Technology has forever changed our definition of “connected”. Before social media, cell phones, and the internet, people connected through social interactions. They took place at church, in grocery stores, or at the neighborhood park. Conversation was the name of the game.
Now, connections are rarely forged without its mediating partner—the internet. This development has changed the ways people interact by placing a higher onus on the availability of information. In turn, this relationship alters how local businesses and restaurants communicate with their customers.
Social researchers at the PEW Research Center found that two-thirds of Americans think that having more information actually simplifies their day-to-day decision making. And this proclivity toward connectivity is already affecting the restaurant industry, one that is traditionally simplistic in its divulgence of information.
Speedy, Accurate Information
Nearly every restaurant has a website outfitted with its hours of operation, its menu, and possibly some events they’re hosting. Most of these restaurants are also using chatbots to communicate with their customers. However, chatbots are only capable of doing one thing: answering run-of-the-mill questions. They don’t personalize their answers to fit the brand of the restaurant they’re serving. Moreover, this can actually dissuade customers from coming to a restaurant because they don’t think that restaurant values personal, human interaction.
This is the emerging space that many technology companies are seeking to fill. One such company, Open City, was developed by a life-long restaurateur for the sole purpose of putting a personal touch on the way restaurants engage with their customers.
“Consumerism is a 24/7 venture,” Nicholas Belsito, founder and creator of Open City, told Restaurant Nuts in an interview. “You might decide to go out to dinner on Thursday morning, but can’t get a hold of the restaurant staff to make a reservation until later that afternoon. Even worse, you may have lost out on an opportunity to make that reservation because you didn’t have the right information in front of you.”
Consumerism is also changing the way restaurants communicate with customers. Many technologies currently feature Natural Language Understanding software, which is how Amazon’s Alexa can interpret and answer questions. Essentially, this software digests customer requests in a human way, without focusing on keywords.
But, whether this technology will ever replace the comforts of human interaction has yet to be established. There are myriad ways that technology has already begun performing tasks as if it were a restaurant employee. For example, if a customer wants to book a table for 7:00 PM, but there are none available, Open City will automatically offer tables at shoulder times like 6:30 or 7:30 instead of simply telling the customer that their request can’t be granted. This, in turn, makes the customer feel like they’re interacting with a human rather than a computer.
Businesses need to pay attention to how they communicate with customers if they want to remain competitive in an increasingly technological space. If not, they risk losing market share to those who take time to consider it.