For QSRs around the world, the new normal in digital experiences is dictated by Silicon Valley. Thanks to the "everything is deliverable" model of Amazon, and the "everyone is a delivery driver" model at Uber Eats and other third-party delivery providers. In fact, consumers now "expect" restaurants to offer delivery, and for that delivery to feel integrated into the brand's operations.
Online ordering. Loyalty points and offers. GPS order and delivery tracking. Push notifications. It's all expected at this stage in the game, as experiences in other apps have taught consumers a new normal.
As the market continues to adopt this "Amazon mindset" of expected online ordering and delivery across food service, the restaurant industry has been in catch-up mode for some time, compared with more tech-focused industries. And many brands are suffering with attaining that seamless quality of the experience that customers demand.
It's a Catch 22 situation, where although QSRs are well-served to offer the services that people expect, those very expectations can open up a whole new set of problematic logistics and other considerations that change the value equation for the brand.
Take, for example, food delivery. Customers are certainly used to seeing maps with little car icons showing where their driver is located, a la Uber. But unlike Uber, many restaurants send two or more orders at a time with any single delivery driver.
As a result, although the order is indeed "on the road," it may appear on a map to be heading in precisely the wrong direction, triggering calls to the restaurant to correct what isn't a problem in the first place. This is an example of technology that consumers are used to but may not actually need in the QSR space.
In this case, it might be better instead to show the information that is most critical to customers, like acknowledgement of their orders' receipt, arrival in the kitchen and then pick up for delivery, along with an expected ETA and countdown than that aforementioned map. In essence, it's often better to pick and choose with a brand's level of transparency to prevent the kinds of problems we detailed.
The same is true for pricing in delivery. It is at once important to cover the additional delivery costs by raising the price of items for delivery, and at the same time, to have transparent pricing everywhere.
Consumers want to know what is happening financially, and a certain subset of digital order placers will actually know the pricing differences between items purchased in-store and online and they will then call to clarify any discrepancies. Technology has shown that it is better to be transparent about delivery costs than to increase the prices for delivery items.
The bigger question that QSRs must answer
It's all a part of a broader question that must always be at the center of the digital QSR experience: How do restaurants give consumers the best experience possible?
There's an expectation that brands will acquire the right tools to keep up with the changes and provide unencumbered experiences for customers. If Uber can tell consumers exactly how long the wait time is for a ride, the same capabilities should be within reach for food delivery services.
Customers want to know that the brands they choose care about them and respect their time. They care then, that when an order is placed, they get a response with tracking info and other feedback on their phones.
So always remember that digital guests remain very aware what's going on. After all, that's what the Ubers and Amazons of the world have taught them to expect. They, in essence, set the bar that QSRs and anyone other player in the digital economy must live up to.
The good news for QSRs is this: For those that put the right technology in place to meet shifting customer expectations, the benefits can mean real advances for the brand. Delivery is stickier than other applications, it's a convenience worthy of upcharge, and consumers tend to stick with the brands they understand and that understand them.
But then, there's also this side benefit that beyond earning customer loyalty, services like delivery and online ordering create data. And data, of course, is modern business's version of gold bar since brands can own and use this information to better understand customer behavior and intent.
As a result, QSRs with comprehensive delivery and online ordering programs integrated well into their operations stand to benefit from endless possibilities. With these systems in place, brands can automate email messages, push notifications and texts to target specific actions from various subgroups and categories of diners.
In each case — whether targeting the most loyal or the most occasional of customer — QSR brands can use the real-world data of their visitors to drive increases in visit frequency and order size, even as these brands reinforce customer loyalty in a crowded marketplace. For most brands, the hard parts - the technical logistics of delivery and the ever-shifting target of Silicon Valley advances - are well worth that kind of ROI.