02 Nov Your Customers Prefer Line Skipping
Customers Prefer Businesses with Line-Skipping
As technology continues to make American consumers’ lives easier, the expectation that businesses can be flexible enough to adjust to the needs of their customers continues to rise higher and higher. The nearly ubiquitous use of smartphones has now made it so that waiting in line will very soon be purely a function of choice (or lack of forethought) rather than a mandatory requirement.
This trend can be seen most clearly in the food service industry. According to a recent survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), American customers are more satisfied with restaurants that allow them to order food early, thus allowing them to skip the line. In fact, the survey showed that restaurants which didn’t provide the ability to order early have actually dropped in customer satisfaction over the last year.
Line-skipping for Restaurants
And, of course, it’s pretty apparent why this would be the case for restaurants. The limited service industry has made it abundantly clear that quality food can be attained without having to wait forty-five minutes for a seat (or a drive through line). Fast food excels in expediency; fast casual in a plethora of quickly assembled healthier choices; food trucks in high quality ingredients and preparation. Customers simply have too many options to be forced into a timeline they can’t control.
Successful Line-skipping in Fast Food: Chick-fil-a
Fast food restaurants such as Chick-fil-a have greatly benefited from their order-ahead mobile app. Their popularity derives in large part from their ability to push out simple, high quality foods at a low price point. Seeing that long lines had begun to negate any benefits of going to a fast food restaurant to begin with, Chick-fil-a rolled out an order-ahead feature in their mobile app in 2014, to great success. The increase in customer satisfaction made them not just the only fast food restaurant in the ACSI survey that increased their score, but also made them the highest scoring overall restaurant in the entire survey (with an 86 out of 100).
Competitors of Chick-fil-a have since scrambled to catch up, with McDonalds, Starbucks and Taco Bell implementing order-ahead programs in mid- to late 2015. It wasn’t quick enough to register in the yearly survey, however.
Dunkin Donuts was a notable exception to the previous examples, however, as their rewards program and new mobile app provided enough of an increase in engagement that they were able to make a showing on the survey for the first time. They are also in the process of integrating an order-ahead feature on their app, which promises even more success for their growing brand.
Early-adopting fast casual restaurants saw a bump in customer satisfaction as well. Both Chipotle and Panera saw increases in satisfaction last year. Panera, in particular, rolled out its initiative Panera 2.0 in early 2014, which included a shifted focus toward mobile technology and their branded mobile app. Chipotle also rolled out its order-ahead feature in 2014.
And while the ACSI survey only measures customer satisfaction among larger chains which can provide them with more than 70,000 opinions, smaller chains and small businesses are quickly searching for ways to take advantage of this shift.
Third party apps are becoming more and more popular for providing smaller restaurants with the ability to adopt some of the same behaviors of their larger counterparts. ChowNow, Snapfinger, and Postmates are all companies that provide order-ahead services to smaller food service establishments. The data that they list on their respective company websites demonstrates the growing demand of such services.
Small and medium-sized businesses are also taking advantage of the rapidly dropping price of a custom-branded mobile app that provides order-ahead features, thus bypassing the buildup of fees associated with multiple third party resources. Stand alone apps also allow businesses to integrate other features (online marketplace, social media, review system, etc) without having to double or triple down their monthly payments for multiple third party apps.
But the food industry is not the only place where order-ahead is gaining steam. Grocery stores such as Publix, Whole Foods, and Kroger have invested in giving their customers the option to order groceries prior to arrival. Retailers, doctors offices and dentists are also beginning to experiment with the functionality of such features as well, further entrenching the order-ahead trend into the mainstream vocabulary of American consumerist culture.
As American consumers continue to find value in avoiding lines, businesses will continue to adopt new technologies in order to earn and keep their attention. And as the ACSI indicates, those businesses that take advantage of these trends will increase their customer satisfaction, which in turn will boost their bottom line.