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Leveraging Technology for a Better Consumer Experience

Technology can be a tricky thing for a small business. Used correctly, technology can increase revenue and streamline operations.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Behind the Review host and Yelp's Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week's episode of the podcast.

The Restaurant Technology Guys

Jeremy Julian, host of The Restaurant Technology Guys podcast, knows a thing or two about the restaurant technology industry. He grew up in his family business repairing cash registers, and now, over 20 years later, he's the vice president of professional services for that same company, Custom Business Solutions.

Despite his long tenure in tech, he's the first to caution small businesses against assuming technology will always solve their problems. "Technology for technology's sake is worthless," Jeremy said, elaborating that unless technology is implemented with the right mindset, it's not worth the investment.

Early adoption is something that can seem really cool or innovative, and something that might put your business ahead of the competition, but it has to be done mindfully—for instance, using technology to create a better guest experience.

"People that are doing [technology] well are understanding who their guests are and how they want to interact with that brand," Jeremy said. "Once you've defined who your consumer is and what your brand is, that's when you start to layer on technology. Ultimately, it's all about the experience and making sure the guest has the experience they're expecting. And what is that experience? Your brand and what it is you're trying to exhibit to the world really identifies how you home in on where you use technology."

Because technology should solve a problem or make a current process better, identifying existing pain points is key to using technology effectively. One way to accomplish this is to become a customer yourself and "shop" technology experiences in similar businesses.

"Go be a consumer at two or three brands that you know," Jeremy said. "Business owners like to talk to other business owners, and they like to talk about what they're doing well." This can give you valuable insight into how your customers want to interact with the technology you are trying to implement.

It's also important to remember that what works for a large business might not be the best fit for a small business. When it comes to choosing a technology partner, think of them as a full-on business partner. "They represent your brand. They represent your product. They represent your solution to the consumer," Jeremy said.

Because technology is sometimes the very first touch point for your consumers, the solution you choose should be intuitive and reliable. Otherwise, you could lose potential customers. "Oftentimes, they're not walking in and talking with the owner. They're on your website where they're on this app, scheduling their time. And if they don't have a good experience, it's frustrating," Jeremy shared.

Before purchasing a technology, consider if it can grow with your business and integrate with other technologies you might need in the future.

Using restaurants as an example, Jeremy said, "So you have to have a point of sale. My suggestion would be: That point of sale also needs to be open to having other inputs to that system—whether that be third-party delivery, online ordering, text to order, text to pay, all of these different options—to really create the guest experience that you're looking for."

Fifty years ago, business owners gathered data on customers from face-to-face interactions. They knew what regulars expected and liked. With technological advancements, it's easier than ever to gather data—but what you do with it matters more than simply having it.

As Jeremy pointed out, "Consumers, especially today's consumers, as they continue to trend younger, are going to give you that data if you ask for it and you do something with it. If you ask for it and don't do anything with it, they will stop coming to your establishment."

In practice, this looks like parsing data for more efficient and personalized marketing campaigns, for example, to show you understand the consumer and why they frequent your business. A free way to gain customer feedback is through online review sites, like Yelp.

Ultimately, any technology you adopt should support the original purpose of your small business. "[If] you got in this business to serve people good food with good hospitality with good service, get back to that. Use technology to exploit that, to make it better for the guests," Jeremy said. "Get back to the roots of 'why did you start that brand?' Then use technology to augment that process and help you do it at a better scale. [It's important] that we do it at a pace that's really helpful for the consumers because without them, none of us have a business at the end of the day."

While Jeremy's specialty is restaurant technology, his advice is applicable to any small business. When considering technology, keep these tips in mind:

  • Define your consumer base first. Before implementing new technology, consider how customers use your business; that should guide your tech choices.
  • Start small if you need to, but have options for growth. If you start small with technology, make sure it's adaptable and can grow with you as your business expands.
  • Technology should always serve a purpose. Tech for tech's sake can be detrimental to your business instead of helpful. Identify a need for it first.
  • Be the consumer before implementing new tech. An important step in adopting new technology is to "shop" other similar businesses to see what you like (or don't like) about their technology.

Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Jeremy and Emily, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.

Available on: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and Soundcloud

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