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Speeding Up the Foodservice Experience

Angela Hanson

CHICAGO — Having tasty menu items is integral to building a quality foodservice program, but other factors can make or break a promising initiative. One of the most important ones is speed, according to the "Breaking the Speed Limit on Your Customer Experience" education session held at the 2017 NACS Show.

Presenters were Peter Berger, vice president, customer engagement for SMG, and Shianna Peace, program manager for Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz Inc. Erin Pressley, vice president of publishing for NACS Media Group, served as moderator.

In-store sales are the largest growth area for the convenience store industry, and foodservice is the second-largest inside sales category behind tobacco, with double the growth margin, according to Berger. "Obviously, [it is] a great category to continue to expand," he said.

Sheetz turned to SMG's customized market intelligence tool BrandGeek to understand the thoughts and motivations of fuel- and food-focused convenience store customers compared to quick-service restaurant (QSR) customers. Behavioral data was captured from 12.7 million c-store visits and 15.8 million QSR visits in a 12-month period.

Overall, the data showed that customers are far more satisfied at c-stores than at QSRs, and they rate their experiences even higher when they purchase both food and fuel. Additionally, food-focused c-store customers are "far more motivated" by speed of checkout and a past good experience, while fuel-focused customers are motivated by speed of checkout, a past good experience, and the selection of merchandise.

BrandGeek data highlighted that many of the c-store brands that overindex on speed of service are also known for their foodservice, including QuikTrip, Wawa and RaceTrac. The data also showed that even fresh, made-to-order food can cause consumer ratings to fall during the lunchtime hours due to slower speed, reflecting that it's worth the time and effort to focus on speed of service.

Through the partnership with SMG, Sheetz found that for both fuel- and food-focused customers, speed of service is a top driver and offers the greatest opportunity.

"Not only is it the top driver of an experience with Sheetz, it's a huge opportunity for us," said Peace, noting that it can help to build customer loyalty.

To increase speed, it's important to know where the delays stem from. Fuel-focused customers reported reasons for their negative experiences were mainly operational, such as a card reader problem or a lack of a printed receipt driving them inside the store, where they had to wait in line at a single checkout. Food-focused customers who have negative experiences are more likely to talk about inattentive store associates, overlong wait time, preparation errors or a lack of urgency.

When customers perceive a good attitude and helpfulness from associates and also experience speedy service, that's when they're most likely to return, Peace explained. "It's when fast meets friendly," she said.

Peace highlighted Sheetz store #587, where a general push to just "do things faster" didn't work. Since the store saw its lowest satisfaction ratings at lunch and dinner, it took specific steps to address the problems with speed at those times. This included 30-minute cleanliness checks of the store's Fizz City offering and seating area, and a cashier/kitchen support plan that provided a procedure for getting assistance when foodservice orders began to stack up. As a result, the store's satisfaction ratings began to rise.

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