Industry expert: Fuelling the forces

Mohsin Shafiq, marketing manager – government and agencies for Sodexo, tells us how technology and people can combine to provide a unified customer experience for service personnel...

Customer experience models have been evolving over a number of years, as caterers hone their offers to react to new food trends, technology and dining preferences. There’s little doubt that the customer experience is rapidly moving into a new era, accelerated by the changes we have all had to make in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Great customer experiences are only achieved when we take time to gain real insight into our customers and respond to the data and feedback. Many businesses underinvest in this crucial area, yet it has proved pivotal for us in understanding what matters the most to our customers.

It often takes a whole series of different insight sources to gain the true picture of what consumers really want, which is why we use a range of research. The methods used can include continuous attitude surveys, data from our own client and customer experience programmes, relevant reports such as the Armed Forces Pay Review board annual report, and specially commissioned research with partners like IPSOS.

Only with this depth of insight can we truly coalesce the huge quantity of opinion, analyse it and design the solution. In doing this level of research, it became clear to us that customer journeys are no longer linear – they are now more complex, include multiple touchpoints, and combine physical and digital channels.

The pandemic has been a profound stress test for business readiness and resilience, and we had to be agile to react to restrictions and still deliver great food on a mass scale. Across our business, we have been transforming the customer journey to elevate, not only the catering experience, but the whole ‘lived experience’ for all services personnel who live and work at forces bases.

Understandably, new technology has played a pivotal part; but rather than simply digitise touchpoints we have explored ways for our people and technology to work seamlessly together to provide a service that is both connected and personalised. We have developed a quick, easy and safe service by using technology to offer customer access to the menus and site information at their fingertips.

This was not a one-solution approach, and it involved introducing a range of innovations and services: we introduced click-and-collect for service personnel wanting a quick and convenient service; for those who were unable to collect as they are having to self-isolate, we created a click-and-deliver service; for those that do visit the restaurant, we created a digitised table service, which allows them to pre-order and check-in at their table, and then have their chosen meal delivered to them.

It is important, however, to remember that feelings are just as important as features; many organisations tend to lean on technology too heavily, forgetting that people play a central role in the dining experience. In a world that is getting digitised at a pace, the value of human connection can never be underestimated.

At Sodexo, we recognise that our team's engagement is at the heart of our transformational journey to elevate the lived experience of our services personnel. We have all witnessed a shift in how customers want to interact with us and the onus is on us to react quickly, with insight. Our successful recipe for a customer-centric experience is multi-faceted: it is grounded in research and built with creativity, to capitalise on the experience and skills of our teams, and enabled by technology.

Solutions will differ across out customer portfolio, but one thing remains certain: great experiences need to evolve constantly to meet the ever-changing needs of our customers, meaning delivering the same experiences time and again is not an option.

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