Blake Gladman, Strategy & Insights Director at KAM shares his thoughts on the impact of technology on the staff and customer experience in pubs, based on research from KAM’s latest research- Return of the Pub– in association with The BII and kindly supported by Brakes and Stint as well as research in patnership with pointOne.

“This month I had the pleasure of speaking at the HRC/Pub 22 event in Excel, London. I spoke about the impact of technology on the customer and staff experience in pub settings, and how hospitality tech can streamline service and open profitable new avenues. Ultimately, I feel that operators will achieve the best results when people and technology work together in harmony to deliver a new level of customer experience. 

Despite the accelerated focus on technology to deliver many aspects of the customer experience, I don’t think anyone will argue that hospitality is about people. The human touch will always play the central role in delivering a truly positive customer experience. 86% of staff are well aware of this too. Customers want to be treated with respect, flexibility, and empathy which only a human can offer. Technology is efficient but cannot replicate many of these more subtle service fronts. Although both clearly play a critical role in modern hospitality. The role of an operator is to create an environment in which these skills can flourish. The danger of having too many processes and menial tasks for staff to deal with is that they can negatively impact the capacity for them to connect on an emotional level with customers.

“When an operator turns the customer experience from a functional transaction into a positive emotional experience that’s when a customer will come back.”

Customers are demanding more

Customers, however, are a demanding bunch. They expect staff to be there when needed, and to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the drinks range, the food range, allergens, provenance, and more. 22% of staff though say that they aren’t knowledgeable enough about the menu when asked by customers. Are we, therefore, asking too much of staff to be able to replicate the memory and recall capabilities of an online platform? Knowledge is powerful but it’s also programmable.

Making this type of information readily available and, importantly, easily searchable for customers through digital tools in venue, can ease the burden on staff whilst also ensuring that the quality, accuracy of information is maintained and up to date. Touch-screen devices appeal to just under 2/3rds of pub-goers with the number closer to 1 in 2 for the 55+, highlighting the importance of having both digital and traditional menus available. A mix of medium is still the right play – but it shows that there is a strong demand and a clear propensity from consumers to the use of touch screen devices.

Technology can serve hospitality staff too

Staff themselves are feeling the pressure and recognise that technology is there to help them, not replace them. Although there is a current need to attract more people to hospitality, many leading operators are focused on working smarter not harder with automation, wherever possible, being the goal. Thinking about the areas in which staff add ‘true value’ and finding digital solutions and technology that work in harmony, alongside staff.

The key is implementing technological solutions that solve problems without creating new ones. The optimal customer experience should be frictionless. Frictionless technology and design are in essence about reducing the energy required by an experience. In other words, the customer experience would be improved without the customer having to do anything more and, in some cases, even doing less. The same can be said for staff too. The technology should save time, save money, or add value above and beyond what is reasonably expected of the human staff. 

Retail has great examples

A great example I look at from the food retail world is the Amazon Go concept. A store which has cutting-edge technology, that enables the customers to shop and pay for their food without ever having to pass through a checkout. Even in a store like this, you’ll find more staff on the shop floor than your average Tesco Express. Why? They are there to support the customer journey – to help when needed, to answer questions, and to engage with the customer. 

69% of customers say that a venue has two chances to deliver on the customer experience before they decide to never visit again. An investment in technology, therefore, is not just an extravagance or an indulgence. It’s a fundamental tool that not only improves the speed, efficiency, and execution of the multitude of processes front and back of house but will also free up staff to focus on the customer experience. Failing to deliver on the customer experience can quickly lead to a failing of the business.”

You can access the full ‘Return of the Pub’ report and all the latest KAM research via our Access ALL Areas Knowledge Hub.