3 digital experience steps for quick service restaurant brands to drive app usage and digital sales
Insights · 6 min read

3 digital experience steps for quick service restaurant brands to drive app usage and digital sales

Chris Bosco
Posted July 13, 2021

One of the most visible examples of accelerated digital transformation can be found in the quick service restaurant (QSR) segment. While third-party delivery continues to dominate as the most-downloaded food + drink apps in the U.S., fast-food apps—like McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A—are quickly rising.

This increased adoption and usage is good news for brands—but it also means stiffer competition to win customer loyalty. The stakes are high, and brands must ensure they are meeting customer expectations by providing a seamless digital experience. 

Unfortunately, QSR brands are often falling short. In a recent FullStory survey of 1,500 consumers, QSR brands were rated very low for quality of digital experiences provided to customers—with 38% saying their experience was “poor” or “very poor,” and only 7% providing a “very good” rating.

With digital sales projected to make up more than half of all QSR sales by 2025, brands need to deliver seamless, differentiated digital experiences to keep pace with the competition. 

To help your brand excel in a market that’s becoming more digitally dominated every day, here’s a three-step approach to advance your digital experience and drive app adoption.

1. Measure the end-to-end customer journey to deliver a seamless experience across channels

The onset of COVID-19 forced organizations to accelerate digital transformation efforts and create more channels and touchpoints for customers to engage with their brand. But this uptick in cross-channel experiences introduced even more challenges for brands that were already struggling to provide a consistent experience across touchpoints.

In FullStory’s study, 77% of consumers said they won’t complete their digital transaction if they encounter an error, and 60% won’t return to a business after they experience a problem. To uncover these digital barriers and close the gap on customer experiences, your experience management (XM) program needs a healthy mix of active touchpoints (e.g., intercept surveys, micro surveys, post-engagement) and passive touchpoints (e.g., feedback buttons, chat) to ensure you’re measuring the entire customer journey from start to finish.

Additionally, through the use of self-serve capabilities, you can control what you ask and when you ask it. Real-time deployment by non-technical resources makes it easier to increase the footprint of feedback channels. This, in turn, greatly enhances your ability to identify points of friction, increase conversion, and provide seamless experiences across the journey. Plus, instead of looking at siloed engagements, you’ll get a holistic view, which will help you uncover issues faster and close the loop across channels.

2. Understand the full digital experience from the customer’s point of view—not your brand’s

Brands often make assumptions about the customer journey rather than defining that journey through actual customer behavior. Remember: it’s the consumers who determine how they’ll interact with your brand and what they expect across channels. That’s why it’s imperative to understand the customer journey through the eyes of the customer.

Uncovering what customers are experiencing in an automated and scalable way isn’t enough. You also need additional context to address the why behind their feedback.

For example, FullStory’s research revealed that 83% of respondents said a “good” digital experience simply means being able to “quickly accomplish what I came to do.” This is valuable information to have, but the crucial next step is understanding what a quick and efficient experience means to customers. 

Session replay is one way brands can quickly uncover customer needs and provide them with a speedy, efficient digital experience—helping you definitively answer the question, “What’s really happening on my site or app?”

Another way to streamline the feedback-to-insight process is through AI-powered text analytics. Qualitative feedback provides invaluable insights behind quantitative data and answers questions you didn’t think to ask. With advanced features like sentiment and topic trends, regions impacted, and operational risk alerts, you’ll have the tools you need to turn open-ended feedback into digital improvements that lead to business-changing insights. 

3. Drive engagement by creating a sound digital strategy focused on order accuracy and loyalty rewards

With insight into the what and why behind your customers’ experiences, the next step is action. Successful digital transformation is about reshaping experiences, not replacing them with novel touchpoints. The gap between what brands think customers want and what customers will actually use is often filled with misplaced priorities and disappointing endeavors that fail to pay dividends.

To get an idea of what consumers expect of their app experience, SMG conducted a study through our market intelligence tool BrandGeek®. We found that among the 40% of respondents who deleted an app in the last 30 days, nearly half did so because they didn’t use the app enough, and one in three cited difficulty placing orders or technical difficulties with the app.

Additionally, the study uncovered a big problem with inaccurate orders, with one in four consumers reporting they’ve experienced an issue with order accuracy when using a restaurant app. And this is impacting future behavior, with 40% of respondents who had difficulty placing an order indicating that they are not likely to place another app order in the next 12 months.

What does keep them coming back? Loyalty rewards. Our study showed that 83% of respondents have at least one QSR app, and the top reason they cite for downloading the app is to earn loyalty rewards. Furthermore, when respondents were asked what they like most about their favorite app, the top response was the loyalty rewards program.

To maximize your digital investments, provide a digital experience that delivers on order accuracy and rewards customers for their business. This will transform how customers engage with you, not just increase the number of engagements. 

Define digital transformation and chart the path for your brand

Digital disconnect can’t be solved with overreaching IT investments, futile branded apps, or a disjointed frontline staff—and it’s easy to confuse outdated ideas with innovative approaches. Brands that tackle this increasingly necessary adaptation the right way can optimize the technological offerings available to them and successfully enhance the digital experience.

Digital trends that guide your industry, your competitors, and your customers can help you chart the transformation path for your brand. If you’re included in the 86% of businesses that place themselves in the beginner or intermediate stages of digital experience strategy, know that you’re not as far behind the competition as you might think.

To learn more about trends and pitfalls in QSR digital transformation, download SMG’s guide: Navigate the digital transformation without compromising on CX. And remember, no matter where you are in your digital transformation journey, it’s important to keep your enterprise headed in the right direction. 


Chris Bosco | SMG | VP + GM, Digital

Chris leads SMG’s digital practice—overseeing product development for e-commerce measurement solutions, helping clients turn feedback into insights, and providing industry thought leadership. With more than two decades of experience in e-commerce operations, product management, and digital technologies at Accenture Digital and Accenture Interactive, he’s passionate about leveraging that deep expertise to help clients achieve their digital objectives in ways that lead to bottom-line results. Chris especially enjoys collaborating with SMG’s seasoned team of customer and employee experience professionals to help clients evolve their digital measurement strategies. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Kansas State University.

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Chris BoscoDigital Vice President and General Manager

About the author

Chris leads SMG's digital practice—overseeing product development for ecommerce measurement solutions, helping clients turn fedback into insights, and providing industry thought leadership.

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