Smashburger Positions to Gain Edge in Burger Market

In today’s competitive foodservice environment, it’s becoming more and more important for brands to engage guests and employees in an impactful and personal manner. As a fast-casual burger restaurant, Smashburger realizes it’s not only about high-quality food, but also about consistently delivering a quality experience. On a daily basis, Smashburger has been working to implement tactics for more streamlined communication between executives, employees and guests alike. The end goal? To better understand how guests want to be engaged, and to respond accordingly. Here’s how.
1. Increased Focus on Customer Experience Management
The guest experience is a crucial differentiator among brands in the restaurant industry. Smashburger place a large emphasis on Customer Experience Management (CEM), as it is a key differentiator. To engage its guests, Smashburger has made an executive commitment to a CEM program, primarily by leveraging tools from CEM provider Empathica. Guests are invited, via receipt, to fill out a survey where they can share feedback on everything from the quality of the food, to their service staff, to their overall dining experience. Empathica helps to aggregate the data from these survey responses, distribute customized reports to each store, and provide managers with actionable tasks that address what specific locations needs to improve.
Smashburger also commits to a 48-hour policy in responding to guest e-mails and Web comments. Management feels it’s important to address both positive and negative feedback, and reach out to each individual in a timely manner.
2. Dynamic Segmentation
There are a number of tools restaurant operations can leverage to better understand customer behavior, a critical component of any leading CEM program. Smashburger has found that segmentation is more about locations than demographics.
For example, the company looks at occasions where certain stores are busiest. We have found that many of our guests view lunch as a functional meal service, while dinner is more about the experience. Smashburger clearly profiles its guests, and what they are expecting out of their experience. This helps to engage guests more appropriately and deliver on those specific customer expectations.
3. Employee Engagement
For Smashburger and other fast casual restaurants, good service is vital. One key component to this involves hiring the right people– employees who are engaged, represent the brand well, and are committed to providing guests with an excellent experience. After all, these employees are the face of the brand, interacting with customers on a daily basis.
Smashburger uses customer “WOW” alerts to reinforce positive staff behavior, in addition to tracking guest feedback. “WOW” alerts are part of its Empathica Guest Satisfaction survey receipt program. Within the survey, guests are asked if there was a member of the staff that particularly influenced their in-store experience. If so, what made their experience exceptional? If a certain employee is identified, an e-mail is then sent directly to the respective store manager so they can congratulate, and potentially reward, that staff member.
If employees are happy, engaged and validated, their positive attitude will come across in guest interactions.
4. Social Media
When Smashburger launched a more guest-focused strategy in 2010, social media was the most cost-effective and impactful way to reach consumers directly — aside from their actual dining experience. Even now, Smashburger understands the importance of empowering consumer advocates by providing them with tools to easily share great experiences with friends, family and co-workers. Social media is presently one of the best channels for creating and fostering a sense of community among our fans, which is why we’ve embraced it whole-heartedly.
For instance, Smashburger runs Twitter accounts for each market that has a restaurant presence. This way, regular visitors and members of the community feel a more personal connection to the brand, and are more apt to engage and communicate with Smashburger. We realize that in today’s social world, guests aren’t always typing in a URL to find information, and we need to make ourselves available in the places our guests go to talk about us.
Lastly, social media is an important part of our CEM process as well. Smashburger does its best to respond to guests who reach out via social media channels to tell us about their good and not-so-good experiences in the store. Social media is a conversation, and consumers are really looking for companies to engage in dialogue with them – Smashburger does just that.
5. Mobility
Brands are increasingly learning how to leverage mobile technology to improve staff engagement and deliver a better overall guest experience. At Smashburger, we notice our guests have a need for speed, and that mobile can be used to keep up with their expectations for quick, convenient service and interactions. We have a mobile-optimized site and are currently beta testing a new online ordering functionality.
Mobile strategies can be used in different ways for different restaurants; these range from online ordering, employee applications, communicating with guests via e-mail or text message, in addition to many other functions. It’s a reality that the future of the fast casual industry, among countless others, will include more mobile and tablet integration. For example, when district managers visit specific restaurant locations, they might be able to access reporting databases on their tablets. Every vendor that supports restaurants in a traditional way must start thinking about how they can join the mobile bandwagon.
Our goal at Smashburger is to create an enduring brand by earning and retaining life-long, loyal guests. While our burgers are an integral piece of the puzzle, we believe our high-quality service experience is every bit as important. Engaging with our guests and being highly responsive extends that service experience outside of our restaurants, which we think is a key point of differentiation that sets Smashburger apart.
Jeremy Morgan is the senior vice president of marketing & consumer insights for Smashburger. Prior to joining Smashburger and CCP, Morgan was a Case Team Leader with Bain & Company in Chicago. While at Bain, he worked with retail and other consumer-oriented companies on strategy consulting engagements including pricing/promotions optimization, customer/market research and M&A due diligence. Before joining Bain, Jeremy was an associate in the corporate strategy group at JPMorganChase. He earned his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and holds a B.S. in Economics and a B.A. in Computer Science from Duke University.

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