New Service Model

By Mary L. Carlin, Contributing Editor | March 01, 2006

It's becoming increasingly clear that foodservice customers are willing to help themselves. Whether it is to order food and beverages, bet on races or rent DVDs, restaurant guests are taking advantage of self-service options. In the conclusion of the two-part "New Service Model" series HT examines the growth of online, kiosk-based and even telephone ordering technologies that are meeting the needs of increasingly tech-friendly customers unwilling to wait in line or on hold to get served.

As part of its $121 million renovation, Churchill Downs installed 310 BetPro units that can be moved where needed: in the box seats, Turf Club, restaurants or off track betting areas. The IBM (ibm.com) Anyplace Kiosks are touch screen tablet PCs, programmed with United Tote (unitedtote.com) wagering interface and Opera Glass Networks' (operaglassnetworks.com) application. Their joint IWP (Interactive Wagering Platform) Systems interface provides on-demand racing and handicapping information, real-time wagering, multimedia entertainment and food and beverage ordering through the InfoGenesis POS (infogenesis.com).

Interactive content includes selecting camera angles to view races in real time, which has the potential to drive more betting as patrons can view video of the next track racing and continue wagering without having to get up from their seats. The system is fully integrated with Churchill Downs' back-end systems.

"The BetPro units were a high-tech aspect of our renovation, to improve the user experience. Our goal was to provide easy access to wagering, food service, and information," explains Churchill Downs' general manager Jim Gates.

"Our Twin Spires Club frequent player cards provide access to the units with a swipe and PIN," Gates adds. "It's a key way that we can communicate with our customers. We can track their wagers, and tailor our offers to them."

The ROI is difficult to quantify, according to Gates, because although the units' convenience factor is probably increasing wagers, many units are in areas that didn't exist before the overall renovation, making comparisons difficult. "There have been labor savings because of a reduction in mutual clerk staffing, but we're not making money on these units," he notes.

Down the stretch

As there was no time for beta testing or pilots, Churchill Downs jumped right into implementation. "The units got wired one month before opening, so they were tested in the week leading up to opening day, with a few minor glitches," says Gates.

The amount of food ordering thus far has been minimal, because it is disabled in the Turf Club, where a call button summons wait staff. Menus are provided for the units in box seats and other areas.

A handheld version of BetPro was tested in November 2005 in the Turf Club, primarily for wagering on account. During the Spring Meet 2006, they will introduce 75 BetPro PDAs for customers to sign out and use throughout the premises for wagering, services, and information access.

"We're purchasing state-of-the-art new units and then we will judge the demand. In the future, we'll see a continuing evolution of these units, with greater functionality and speed, and they'll be embraced by more and more of our patrons. With different demographics, some don't use them now," says Gates.

QSRs battling staff shortages of quality employees are finding cost savings and consistency of service by helping customers to help themselves. Colonial Foods, a Virginia-based 105-unit Pizza Hut franchisee, have automated its inbound telephone orders using Jacent Technologies voice-ordering platform (jacent.com).

According to Colonial Foods' manager of operations services Scott Sylvera, the system, which they've nicknamed •Lisa', answers and records all calls, and lets customers choose an operator if they're uncomfortable.

"A little less than half use the system. The technophobic want to talk to a human, and in tourist areas heavy accents can be hard to understand for voice recognition, so they're automatically transferred to a service rep," he explains. Lisa can speak and understand Spanish, and translates orders into English for the kitchen staff. "We've increased our customer base from a local Spanish population that was larger than we'd realized," he says.

ROI has also come through increased sales and guest check averages, although there have been no labor savings. "We're redeploying individuals and hours to service positions, so we've improved operations but not labor costs," explains Sylvera. Lisa is better at upselling because she is very consistent in her order processing; her speech pattern is the same regardless of the day or time.

"Busier employees talk faster, so there's less upsell," adds Sylvera. "Lisa asks if they'd like a second pizza, drinks, or appetizers, and then she asks, •Have you ordered everything you'd like?'" On average, the system has an 8.1 percent higher guest check average than the average customer service rep, according to Sylvera. The system also processes credit cards (through integration with Pizza Hut's proprietary POS system), provides credit slips to the delivery drivers, and sends orders to the make line.

In hindsight, Sylvera says he'd have educated customers more on the benefits of the new system. "We did some marketing, as in •We have an automated system that's out there,' but we should have told them that it can take orders and payments in less time, and they'll never be put on hold." Lisa also uses customers' telephone numbers to access previous orders and asks, •Last time I see you ordered X, would you like to order that again?' For call backs, Lisa automatically checks the POS system for dispatch times, and gives customers a status report on their pizzas. The system also records all conversations, including those with the service reps.

"We don't spend a lot of time maintaining it, just finding other ways to use it," Sylvera says of the system. "I'd advise other operators to be cautious about feedback, because you'll only get the negative feedback. One general manager told me, •Every customer I talk to doesn't like it,' but with this system, you don't get to hear the good feedback."

Internet ordering was added to five of their locations in mid-2005, and they're looking to expand to others, as well as additional locations with Lisa's telephone system. "Speed of ordering is key," he concludes. "We'll see self-table ordering in the next five to ten years."

New menu items

Redbox (redbox.com), a majority-owned subsidiary of McDonald's Ventures, has DVD rental kiosks in over 800 McDonald's restaurants nationwide, charging $1 per night's rental and taking returns at any participating McDonald's.

"Customers tell us they like having movies on our menu," says Chris Catalano, chief investment officer for McDonald's Ventures. Last November, Coinstar (owner of the ubiquitous coin-counting kiosks) invested $20 million in Redbox, announcing intentions to extend placement retailers, drug stores, and supermarkets.

New York-based •wichcraft, a gourmet sandwich company, has also turned to self-service to expand it's menu of speciality items and tap into the time-sensitive office lunch market. Customers can get anything on the menu, purchase it online, and have the order sent directly to the location nearest to them using an ordering interface from Infogenesis. The customer has the option to choose whether to pick up their order or have it delivered.

Another new piece of technology •wichcraft has implemented is wireless point-of-sale for kiosks in Bryant Park. This flexibility allows •wichcraft to explore new ways to connect with their customers. "I think with the online ordering, centralized management, we've been able to not only cut our costs, but provide better service to our customers," says Jeffrey Zurofsky •wichcraft CIO.


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