How can hospitality vendors win back customer trust?

Customer service is a vital part of the dining out experience, but it appears some visitors to UK restaurants, pubs and cafés are losing faith with the service they are receiving.

Recent statistics from the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) revealed that satisfaction within the leisure industry declined during the first six months of 2014, with major brands including Subway, Costa Coffee, Caffe Nero and Pizza Express slipping in its customer satisfaction rankings. So how can this be rectified?

Losing customer trust is critical at this point in time, as competition is rife within the hospitality sector. With new eating and drinking venues opening across the UK each week, providing outstanding levels of customer service can prove crucial to gaining and retaining business over market rivals.

While satisfaction success relies heavily on the demeanour and knowledge of staff, there are a number of things that vendors can do to equip customer-facing personnel with the best possible set-up to carry out their job. For example, the majority of modern hospitality businesses depend on a secure and reliable internet connection; from online bookings to chip and PIN terminals, connectivity is essential for a seamless end-to-end customer experience.

In addition to making the lives of personnel easier by removing common causes for complaint, a reliable network connection can be an incredibly useful tool for marketing purposes. Many diners and drinkers have come to expect free Wi-Fi access as standard in bars and restaurants, which presents a perfect opportunity to communicate special offers or loyalty vouchers to mobile devices at the point customers log on.

Customer trust is difficult to gain and easy to use, and even the slightest mistake can damage a valuable relationship. What hospitality vendors must focus on is getting the foundations of an outstanding encounter in place before building the wow factor on top – from basic staff training to running all venue devices from one reliable network connection.

The store isn’t just a shop anymore – it’s a theatre of dreams

From digital advertising screens to fitting rooms that superimpose outfits onto your silhouette, the modern retail store is moving further away from its traditional format. Progressive brands including Burberry, Lacoste, Topshop, Ikea and Argos are among those already using technology to reimagine the shop floor, turning local High Street outlets into interactive theatres of dreams.

But where should retailers yet to embrace the digital revolution, begin transforming their store? A recent Retail Technology article pointed out that shoppers are no longer ‘wowed’ by tablets – they expect stores to take payments, check stock availability and carry out other helpful tasks in a flexible manner. Therefore businesses should look to their advertising strategy to engage store visitors in new ways.

For example, rather than putting posters up, many retailers are now opting for digital screens that rotate key campaign messages. The real-time capacities of this channel also enables them to react to industry events and update promotions in line with online activities.

While this is a sensible starting point, some of the larger retail brands feel display technology alone isn’t enough; customers need to be drawn into a digital conversation. For this, a new level of investment is needed.

One example is Superdrug, which has drawn inspiration from the popularity of the ‘selfie’, giving customers the opportunity to take and share photos of themselves wearing the latest available makeup ranges. Alternatively, both Converse and Lacoste have taken interaction even further, devising an app that superimposes their footwear onto customers’ feet so that they can try out a product without even having to remove their own shoes.

Although uniting digital and physical in-store is a powerful way to revolutionise the act of shopping, it’s important that retailers only view cutting-edge technology as the icing on the cake. With so many possibilities available, it’s easy to get lost in the vision of being different and miss the point of reinventing the store: to improve the customer’s purchasing experience.

After all, retailers can have the most alluring digital set-up on the High Street, but excitement alone won’t convert browsers into buyers. Every retail theatre must perform to rigorous consumer standards – and that means having the right items in stock, offering helpful customer service and providing an efficient payments process.