Fast casual dining chain Panera Bread is experimenting with a new recipe for customer service. The chain has spent $42 million on digital self-service kiosks and online/mobile ordering, with the intent to roll out these systems in 1,800 stores over the next three years. The new processes are being implemented after Panera’s relatively slow sales growth in 2013 (2.3% vs. 5.7% in 2012) and a decrease in transactions from the 15 million MyPanera Rewards customers the chain tracks digitally. After observing potential customers leaving without ordering because employees were too busy to serve them, Panera decided to upend the existing in-store customer journey in favor of a streamlined digital solution.
The current service cycle at Panera is a three-station process of ordering, picking up drinks, and waiting for food in the area Panera has unfeelingly nicknamed the “mosh pit”. To eliminate the friction and bottlenecks that are turning off customers, iPad kiosks will supplement standard counter service, and customers will also be able to order and pay from their iPhones, entering their table number into the app so employees know where to bring the food.
Panera hopes that the new digital systems will not only improve speed of service, but also increase sales, retention, and brand affinity by creating positive, personalized engagements that connect consumers more efficiently with the food they came to enjoy. As mobile penetration increases and consumers have more options in how they interact with brands, expectations are rapidly rising. According to a recent global survey by Cisco, 52% of consumers prefer self-service check-out options, and 61% would be willing to shop in a completely automated store.
And Panera is not the only chain responding to this trend: Applebee’s is rolling out tablet kiosks in 1,800 U.S. restaurants this year, and Burger King recently launched an app enabling mobile orders and payment in select locations. However, unified digital self-service is still a nascent trend within dining chains. Even Starbucks, a digital leader in mobile transactions, has yet to extend its digital experience to in-store ordering.
Purely physical customer experiences are no longer enough. Traditional businesses must be aware of the digital touchpoints their consumers rely on everyday, and meet them on these devices to create a seamless omni-channel experience. And knowledge is power: by collecting and analyzing customer data, Panera Bread was able to identify a problem and rapidly develop a personalized, consumer-facing solution.
Through benchmarking current processes, putting consumer experience first, and not being afraid of disrupting established practices, Panera Bread has created an integrated, streamlined process that will improve consumer experiences while continuously collecting even more useful consumer data. And that’s a recipe for success.