The rise of the machines

As digital kiosks become an increasingly popular way for customers to order, it’s the soft skills that become key for front-of-house staff, Greg Hull, SVP of Commercial Operations US, Attensi writes.

By Greg Hull, SVP of Commercial Operations, US. Article originally posted on MCA Insights.

Demand for restaurant kiosks is rapidly rising. According to Statista, market revenue from kiosks worldwide was an estimated £23bn ($28.34bn) in 2021, up from £22 billion ($26.63bn) in 2020 and is expected to rise to £37 billion ($45.32bn) by 2028.

While these are global statistics, you only have to walk into your local fast-food chain or QSR restaurant to see rows of kiosks lining up to take customers’ orders.

Global fast food chain McDonald’s has reported that restaurants with kiosks experienced an average 5% growth in sales. The reason: customers like control, choice, and personalisation.

Restaurant chain Leon only started trialling digital kiosks in 2020, but they are now the primary in-store sales channel, accounting for 85-95% of all orders. And the business reported an average 10-15% increase in transaction value compared to traditional POS transactions.

It’s all part of the digital evolution taking place in the eating and drinking out market, with digital orders, through drive-thru and digital kiosks, growing by 23% in the restaurant sector over the past four years, to reach £20bn ($23 billion) in sales, according to market research company The NPD Group.

Meanwhile, self-service digital ordering service Tillster found that 65% of customers said they would visit a restaurant more often if self-service kiosks were offered, with 30% stating they preferred to order from a kiosk.

We could take the stats from the makers of digital ordering services with a pinch of salt – but there is no denying that kiosks are gaining transaction with customers. That said, you can’t just install a machine and expect to ring in the sales.

Your front-of-house staff are still a vital part of the customer experience. However, their role will change – your staff will play host to customers rather than just work behind the till.

‘It’s the soft skills that will set your business apart’

In many ways, a front-of-house job is about to get more demanding. They will be required to navigate customers through their whole experience – from the initial welcome and service to answering customer questions in between. They will become ambassadors for your brand and business.

And here’s why it’s so important that they get their new role right: the 2017 Ombudsman Services report estimated that UK businesses lose about £37 billion every year due to poor customer service. An eye-watering figure.

To hit the right note with customers, staff will require detailed knowledge of procedures and products to provide stellar customer service. It is the latter that is the fundamental difference between man and machine.

Soft skills, such as empathy, eye contact, and welcoming body language are what will set your business apart.

After all, customers will make ad hoc requests, praise, or complain to a person, not a machine. Handling these interactions is where your staff must excel. It sounds obvious, but people skills are the advantage your workforce has over digital kiosks.

Now is the time for your staff to develop these skills and transition into more dynamic roles. As we mentioned, they will have to increase their product knowledge, understand how to handle deeper customer interactions, and develop their customer service skills.

And just how do you go about upskilling your workforce in the fast and frenetic hospitality industry? One of the most efficient ways is by using technology as part of their training.


‘Success will come from a combination of tech and human touch’

Adopting training that doesn’t have to take place in a classroom setting – which can be accessed anytime, anywhere – gives your workforce the freedom and flexibility to train at a time and place convenient to them.

And that’s not the only benefit: offering your staff a safe-to-fail digital environment allows them to develop their soft skills away from the workplace, preventing psychologically damaging on-the-job failure. With the proper training, your workforce will progress beyond the basic requirements of their role and develop the skills to evangelize the best of your business.

So rather than seeing digital kiosks as a replacement for human service, we should see them as a welcome addition.

Man and machine can work in harmony.

Kiosks can handle straightforward linear customer transactions, e.g., a customer selects a meal, a side, and a drink before making payment. Those looking for product knowledge that goes beyond what’s on the screen – such as where food and drink are sourced – can speak to a real person. This is where people can wow and win over customers.

It is this combination of tech and the human touch that will drive your business and brand into the future.

Attensi is the world’s leading provider of high-impact gamified training and works with partners including YO! Itsu and Leon. Want to know more?

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