Not all quick service food and fast casual restaurants were prepared with a contactless curbside pickup strategy when they had to close their in-room dining in the wake of the pandemic in early 2020. With their front doors shuttered and unable to serve their menu to restaurant patrons, the need to pivot workflow to supplement dependency on drive-thru revenue became apparent. As the time went by, take-out, delivery and curbside pickup became the foundation of business for much of the food services industry.
Even with the hope that the pandemic will be ending soon, curbside pickup is here to stay, so investing in the technology that focuses on customer experience and operational efficiency will be the key to which businesses come out of this situation stronger than when they entered it.
The pandemic has changed many things, including putting a new urgency behind contactless shopping and restaurant experiences. Most retailers and quick service restaurants now offer curbside pickup, but those who don’t are still rushing to find a solution because overnight this demand has become the key to bringing revenue in the business when in-person experiences are limited.
When curbside pickup was first introduced, it was a confusing experience for customers and businesses alike. Figuring out how to make and take orders, send and receive payment, as well as finding a contactless solution for pickup presented many challenges. With businesses trying to promote orders, and customers experiencing convoluted pickup instructions, many were left frustrated with the current state of doing business.
While the chaotic experience of curbside pickup has improved greatly since the spring, there are still many improvements that need to be made before it starts to create a positive customer experience, which will increase loyalty and ensure growth in the business. While the pandemic will not last forever, curbside pickup will remain because it has introduced an element of convenience we have not seen before.
In fact, many businesses are including a curbside pickup strategy as part of their future recovery. “Curbside pickup is so important because it provides customers another option. I don’t want to get in the drive-thru line. I’ve placed my order via my mobile phone. I can conveniently pull into a parking spot that is designated for pickup and partners will bring my order out to me. That is working beautifully. That is taking pressure off the drive-thru and accommodating more of that customer demand,” Pat Grismer, CFO of Starbucks said in a presentation.
Even stores with existing drive-thru businesses are leveraging curbside pickup as an additional channel, showing there’s no concern of it cannibalizing the current revenue stream. With additional points of access, it means the business can accommodate more customer traffic, with less customers waiting for their orders to be fulfilled.
The digital experience has now become the front door of many businesses as contactless curbside pickup is on the rise. A new report identified that 85% of shoppers have increased using curbside pickup since COVID-19, so it has become paramount that businesses are able to offer this new form of shopping experience.
The report also identified that shoppers find the current pickup experience lacking, from availability of pick-up time slots, to wait times for pickup once they arrive.
Leveraging Curbside Pickup As A Future Strategy
With curbside pickup being an offering that will continue beyond the pandemic, it’s time to move beyond improvisation and start thinking about a long-term sustainable curbside fulfillment solution.
Even before the pandemic, industry experts predicted that technology will significantly change the restaurant landscape. They estimated that more than $200B in restaurant sales would come through digital channels by 2022.
Looking ahead, it’s predicted that consumers may be hesitant to return to some of the activities that were once part of their daily lives before the pandemic, permanently changing some of their behaviours. Most consumers are expected to shop less frequently in physical stores, with a shift into digital touchpoints.
Customers have an expectation for a seamless, convenient curbside pickup experience, which will create winners and losers in this “new normal”. The winners will be those who implement a solution that is easy to understand and offers to create a customer experience that is memorable and will foster loyalty to the brand.
With curbside pickup being pushed to the forefront over the last few months, there have been many important lessons learned.
Here are some pitfalls to avoid when offering contactless curbside pickup:
Don’t make customers call you from the parking lot
It’s unrealistic to expect employees to be waiting around for the phone to ring, as they’re busy serving other customers. Find an automated way to initiate the fulfillment process that doesn’t rely on the consistent availability of a store associate.
Using the Loop Inbox, gain access to a consolidated view of messages from all channels including SMS, Email and Social. Allow your customers to communicate using their preferred channel of choice and create operational efficiency when responding. Using automation tools such as routing and chatbots, ensure that every exchange makes the customer feel heard and deepens the relationship with the brand.
Don’t leave customers waiting
There is no standard for wait times for your curbside pickup order. Some may patiently wait for ten minutes, while others demand answers after three. Offer the ability for customers to receive a status update, or better yet, automatically update them on the progress of their order while they wait.
By opening a conversation in the Loop Experience Platform, the customer is able to engage directly with staff to get updates on their order. This prevents them from having to call in and further take time away from the execution and delivery of the order. Using automation rules, leverage the ability to escalate issues for fast resolution and remediation.
Use the customer’s channel of choice
Consider automating your curbside experience on a mobile-native channel your customers already use, like SMS or WhatsApp. Here, the customer can initiate fulfillment conversations upon arrival, use automated Chatbots, which saves associates time and improves the customer experience by receiving a response right away. Best of all the Chatbot can offer a Human-in-the-Loop strategy which routes inquiries to store staff equipped with their phone, tablet or laptop if necessary.
The Loop Experience Platform’s omni-channel approach allows for customers to converse in SMS, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp for real time messaging. This all rolls up to the shared inbox where team members can communicate back efficiently.
What You Can Do To Improve Curbside Pickup Today
Curbside pickup is here to stay, and creating lasting customers with a sophisticated solution doesn’t need to be difficult.
The Loop Experience Platform helps to centralize customer communication, stimulate engagement and create a positive customer experience when interacting with brands. This simple, flexible platform is easy to adopt to help measure customer feedback and have meaningful engagements with patrons.