Does Technology Hold the Key to Diner Loyalty?

The goal of every restaurant, regardless of format or food type, is to create loyal customers.
But will restaurants' increased use of technology result in improved differentiation and customer loyalty?  In my experience, technology deployments usually miss many valuable opportunities to impact customer loyalty, not for lack of benefit from the technology, but for lack of understanding of the end-to-end customer experience.
Remembering a couple of simple ideas may help your restaurant's technology deployments increase the percentage of customers that keep you on their list of “my favorite places to eat.”
The first idea, and perhaps the most important is customer satisfaction and customer loyalty are not directly related.
For many years restaurants believed customers who were consistently satisfied would eventually become loyal customers. However, in reality less than 15% of fully satisfied customers become loyal.  The reason is that satisfaction and loyalty are not directly related.  In fact, our brains manage the two very differently. 
Satisfaction is a rational, calculated state, based on the comparison between an expectation and the actual experience.  Loyalty, on the other hand, is an emotional human reaction related to how we feel about the brand.  In a sentence, “we are not loyal to companies, brands or people because of what they do, we are loyal because of how we feel about them.” 
This concept should ring true in your own life.  You are loyal to family, friends and even brands, not because they satisfy your expectations every time, but because of how you feel about them.
The second idea is what customers want and what they value are not the same things. 
Wants are related to satisfaction and represent a set of expectations or a minimum customer requirement.  Values, on the other hand, are ideals that customers appreciate and to which they are emotionally attached.  Examples of values could be: Trust, transparency, culinary mastery, advocacy, knowledge, etc.
Note: Consistently giving customers what they want results in satisfaction. Consistently giving customers what they value leads to loyalty.
Of course, we can’t ignore what customers want.  We must provide it or they will go somewhere else to get it.  What we should do is give customers what they want, gift-wrapped in something they value.
Let me illustrate with a true story.
A couple of years ago, a colleague and I went to a restaurant in Salt Lake City.  My colleague is intolerant to soy and peppers of any type and so, she ordered accordingly and mentioned her dietary needs to the server who seemed to note it on his pad of paper.  When the server left to place the order, my friend said, “I’m always nervous they’ll forget about my special needs.”  Her comment made me think: "Here is a touch-point with an emotional requirement for 'reassurance.'"
Since I’m not shy about my passion for customer service, I later explained my observation to the restaurant manager who listened graciously to the input.
A couple of months later I suggested we go back to the same restaurant.  This time, we were pleasantly surprised when our server returned after placing the order and said, “I just placed your order and made sure the kitchen understood your need to avoid soy products and peppers of any kind.”
What a difference this small gesture made!  My friend felt as if she had been given a gift, a timely serving of “reassurance” with a side order of “peace of mind."  I think she felt differently about the restaurant after that day.
A year later we returned to the restaurant. Now the server had an electronic tablet on which she entered our order.  When our food arrived, my friend’s order included a hand written note on a small dish that said, “No soy, no peppers — our pleasure,” signed by someone named Sam.  My friend looked at me and said:  “I love this place!”
Technology has the ability to help us do more, be faster and more accurate.  But, technology is not fully leveraged until it affects the way customers feel. To affect customers in this way, restaurants must understand the customer experience from end-to-end and apply technology creatively to set off little sparks of emotion that create nice memories and loyal customers who will then recommend the restaurant to their friends.
This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds