Why customer experience and social distancing doesn’t need to be a trade off

As we all find our feet in a mask-wearing, social distancing age, many businesses are facing new challenges they never expected. How can establishments that pride themselves on stellar customer service continue to provide a top tier experience in a time when keeping our distance from one another is of the utmost importance?

Those in the hospitality industry are understandably grappling with this dilemma. Thankfully, living in the age of technological advancement that we do, new innovations are never too hard to come by. Over the past few months, we’ve seen many new solutions come to market at record speed to support organizations operating in this new environment. For example, it took only a matter of days to up the contactless limit from £30 to £45 and in the blink of an eye, bars and restaurants had fully functioning apps for ordering.

So how can businesses, particularly those in the hospitality industry, tap into new technologies to provide the best customer service possible in this new normal?

Shifting strategies

As we face further uncertainty, with restrictions tightening faster than they were eased, it’s likely that we’ll see more consumers opt to stay at home, reverting to full lockdown days when ordering a takeaway was the only option for having a meal you didn’t slave over the stove for. In fact, according to a recent YouGov poll, only half (53 percent) of Brits say they plan to visit restaurants as much as they did before the Covid-19 lockdown, with a mere 5 percent saying they will dine out more than ever once they get the chance.

In light of this, bars and restaurants may need to reconsider their strategies to accommodate this shift in behavior.

To set the scene, prior to the pandemic, UK households spent around £5 per person per week on takeaway meals and in 2019, the foodservice delivery market was worth around £8.5 billion. At the same time, 25 percent of UK and US consumers say they check their social media more than they did before the pandemic, and a further 87 percent of online shoppers believe social media helps them decide what to buy.

These two trends present a real opportunity for bars and restaurants to continue to provide great customer service when diners aren’t necessarily in the physical restaurant or bar, and, using social channels to order and pay has been born.

Social commerce taps into the fact that consumers are very familiar with WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and allows businesses to leverage these channels to not only promote but choose to route orders and payments via them.

You might think this sounds a little like social media marketing, but social commerce differs because purchases can be made directly on the social platforms themselves, instead of off-platform landing pages or websites or use them to issue a payment request. For customers, who don’t have to start the buying process all over again on a new platform, this creates a frictionless purchasing experience. For merchants, it presents the perfect opportunity to meet their social media followers, so they are not simply maintaining revenue, but understanding better who is buying their products and services.

Social commerce is a true innovation for online businesses, making the purchasing process for customers simple and efficient, and with the right payments partner, completely secure. As the winter months approach, it’s likely we’ll see the dining at home trend rise once again, so it is therefore crucial that merchants tap into this previously untouched revenue stream and reap the benefits through lockdown and beyond.

Adapting in the physical location

But of course, we aren’t living in full national lockdown days anymore, and indeed, restaurants and bars are allowed to remain open until 10pm in many regions across the country. However, social distancing remains critical to ensure they can operate safely and help us move through this pandemic. In order to help people get back to their old habits, bars and restaurants need to provide added reassurance that social distancing rules can be adhered to. So for those businesses that remain open, and may not want to shift to an entirely new operating model, we’ve seen a whole host of payment technologies to enable social distancing in a seamless manner.

We initially saw hospitality businesses embracing payments technologies that allowed diners to browse fully branded menus on their own device, then place an order via the app or mobile browser for delivery or collection. Of course, embedded in this is the payment method, meaning that the entire transaction takes place on their own device. But this still hinges on the diner opting for a takeaway.

Therefore, these technologies can be extended to the physical setting too. Diners are becoming accustomed to scanning a QR code, or NFC tag, to take them to the website with the menu, limiting the number of physical items present at the table. For some, this is where the online, in-restaurant experience ends. But taking it one step further, the most effective solutions, are those that combine the payments process too. The process can become entirely digital, allowing diners to pay for their order via the solution too and even incorporate features such as splitting the bill if required. Importantly with these options, diners don’t need to download yet another app, avoiding the app fatigue we’re all familiar with.

There is no denying that the hospitality industry, like many, has faced incredible challenges and the opening of bars and restaurants, albeit with restricted hours, continues to sit at the center of a national debate. However, a whole host of technologies are available to ensure that they can continue to operate safely without compromising on customer experience. Whether it’s tapping into social commerce, or embracing different order ahead, delivery or in-restaurant solutions, what’s important is that businesses in the hospitality industry are working alongside expert partners to ensure that they are capturing the whole process – from order to payment. New payments innovations mean that restaurants and bars minimize hardware costs, while being able to provide a seamless and secure customer experience.

Nick Corrigan, UK&I MD, Global Payments

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