Only the Efficient Will Survive

6 steps to the service operations of the future
Joe Cripps
August 10, 2020

Technology has transformed consumer and business habits over the last 20 years, yet the average day for waiters, chefs, cashiers and managers has barely changed. Old software and paper processes still drive operations at even the best brands.

But as low margins and transient staff meets automation and the gig economy, the service industry faces massive disruption.

In the workplace of the future, new starters hit the ground running with automated, personalised training checklists that learn from behaviour, shape habits and instil the highest standards — from day one.

Managers are set free from the back office as manual repetitive admin is replaced with bitesize mobile actions throughout the day, helping focus on staff coaching and a great customer experience.

Food safety is effortless as integrated hardware, voice control and invisible workflows connect staff, suppliers and equipment to remove admin completely, freeing more time for food preparation.

Operations are smart and lean. A growing business can design the perfect site, then stamp and replicate its success without the dependency on skilled staff and added overheads. Efficiencies are highlighted in a stream of incoming data, and improvements distributed directly into every site’s working day — with the results completing a positive feedback loop.

Brand standards are maintained, overheads are down and productivity up, giving the business that critical competitive advantage.

“The most important factor explaining productivity differences is the organisation of labor” — McKinsey

Labour, product cost and overheads have long been key metrics in the service industry. As margins are squeezed by up to 20% by the living wage, rising food costs and business rates, and with staffing already at a minimum, the question is about doing more with what you already have. It really boils down to staff productivity and operational efficiencies.

The service industry has begun reacting to this fact, with investment in workflow automation growing by 25% annually over the last 6 years. But as a recent article highlights, technology by itself is not the real disruptor:

“Being non-customer centric is the biggest threat to any business.”

Automation is not a silver bullet. The service businesses that put staff and customers at the heart of its operations will thrive. The service profit chain established the link between staff happiness, customer loyalty and profitability.

The best way to increase margins? Free staff to focus on customer experience.

6 steps to effortless service operations

1. Lay strong foundations

Looking to open more sites? Beware the multisite valley of death where head office overheads aren’t quite offset by economies of scale. If a business grows without a solid operational foundation, each new site layers on new inefficiencies which can be catastrophic at scale.

Put your best people in a room and have them sketch out the perfect week at the perfect site, down to the last detail, then design an operational workflow that can be standardised consistently with each new site opening. The result can be scale without increasing head office overheads.

2. Think holistically and design for people

Operations management is more than just a health and safety checklist, or staff rotas, or stock management. It’s the intersection of people and processes throughout the working day. Too often these systems are implemented in isolation without consideration for how they fit within the wider system, or within the working day.

Take the natural flow of your team’s day and find ways to weave operations seamlessly in. Those critical processes should be facilitators, not extra chores. Empower your teams with technology that works the way they work.

3. Prepare for the gig economy

Training and retaining staff is one of the biggest challenges the service industry faces. With turnover rates of up to 200% per year, the shortage of skilled managers is often the main barrier to growth. But as technology facilitates new working habits across the service industry, casual and transient staff can be a huge opportunity if harnessed correctly.

Reduce the dependency on skill and experience by implementing strong repeat processes and clear accountability. Instil the right habits on the first day and reinforce them through to the last.

4. Manage by exception

Operations, area and regional managers spend a large part of their day checking up on sites. With limited visibility, they’re forced to take a guess on which sites to visit each day, and flood the rest with email.

Go mobile. If you’re not ready for staff to bring their own devices, invest in cheap durable mini-tablets running web apps. Instead of dashboards and spreadsheets, build actions and triggers between systems so that managers are notified only at the point they’re needed.

5. Automate for the right reasons

There’s a lot of hype around automation, particularly around cutting jobs. However, the great strength of the service industry is… service. Human interaction — that’s where the magic happens. But the majority of staff time is often spent far from customers on mundane, repetitive tasks that could — and should — be automated away.

Look at increasing the quality and quantity of customer interaction by focusing on any repeat task that isn’t service, from fridge checks to stock count. Leverage the Internet of Things to predict maintenance and track assets — and avoid obsolescence with cheap, agnostic sensors built on open standards. Do all this not to make staff redundant, but to make them the best workers they can be, and to provide the best possible service.

6. Beware the one-stop shop

There was a time when operators had a small number of systems to choose from — often with long contracts, complacent vendors and stale software. While a single vendor for hardware and software was appealing, obsolescence and a terrible staff experience increased. Valuable data that should drive the business was fragmented and lost, and as consumer technology changed expectations the workplace experience fell far behind.

An ecosystem of connected, best in class apps has replaced the one-stop shop. From ePOS to staffing, inventory to customer loyalty — operators now have plenty of choice. Buy software that does one thing well, not everything badly, and connect your perfect operations together with open standards and user-focused experiences.

Time for action

Service operations is undergoing massive change and now is the time to prepare for the challenges of the future.

By designing holistic, people-centric operations that automate the mundane and repetitive, staff can return to what they do best — serving customers.

And by assembling a system of well-connected, well considered apps that interact as a whole, businesses can identify efficiencies, maintain standards and stay ahead of competitors.

Avoid lock-in, adapt to the market and deliver great service — front and back of house.


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