Product Empathy

By Bill Fultz
Heartland VP of Point of Sale

It shouldn’t be surprising to hear that point of sale is becoming more entrenched in restaurant operations. The impacts of digital acceleration extend to many industries including food service. When meeting market demand, timing is crucial and can make a difference in determining those who thrive or wither in today’s economy. 

 

In this brave new world of POS solutions, merchants are scrambling to meet this challenge and the result is often disjointed services cobbled together that fail to meet the expected customer experience. The world is further stressed as consumers send loud and frequent feedback to restaurants that are stretched thin and not well informed. Many of the POS investments happening lack a long-term strategy.  

 

As software providers (ISV’s) and resellers (VAR’s), we have a collective responsibility to help merchants charter these technology needs for mutual success. However, this isn’t always approached with the best perspective.  Traditionally, technology solutions have been (and unfortunately continue to be) disjointed from the businesses they are supposed to enhance. We have been stuck (and not just in restaurants) with creating products in our own bubbles.  Put another way, our technology lacks empathy. 

 

Product empathy is a fancy way of saying products or solutions should consider what all “users” need — users being the critical word. Today’s point of sale technology serves a bigger audience. It is not just for restaurant owners and their staff. It is increasingly equally important to understand the consumer — the end customer.  However, just knowing this is the current world of POS influence isn’t enough for a product to have positive empathy. A larger context and unification of features is largely absent. But we can stop this cycle and can make intentional decisions when building and deploying solutions that are rooted in product empathy 


Take, for example, online ordering. Restaurants that previously had little to no online ordering volume now have to contend with order balancing of in-store online transactions. Ecommerce fraud is a hard reality that restaurants must manage in their daily activities. 

QR codes 

 

Let’s explore this concept of product empathy starting with QR codes. QR codes quickly became en vogue after a decade of mediocrity. QR codes aren’t glamorous and technically are not very sophisticated. Most VAR’s pay little attention to them, as there is no flashy hardware to sell and most operators could print them with existing printers. ISV’s decried the technology and pursued different shiny technologies. Then came 2020, and almost overnight, QR codes reached 78% utilization in restaurant operations. But QR code functionality fell into our myopic product lens. It lacked consumer empathy and stopped short of making a large difference. 

 

Generally, most QR code incorporation has been rudimentary. Scan the code and get a menu website. Some more insightful restaurant operators included additional support for alcohol, dessert offerings, and a few more added loyalty sign-ups to the QR code. Sadly, fewer businesses linked the QR code to online ordering. Even with decades of data supporting direct purchasing (orders) and that consumers prefer online catalogs (i.e menus), most restaurants fell short of making consumers truly comfortable. Amazon is based on this simple product empathetic approach. However, linked menus and online ordering are frankly 2000’s features.  

 

What if we were challenged to look at more than just a part of their customer base? This isn’t easy — folks in software have been trying to resolve this blindspot for 40 years. Human tendency is to solve problems within our experiences and perspective. Programmers often build software they want. This is why so much early software was ugly, inflexible, and tedious. At times they took on requirements from users but then immediately set to better their worlds to their vision. The iPhone went through this evolution because of product empathy. It was designed by the same intellectual brain trust but something changed (after the Newton failure): product empathy was the focus. The final goal wasn’t to be the most powerful, feature-rich device. It was to be something people would actually use in their daily life. The rest is history.    

 

Getting back to our online ordering and the QR situation proves we can do better.  Reviewing recent consumer research on QR codes and online ordering shows that older restaurant customers had no initial limitation when using QR codes and online ordering. However, they had a higher abandonment rate because the menu and online ordering site fonts were too small — another example of a lack of product empathy. Someone (or likely a lot of someones) missed that the consumer impacts of QR codes would go beyond a millennial smartphone user.

 Online Ordering

Accessibility is solid progress towards product empathy but we can do more.  Language is another opportunity to meet our consumers where they are today. Again, we need to look beyond just our individual perspectives. The opportunity around language is huge.  According to the SBA, 29% of all small businesses are minority-owned. 16% of the US population is Latino, 25% of all restaurant traffic is from Latino consumers, and 14% of all foodservice workforce are Latino. Offering POS solutions to our restaurant customers that are inclusive to their employees and customers is just good for everyone’s business. 

 

When software connects to consumers in their world affinity happens. Affinity results in increased spending. Merchants analyzed their average check increased 7% after offering Spanish for their online ordering and kiosk solutions. No new menu or operational changes, just a more inclusive software solution.     

 

Product empathy requires us to go beyond our personal insights. Removing unintentional biases and providing inclusive technology ultimately can grow revenue. It’s an amazing industry that allows VAR’s to be at the center of the opportunity to consult with customers on the impact technology has in growing their businesses. As merchants are making strategic investments in technology, let’s widen our collective perspectives. The rewards are plentiful for products that are rooted in empathy.


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