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Assuring a High Degree of Customer Satisfaction with Technology

By Sarah Naqvi, EVP and CIO, HMSHost Corporation


Sarah Naqvi, EVP and CIO, HMSHost Corporation

HMSHost is a leading restaurateur providing innovative dining services to travelers at airports and along motorways. As a subsidiary of Autogrill, an Italian food service company, HMSHost operates in 116 airports including 44 of the 50 busiest in North American. As the leading provider of dining for travel venues, HMSHost is committed to delivering the best guest experience possible and technology plays a major role in achieving this.

The Impact of Mobile Devices

In atypical bustling airport environment travellers are naturally always on the move. It is our job to make their travel experience enjoyable. To achieve a great guest experience our team is always working to offer travellers the speed of service that they demand. In Recent times, technology has helped to transform the hospitality industry’s traditional methods into scalable modern processes and we have certainly seen this in the dynamic market of travel venues. Managerial tasks for staffing and business forecasting have become more streamlined and the net effect has had a scalable impact on the efficiency of the overall HMSHost team. The biggest impact of the technological trends from a food services standpoint has been with the advent of mobile devices and applications. The proliferation of mobile devices and their growing diversity of uses is changing customer expectations and improving how we manage our restaurants. The success of mobile application implementation will continue to drive HMSHost and other service providers to align technology aspirations against business demands. For HMSHost this approach ensures higher guest satisfaction in our restaurants.

Since HMSHost runs restaurants in busy travel hubs such as airports and motorway service centers, our guests are often in a hurry to catch a flight or return to their vehicle after eating. Being seated quickly and having the ability to order, eat, and pay in a fast manner is an important factor for our guests. To ensure faster delivery or ‘speed of service’, our restaurant associates are given tools to enhance the traveler experience where it is appropriate. Servers and guests in casual dining restaurants can benefit from tablets that are used to place and take orders as well as accept payments electronically. This convenience enables order information to be relayed back to the kitchen in a timely manner and for payments to made quickly without requiring a server to return to the register for processing. These speed of service enhancements foster greater customer engagement and satisfaction.

“In order to make smart decisions quickly, we have a specific tool that is part of our internal HMSHost app called ‘heat map’. This tool uses technology to help our restaurant operators allocate resources in real-time based on current needs of the business by providing a clear visualization of data”

To improve operational decision making and provide fast service, we have rolled out 3,000 mobile phones to our managers. These mobile phones come with the HMSHost internal application pre-installed, allowing our restaurant managers to make on the spot operations adjustments based on the real-time business intelligence reports. In the past analysis of travel trends and responsive business needs could only be done from a desktop. Today, our management staff is empowered with the actionable information needed to react in real-time to issues that can arise on any given day while remaining in the operation. In general, technology is becoming an integral part of business, enabling transformative shifts, while also creating high expectations of IT organizations to drive these efficiencies.

With technology tools HMSHost is driving growth, controlling costs, and ensuring the business has the information necessary to make better decisions. We have also introduced many technology-based service initiatives in restaurants to enable guests to self-order from kiosks, or from server-administered tablets, or stand-alone tablets. Giving guests the ability to manage their time with the option to order and pay quickly from a device is a huge benefit. In the near future our mobile app will enable diners to order a meal from their personal mobile device, pay for it, and then get loyalty reward points.  

Big Data Analytics and its Vast Benefits

Big data analytics is a tool we use to monitor customer sentiment across our business. Data helps us gain business intelligence through a data warehouse that is constantly being updated with information. This real-time feedback enables our management to respond immediately to a guest that may be unsatisfied for some reason, giving us the powerful ability to conduct immediate and meaningful service recovery.  

Big data analytics leads to intelligent business decisions based on live information. In order to make smart decisions quickly, we have a specific tool that is part of our internal HMSHost app called ‘heat map’. This tool employs technology to help our restaurant operators allocate resources in real-time based on current needs of the business by providing a clear visualization of data. For example, if there is a flight delay in one terminal and there is less traffic in another terminal, using the heat map tool, we can easily identify the place where we have higher customer traffic and allocate the available resources to where the demand is higher.  

Innovation-driven Dining Experience

Technology has facilitated a level of information accessibility that provides a meaningful impact on operational efficiency and guest experience. For customers, technology might mean knowing where all of the restaurants are in a given airport. For HMSHost, it might mean knowing where there is a busy terminal with a rerouted plane unloading hungry travelers and then being able to provide them with efficient service. From all perspectives, innovation in technology has enabled us to creatively deliver the engaging experience that our customers are demanding.

HMSHost is always searching for new technology tools that are a fit for our various service models. To test and demonstrate these, we have constructed an airport terminal innovation lab called imagine IT at our headquarters. It is basically an airport terminal tucked inside an office building in the outskirts of Washington, DC. Here our associates and technology providers can demonstrate tools in a real–life airport setting to get a feel for how travelers might ultimately experience the tool in various dining situations. As an incubator of ideas, the innovation lab helps us identify all potential technology solutions.

Innovation is a process which requires active engagement from all stakeholders in an organization. Anyone with an innovative idea should have the ability to present that idea if it could potentially help the business. At HMSHost, we have over 30,000 employees who are a prime source for innovative ideas. By engaging with all associates on ideas, we are fostering an innovative business environment that can evolve and tackle the ever changing demand of the end consumer. We are also always receptive of new ideas by our partner organizations. Being open to ideas from all sources enables us to realize the benefits of idea generation from both internal and external sources and leveraging all of these relationships fuels innovation.

The Cardinal Role of CIOs in Industry

The role of CIOs is constantly changing and is something that naturally happens in conjunction with the evolution of technology. In the past CIO swere seen as technology providers, whereas, now our role is becoming more relevant and influential than before. A modern CIO should define their role as more than just a technology provider, but as a driver of the business. Today companies are selecting CIOs from the business side of the house which is a clear indication that business acumen coupled with foundational technology knowledge will strengthen the CIOs’ organizational role. As CIOs continue to redefine their role’s they will also continue to have an impact on the evolution of their businesses.

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