Jack's Out of the Box Technology

Visit the Jack in the Box website (www.jackinthebox.com), touch nothing, and just wait. After about two seconds, company "founder" Jack (a stuffed suit with a bulbous white jack-in-the-box head) walks onto the screen with a friendly welcome to his "World Wide Web page, thing."
From there, you can access the hamburger chain's menu and browse links with company info (2,200 restaurants, 18 states, headquartered in San Diego, etc.). Or, as Jack suggests, you can hang with him and poke around his office. Opt for the latter. The site takes you to Jack's office where flashing items (TV, desk, etc.) reveal what are actually interactive tools that let users watch company commercials, download widgets and more. Mouse over the telephone: for the brave, you can employ Jack's services to call-in sick, or for the brash, break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Really. And if the tools don't work, there's a "certain 19 year old IT guy who is totally fired," warns Jack. It appears Jack is fully recovered from his nearly-fatal run in with a bus during the 2009 Super Bowl, a media feat that launched the company's new logo, website and brand re-imaging program.

The interactive website is a fun and fitting online presence for a company that puts effective communication toward the top of its technology to-do list, not to mention its award-winning advertising campaigns. In fact, IT is so central to the company's communication efforts that responsibility for the guest relations call center falls under the leadership of CIO and VP of technology Debra Jensen. "The IT department here has responsibility not only for the technology, but also for guest relations," explains Jensen, who together with the company's vice president of system development Michael Verdesca, talks to Hospitality Technology about the current role, and some of the planned rollouts, of technology in communicating with Jack's guests and franchisees.

Hello, this is technology speaking
While many service-oriented businesses are looking to outsource their call centers to expedite the process and cut costs (for everything from customer service to IT help desks), Jack in the Box took a uniquely different approach by placing all call centers, including guest relations, under the responsibility of the CIO. "We looked at outsourcing it, but it's a part of the business we want to be very close to," explains Jensen, who was recognized as one of Top 500 Information Week Innovators for 2009 and named 2010 IT Executive of the Year by the San Diego Business Journal. "It's your heartbeat to how your guest is feeling about you, and because we manage tech call centers, it was recognized that we'd be the best people to run a guest call center." Putting IT in this role provides the company with expedited, measurable output from guests' calls, which are then categorized and sent to the appropriate departments for follow-up. "We're very technology driven in the way that we capture information about the call, manage them, and the metrics we apply to the people who work in those departments," she explains.

The ultimate goal is to provide restaurant operators with feedback that helps them quickly respond to service-related issues. To get there, the company recently began testing a system that sends text message notification to restaurant staff based on actionable calls that come into guest relations. The intent behind such a strategy is to alert restaurant managers that something is wrong now, not through a report that comes in a week later. Jensen doesn't expect a restaurant will necessarily be able to correct the issue then and there with the dissatisfied caller, since it's more likely that the guest will call customer service after they left the restaurant; "but if the food was wrong or the line is slow, we want to make sure we can get that fixed before the next guest comes in," says Jensen.

In the future, text messaging may also be used to communicate with the guests themselves. "Right now, they can call our 1-800 number, but we're trying to get to where we can be more interactive with the guest," explains vice president of system development Michael Verdesca. "So we can say, 'you can call or you can just text Jack.'" This project is in an early testing phase, with IT and operations departments in collaboration to determine the best opportunities for interacting with guests while they're in the restaurant. "Our demographic is younger people, and they text everyone. We want to make sure we're not missing their feedback," adds Jensen.

MarCom made better
Its penchant for effective communication led Jack in the Box to launch a proprietary website for franchisees that provides them with marketing and communications (MarCom) support, plus sage business advice. The Local Restaurant Marketing Toolkit, which launched in January 2009, is built on a solution stack of Linux, Apache Web Server, MySQL and PHP, and was architected with assistance from Irvine, Calif.,-based design firm Dedica Group (www.dedicagroup.com). With log-on access, franchisees can shop from a vast collection of turnkey marketing materials, plus access best practices in these five major buckets: sales building; competitive intrusion; community involvement; sports and event sponsorships; and reimage and grand opening tools and information. What was once a complex ordering process bogged down by paperwork, price quotes, and a two-month shipping window, has become a one-stop-shop with a 2 to 3 week wait time for marketing collateral. Franchisees also have immediate access to the Jack in the Box style guide, which allows them to print stationary, business cards and banners.

"The toolkit has everything an operator needs to promote his business," says Atour Eyvazian, a 49-unit Houston-based franchisee. "I can make one click and all of my restaurants are taken care of, which saves time and money."

Efforts on the toolkit have garnered awards for Jack in the Box, including Hospitality Technology's 2010 Breakthrough Award for "Excellence in Business Efficiency," and the QSR Magazine 2010 Applied Technology Award.

Boosting back-office talk
This type of innovation is in the fabric of Jack's, er, stuffed suit. Jack in the Box was the first major hamburger chain to develop and expand the concept of drive-thru dining and was also the first to introduce menu items that are now staples on most quick-service menu boards, including the breakfast sandwich and the portable salad. The QSR is also one of the few companies in its competitive set to effectively make use of self-service kiosks, which are now in about 15% of locations, and growing.

Next on the IT to-do list is the complete replacement of the company's supply chain solution with Oracle Advanced Supply Chain (www.oracle.com). Jack in the Box is one of the few QSRs to provide product distribution directly to its restaurants, as opposed to using a third party. As such, a second-phase roll out will include Oracle Warehouse Management. "We're not at 100 percent distribution, but we do most of them," explains Jensen. "We're looking at upgrading the technology in that area to capture all of the improvements made in supply chain tools over the years," she says; improvements such as the ability to share information between a restaurant and its vendor partners. But the major reason for the upgrade is speed-to-market; that is, getting food to the restaurants faster. "Our current model needs polling, and we want to get to a more centralized system where everything there is in real-time and we can do more with it," adds Verdesca. Both the supply chain and WMS technologies will be fully implemented by the first quarter of 2011.

Jensen also reveals intentions to completely replace the company's home-grown back-office systems, which together comprise more than 20 different applications, including labor management, time keeping, inventory, scheduling and more. "We're very close to making a decision," says Jensen, adding that the new solution will provide a centralized back office that brings significant efficiency to the reporting process.

The need for the replacement goes back to controlling costs, for both labor and food. "As a franchisor, we provide a lot of information back to our franchisees every morning, whether it's their cash and sales information or preliminary information on labor," says Verdesca. "We do a lot of exception reporting, too, and with a new system we'll be able to provide that back not only in a timely manner, but also allow stores to drill down into POS detail from their home office."

Jensen expects the complete overhaul, from supply chain to back office to warehouse management, will provide significantly more visibility not only because of the new systems' functionality, but because of how Jack in the Box will be able to use that data. "We might extract information and pair it up with other types of information to be able to produce multi-dimensional looks at our business," Jensen says. "It might not all come from back office. You might want to marry it up with supply chain or sales or other points of information to give you something truly meaningful."

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