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Customer Experience Yields Competitive Edge


“The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.” This statement, uttered by Jerry Gregoire, chief information officer at Dell, rings truer today than ever, especially in the restaurant industry, where a good or bad experience can overshadow everything – including the food. The sentiment was a recurring message during the 12th annual Restaurant Executive Summit.

With an agenda crafted under the theme of “CXM: Customer Experience Management,” the 2016 Summit took place November 7-9 at the Westin Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas. Unique among other industry events, the Summit brings together executives from across the enterprise including IT, finance, operations and marketing for three days of idea-sharing, networking and interactive learning opportunities.

The resounding message to attendees was that restaurant executives, from all disciplines, must work together to deliver the memorable experiences that customers are expecting and demanding. The event’s honorary chairperson, Donagh Herlihy, EVP Digital & CIO of Bloomin’ Brands, encapsulated the theme in his opening remarks, reminding attendees that not only do people have more food choices than ever, but restaurants are also up against unconventional competitors like Uber and Amazon. “People value experience more than possession, so we need to raise our game as the competition gets tougher to give them that reason to eat with us,” Herlihy said. “We need to deliver an experience with surprises and novelty.”

When it comes to novelty and surprise, the Summit’s keynote speaker definitely has a no-holds-barred approach. Johnny Earle, aka “Johnny Cupcakes,” took to the stage to tell his story of how he turned selling t-shirts from the trunk of his car into a million dollar business that has resulted in rabid fans lining up around the block and getting tattooed with the brand’s logo. “Creative thinking must be applied to every workforce,” Earle encouraged the crowd. “Strange is good. It sets you apart from the rest.” Earle inspired attendees with details of his journey and how by creating a “bakery” that doesn’t sell baked goods he gave unsuspecting guests a story that yielded the most valuable marketing of all – people doing his advertising for him.
Understanding customers and giving them what they want was a major focus for Dickey’s Barbecue and one of the strategic goals discussed by CIO Laura Rea Dickey in her session titled, “How Dickey’s Barbecue Evolved a 75-year-old Brand into a Location-Data Powerhouse.” Dickey offered attendees insight into how the legacy chain remains nimble by listening to guest feedback that their proprietary system SmokeStack helps them to do.

A session on “Mobile Wins for Driving Revenue & Engagement” offered dual perspectives, first from Marcus Wasdin, Vice President & CIO of Church’s Chicken and then Bloomin’ Brands executives, Herlihy and Desmond Edwards, GVP Digital Innovation. Wasdin described how Church’s unified disparate technology stacks to create a mobile app that helped the company go from averaging $7 and one visit per guest to $50 and eight visits with engagement. Edwards and Herlihy showed how “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” as the company streamlined its mobile solutions to give guests the engagement and experience they wanted.

The mood and excitement continued on day two for the closing keynote, “Engaging the Digital Diner: Making the Experience the Power Play,” presented by Todd Michaud, founder & CEO of Power Thinking. Michaud reminded that “You don’t have to go all the way to bright; make changes on what you do know. If everyone’s in the same boat it’s all about who hustles to get there.”

A. Keynote presenter, Johnny Earle aka “Johnny Cupcakes.” B. Marcus Wasdin, CIO of Church’s Chicken C. Desmond Edwards, GVP of digital innovation for Bloomin’ Brands D. Day two keynote, Todd Michaud of Power Thinking. E. Attendees participate in an interactive workshop; F. Daniel Russell of Go Fish Digital G. Scott Scherer, CIO, Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems H. Laura Rea Dickey, CIO of Dickey’s Barbecue I. Coffee breaks and cocktail receptions provide ample peer-to-peer networking.

2016 Breakthrough Award Winners

Customer Engagement Innovator:  
Outback Steakhouse sought to address a variety of pain points occurring during the customer dining journey — specifically those associated with planning a visit and paying the bill. The solution was a mobile app that gives Outback Steakhouse’s guests the ability to get on the wait list, browse location specific menus and pay at the table. It also enables guests to receive, save and apply coupons during payment, pay with credit or gift cards, split the bill, as well as sign-up, track and apply loyalty rewards. To enable this robust mobile app, Outback Steakhouse created a cloud solution that connects all of its different in-restaurant services together, such as table management and point-of-sale.  

Since the mobile app was rolled out to Outback Steakhouse customers, it has positively impacted the pace at which its customers pay their bill, making tables available faster. “The app rolls several solutions into one easy-to-use place. These digital solutions, through the app, have helped increase customer satisfaction and made the app a success with a 4.5-star rating, says Donagh Herlihy, Digital & Chief Information Officer of Bloomin’ Brands Inc.”

Enterprise Innovator:
Fun Eats and Drinks LLC (FEAD), which includes Champps, Fox & Hound Sports Tavern and Baileys Sports Grille, implemented the HappyCo platform to automate its inspection and audit process and gain real-time insight into operations across its 80 restaurant locations.

Researching solutions, Jeff Burrus, SVP supply chain and construction, discovered HappyCo, which was being used to help manage real estate companies, but at the time had not been used in restaurants. Burrus and HappyCo developers created a solution that made on-site teams more productive and accurate. Now reports include scores to help managers quantify and compare conditions between locations, inspection data is aggregated for a unified view of operations, allowing remote management of inspections and staff, and the platform stores all inspection data in the cloud so that managers can easily access documentation and photos when required. Since implementation, managers now collect and collate information and photos in less than half the time. The platform has helped the company to implement a range of enhancements, from improving the way customers are greeted at the door, communication with employees, and the cleanliness and appearance
of restaurants.

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