In all of the solutions Air Web Solutions have delivered to our clients across many different industry verticals, we have always kept an eye on how we can add value by simplifying the operations of a business through technology systems either bespoke or third party. We first assess if a requirement can be filled with an existing solution in the market place, and if not, we look at integrating a combination of third-party platforms to deliver the right solution for the client. If this doesn’t solve the client’s problem, we look at building a system that is fit for purpose and sustainable from the client’s perspective.
As we emerge from a prolonged period of uncertainty, the phrase “New Normal” has been used to describe the way in which we will conduct ourselves personally and professionally given the risks we face globally. The New Normal sees businesses of all sizes rearrange their operations and practices to consider client and worker safety and interactions. It sees businesses adopt new ways of getting things done without increasing health risks to all parties. What if this new normal is actually the way we should have been working some time ago? What if the new methods and efficient approaches to business operations could have been put in place before the COVID-19 pandemic?
Until there is a real need to stop and look at the way in which we conduct business from all angles, many businesses don’t see the justification for change, even if the change will benefit the business’ bottom line. In most cases, we are too busy to allocate the time and resources to enhance the business operations and the way in which we engage with our customers.
Even though the impact of this pandemic has been devastating and will no doubt lead to difficult times for most, it is undeniable that it is this very pandemic and the lockdown period that has inevitably forced us to enhance our business operations we previously didn’t have the capacity to do.
Some of the questions we should be asking ourselves in order to identify our key objectives are
How do we improve customer engagement in a safe and healthy manner without damaging the interaction between staff and customer?
How do we conduct our business and run a lean and cost-effective operation without spreading ourselves too thinly? And hence, Is there a better way for us to manage all aspects of the business without losing focus on what is important?
How do we introduce new channels of revenue and enhance the existing business? Are there easier ways to generate revenues and ensure a more sustainable way of staying in business even when the doors are closed?
How do we provide a more consistent customer experience and build lasting customer loyalty that will help us ride out current and future adverse circumstances?
How do you let people know about your business and your brand and attract new customers?
Clearly there are many ways to approach the response to these questions but all of them require an understanding of your current processes and workflows. In most cases, there will be opportunities to improve the way we do things and there are 3 main ways in which we can achieve this with technology.
A really good way of assessing which option is best for each of your business processes is to simply list each process into three columns and start looking for the correct solutions. If you find there is no existing cloud subscription for a particular process, move it to the outsource column and find a suitable provider you feel comfortable with.
Again, keep in mind that the idea is to find better ways to get things done and free your and your staff’s time so you can all focus more on core business functions and increase the service levels to your customers.
Depending on your type of business, there is a long list of services and technologies that would ensure a smooth operation, however, given the time we have today, I will be focusing on the main areas that would be useful to all Retail and Hospitality businesses.
It’s likely you are all using some form of customer billing or epos solution, either in house or cloud-based.
If you are using a cloud-based system or considering it, the benefits could include,
Integrating with third-party platforms, like payment gateways, loyalty systems, and CRM systems to manage your customer purchase history.
Remote Sales Dashboard – In some cases, as a business owner, you may not be on-site to check sales and daily activity. A Cloud Epos solution should enable you to check your sales activities and revenues from your mobile devices wherever you are. You may be on holiday or even managing supplies or even doing deliveries. Whatever the scenario you will always know what’s happening back in your physical premises.
Identify Buying Patterns – Given the huge amount of data collected by modern POS systems, your cloud POS solution will give you valuable insights into the trends and buying pattern of your customers, daily, weekly and seasonally. This will enable you to anticipate future trends and plan your business and manage your teams accordingly.
Targeted Marketing Campaigns – With sales and product information and customer buying habits, you could set sales and multi-buy incentives based on this information and target them to specific groups of customers depending on their purchasing characteristics. For Example, you could offer a free pastry to those customers that have not entered your premises for a few weeks but have purchased a pastry with their coffee in the past. This will ensure you are offering customers exactly what they want and physically drive people through the front door.
Stock Management – These days all epos systems offer some form of stock management or stock control. It’s a useful feature and something that shouldn’t be overlooked when reviewing your overall business process.
Outdoor Event & Remote Payments – Cloud POS solutions are really useful in remote scenarios. You may be involved in a corporate event off-site or even a community event in your local area. Either way, you can manage all orders and payments remotely and integrate your sales data as you would in your own premises. Use the data to review your events revenue streams and see if more similar events will increase your opportunity for generating further revenue.
As an extension to your cloud POS solution or even as an independent solution, a customer loyalty programme is excellent for keeping customers engaged and ensuring they return.
A further benefit of a digital loyalty system is the removal of any physical loyalty cards. This is great because people lose cards or forget how many points they have. A digital loyalty system ensures less paper, less management and an easier way to reward your customers without fuss.
Some loyalty systems not only reward customers based on their spending but also give additional rewards for physically purchasing within your premises. This will ensure your customers feel wanted and will build real loyalty based on the points awarded. An easy way to capture physical customer activity is through simple QR or password login screens either at the counter or table. QR code login reduces time and makes the customer journey a lot smoother.
If your loyalty system is integrated with your POS solution, you should be able to link transactions easily with your customer information and create specific rewards for each customer based on their buying habits.
Whether your customers are ordering at the counter, at their table, from their hotel rooms, or at home, one thing every business owner must understand is the ordering process that they expect their customers to go through. It’s this experience that will either leave the customer satisfied and confident that their order will arrive on time and in good condition.
Facilitate Table ordering – which for most of you is a priority given the reopening and social distancing requirements. This will be a game-changer for most businesses as it will ensure customers and staff limit their interaction and are able to simplify the ordering process. No more customers waiting for a member of staff to take their order, and no more stressed out waiting staff being called from all directions for service. You may even be able to reallocate your staff’s focus and spend more time keeping the premises clean and safe.
Customers can also benefit from a cashless payment scenario either at the table or at the counter and again minimise the interaction and dependency on staff. What we are trying to achieve here is a smoother experience and ensure the transaction between the customer and your business is simple.
If you are offering a takeaway service, you should consider a pre-order service to help customers save time when they come to collect their items. This could be applied to not only restaurants and cafes but retail as well.
With regards to increasing revenue channels, you could make your products and services available and maximise customer spend by offering online booking, delivery and collection options.
In terms of restaurants and cafes, most delivery or collection ordering platforms charge a hefty fee for the privilege of their service. More and more businesses are looking at direct ordering channels for their customers, and ensure commissions to third party delivery services are kept to a minimum. In some cases, these third-party channels are used to attract new customers and then incentivise the customer to order through their own website or mobile app going forward.
Recently we have also seen this type of shift by service businesses such as hairdressers, massage parlours, and beauty parlours, who pay commissions to a third-party booking system to increase their brand awareness and generate new customer leads. They are now offering free items or discounts if customers book directly in the future.
As an exercise, review how much commission you are paying to third party online lead generation platforms.
We all know that in most cases Free WIFI is a big attraction for customers. In some case, it can tie up a table for way too long but on the whole, it’s a good idea to provide free guest WIFI and limit the session times if you feel that you need a faster turnaround of customers.
If you do provide Free WIFI, make sure you provide a high-speed internet facility as a poor experience with Free WIFI could lead to frustration and a poor customer experience. You want them to be relaxed and happy and walk out with a smile, and hopefully leave a positive review!
Make the WIFI Password visible and easy to access so your staff are not constantly spending time spelling out the WIFI Password whilst other customers wait to get served.
Use third party Guest WIFI solutions that enable your customers to access the service via a social media account. This will not only ensure your customers can enjoy the free service but also gain you, additional social media followers, online.
In Some cases when you connect to a free WIFI service, there is a splash page presented to the customer where they login or enter their details. Please make use of this page to capture contact details for future marketing and to also share valuable information about your services and products, ensuring customers are kept up to date.
Email is still the most effective form of digital marketing so make sure you don’t miss this opportunity.
And this brings me nicely to the next area of consideration, Digital Marketing.
For most of you, you have spent some time deciding on a brand name and logo. And for some of you even engaging online with your audiences and sharing various content and information through social media and your website.
In order to maximise your brand presence online, we recommend addressing the channels that will ensure you are seen consistently online and also tells your customers and potential customers that you have a plan and that you are current.
A basic but holistic approach to digital marketing would include,
Search Engine Optimisation, to help drive organic traffic to your website through fresh website content in the form of a news article, and blogs, as well as off-page SEO link building programmes.
Social Media Marketing across social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, making sure you present a consistent look and feel that matches your brand guidelines
Online business directories like TripAdvisor, Zomato etc
Use the emails you have for your customers, as long as they are happy for you to communicate with them, to keep them informed of your news and offers.
Even engaging with a third-party text messaging service to notify your customers about events, deals and even their order status!
If you look at each of these channels as an opportunity to engage and build brand awareness, you will give confidence to your customers and potentially increase your customer base.
If you have the resources, then you could look at writing guest posts on third party websites to build your industry authority and also engage your team to assist with regular podcasts or videos.
Everyone has seen screens in various outlets displaying adverts, products, and service information. Usually, these are seen in large chains that invest tens of thousands of pounds in sophisticated Digital Signage Solutions. There are cloud-based solutions that can be accessible to small businesses that will provide the same customer experience and the same benefits to the business for a fraction of the price.
The benefits of implementing such a solution will enable you to increase your brand awareness and ensure your customers are informed of your latest products and services. These solutions can also be used as a form of entertainment if integrating video content and could reduce the pain of waiting for service in busy times. Again, we are focusing on the customer journey and their experience here.
This type of system will also be accessible to manage via a web browser remotely and will also provide a multi-site opportunity if your business has more than one outlet. It will also enable you to schedule different content at different times of the day to maximise targeted marketing opportunities.
Furthermore, the screen itself could be used to generate advertising revenue if you decide to rent ad space to other businesses and partner brands.
The traditional fixed telephone line will soon be a thing of the past. VOIP telephony is growing in favour and provides many practical benefits.
Consider a scenario where you are not on-premise or in the office and your phone rings? No one answers the call and this leads to a potential sale go to waste.
A VOIP solution can be accessed via a desk phone via WIFI or Ethernet, mobile devices and PC’s or laptops. In many cases, a VOIP solution offers easy to use online dashboards to manage how your calls are routed. For example, you can set it to ring 3 times on the desk phone before ringing on a mobile device. The customer has no idea that the call has been routed and the owner or member of staff can respond to the call on their mobile device.
Consider another scenario. The current lockdown has meant, on-premise or office calls have not been answered due to a fixed landline. A VOIP handset can be disconnected and plugged into a home internet line and work as it did on your premises. No more missed calls!
If you take the system one step further and integrate the VoIP service into a CRM system, you will be able to see all interactions your customers have had with your business and even listen to the call recordings. This is hugely beneficial in the case of disputes or order checking.
Today, we are communicating via video calls and it is becoming the norm for most of us. A good VoIP solution will come pre-baked with video conferencing facilities and a meeting schedule. It’s probably one of the best choices for a unified communication option.
For those who are reluctant to lose their existing telephone number, these can be ported over in a relatively short period of time.
The time we spend managing accounts, invoices, and receipts can be a real drain on our day to day productivity.
If you are not already using some form of digital accounting software, you should try and move towards this soon. Digitising your paperwork by scanning your receipts and invoices, ensures your accountant has access to the information they need when they need it. This way they can ensure your VAT and annual filings are on time and in most cases give you a heads up if you are heading towards a hefty tax bill!
The simplicity of a system like XERO or FreshBooks for example allows you to use your mobile device to scan paperwork and also email digital receipts to be logged in the system on the go. I’m sure I’m not the only one who promises to keep on top of the accounts on a daily or weekly basis!
If you integrate your POS solution with your accounting system, you could further streamline your accounting process by automatically logging daily ledgers into your system without any time required by yourself.
Once you get used to working in this way you’ll find you have more time to focus on the core business functions and your customers.
Give Customers options on how to access your services and products. A Dedicated Mobile app can provide an excellent way to market your services and offer everything in one smart neat little package and in-built notifications will ensure your customers are reminded of your brand.
If you treat your website and mobile app as an additional channel for your customer to access your business, you will enable your customer journey to start before they have even entered your premises or before they have spent a pound. Just make sure your user experience is smooth.
Music is so important for hospitality and leisure-based brands.
If you think about your customer experience from a wider perspective, you’ll be able to connect with them through more than a few of their senses. Audio engagement can be just as important as a visual one when it comes to building brand loyalty. If you don’t pair your brand to your music properly, you risk confusion and a distressing customer experience.
For example, don’t play thrash metal in a hotel lobby, it just won’t go down well.
Carefully curated music services are available with a large number of audio experts ready to put bespoke and packaged audio experiences together that will help align your brand.
When it comes to managing documents, some businesses rely upon physical drives, servers, and PC’s onsite.
In some cases, this poses a risk to the business as files may be deleted or corrupted and crucial company information may be lost. Also, on occasion when files may be required whilst not on premise, with a cloud-based document management system, the files can be securely accessed remotely to ensure continuity of business and reduces delay for the business as well.
Services like Dropbox, Box.com, and OneDrive offer secure cloud file storage and incremental back up so any content deleted can be restored to a single point in time. If an even more bespoke cloud storage solution is required, then a secure site to site VPN service combined with Amazon or Azure cloud servers could be what you need.
It goes without saying that through all of these channels you’ll be collecting directly and indirectly a large amount of data. With this comes the responsibility of being compliant with GDPR.
Make sure you are GDPR compliant when handling customer data. Generally, cloud solutions provide GDPR information and this can be extended to your GDPR documentation for data storage.
However, you must have policies in place for handling the data and specify who is responsible for making that data available if the customer wishes to have access to that information.
If you are collecting data from your website, even if it is an email or telephone number, please ensure you have a valid GDPR notice on your website or somewhere on your privacy page.
I know for some of you, some of the things I have talked about will already have been implemented in your business, and for some of you it will be new, but the important thing is to really ensure you’ve assessed your needs before embarking on any of the technologies and solutions available as there is no “one size fits all” or “cookie-cutter” approach to running your business.
At the end of the day, services are available to ensure you are able to spend more time focusing on your core business, rather than trying to juggle the various aspects of the operation. You just need to make sure you are doing what is right for your business and give it the chance it deserves to thrive.
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