By Jenn Bloomhuff, Market Development Senior Manager-Grocery, Convenience and Non-Food Retail B2B
For grocery stores and convenience stores, planning for the “new normal” has required perpetual adjustments along the way. Over the past almost two years, it has meant undertaking significant investments to adapt while also maintaining nimble operations at a time of tightened budgets, food and supply shortages, and labor challenges. All the while, every responsibility of the operation has grown more complex; even something once viewed as routine – customer experience.
While quality products and atmosphere used to be the primary concerns of customers, and the main factors that impacted their overall experience, they have now adopted a heightened awareness and focus on hygiene, cleanliness, and safety above all. Customer expectations have grown to include looking after their overall health and well-being, whether they’re down the aisle, at the pump, or engaging with off-premise offerings.
What can be done? For starters, safety should be the top priority in both back and front of house, not only to prevent contamination and violations, but for the overall experience. When health and well-being come first, a business is already on the way to having much more satisfied customers, eager to buzz about the establishment. That’s why it’s important to remember that hygiene is one area where cutting corners is not an option, no matter the current hardships, and there are ways to achieve this even with limited time and resources.
Then, whether we ever settle into a concrete “new normal” or not, there are three additional areas where attention can be focused to elevate the customer experience to the level of today’s standards, helping a retailer become, or remain, a go-to favorite, rather than a one-time mistake.
- Signal that cleanliness is a priority. As regulated industries, retail and foodservice businesses have always operated under tight cleaning and sanitization requirements to ensure food safety remains top of mind – the pandemic elevated this concern even further. Discreet cleaning is out the door – customers expect to see everything they touch, from tables to shopping cart handles, cleaned often and right in front of them before they can be comfortable dining or shopping. Signage, ditching the rag and bucket, and offering plenty of sanitizer, placed properly, from entryways, to near registers and restrooms, to around foods, are more ways to send a clear sign to customers that overall health and well-being is a priority.
- Promote efforts to make customers feel secure. Guests may get over a rude employee or an out-of-stock item, but an encounter where they feel their health wasn’t looked after rarely warrants a do-over in the customer’s mind. And one person’s bad experience could prevent dozens of people from ever stopping in. On the flip side, a report from QSR revealed that people will spend twice as much at a clean establishment. Rather than wait for customers to leave reviews that validate hygiene, it’s possible to be proactive and show them proof. When customers are scanning social media for the perfect establishment to shop at, turning daily cleaning to-dos into weekly posts can pre-empt concerns and give them the security they need in advance. It’s a way of ensuring the scales are tipped in favor of the positive by positioning an operation as trustworthy.
- Execute the 3 “P”s of Off-Premise Dining. Customer experience now extends beyond the aisles and cafe areas – almost all business models now include new or expanded ways for customers to shop and consume food offerings, through increased outdoor dining, curbside pick-up, drive-thru, or delivery options. This has been done both to meet regulations and to satisfy what became longer-term customer demands. Before, capabilities like these were a differentiator. Now, it has all become table stakes. It’s not enough to merely offer these options anymore. Which is why it’s important to remember the experience that is created for customers always matters, regardless of where it takes place.
Off-premise dining generates revenue but complicates “Prep,” food safety and handling, makes it harder to display a commitment to cleanliness and customer health and well-being, “Presentation,” and requires an additional layer of “Planning,” especially in these uncertain times. Unsafe food, unclear evidence of cleaning best practices and concern for guest well-being, and unexpected challenges mean not measuring up. By keeping the 3 “P”s in mind, Prep, Presentation, and Planning, when crafting the experience centered around off-premise, retailers can stay ahead of this most crucial consideration.
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