what is being defined within the solution. Does the company offer other channels — for example, mobile applications or web services? At the end of the day, the devil is in the details when it comes to multichannel, and the depth of integration with back-end systems is where the power of a platform really comes into play.

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