By now, we get it – mobile technology is huge and here to stay. Various studies and analysts say that 1 billion consumers will be using smartphones by 2016. There are 4 billion mobile phones in the world, 3 billion of which are SMS-enabled. Forrester estimates mobile spending will reach $1.3 trillion by 2016.
And yet, despite all that enthusiasm for mobile devices, our behavior still has some old-school characteristics. We’re a bit guarded about what databases – what businesses – get our smartphone numbers. And, believe it or not, some people don’t carry their phones everywhere they go.
That’s why, although restaurants and other hospitality companies should be moving toward restaurant paging systems that incorporate mobile apps and SMS texting, they also should pause before going exclusively with a mobile approach. Many businesses are finding that, even with apps, they continue to need traditional pagers in some circumstances and for some guests.
According to a reader-response survey conducted by the Food & Beverage website, nearly half of restaurants (48 percent) said they had no paging system and simply call guests’ names when their tables are ready. Nearly 30 percent use handheld pagers. About 5 percent uses a paging system that sends a text message to guests’ phones.
What’s needed is a hybrid approach that incorporates both mobile apps and traditional restaurant pagers, providing the flexibility to assure guests the best possible experience.
Research: Many Don’t Like Giving Out Cell Numbers
Your customer might not trust you. Don’t take that in the wrong way; it’s not your fault. You know you have no plans for misusing their cell phone number. You want only to tailor a more friendly, useful and personal experience. But consumers have learned, in part through years of unwanted telemarketing solicitations via landline, to give out their information more selectively.
A survey by Pitney Bowes last year indicated that only 38 percent of residents in the United Kingdom were willing to share their cell phone number. The University of California-Berkeley issued research showing the wariness of Americans when it comes to their mobile phones. Some highlights:
- 78 percent consider data on our mobile phones as “about as private” or “more private” than the data on our home computers.
- Despite assumptions that younger people are more comfortable with technology and thus less private about their data, they are actually significantly more concerned.
- 74 percent think a store “should not call” our mobile phones.
- 75 percent would “definitely not allow” a coupons app to collect information from a contact list.
So, yes, we love our mobile devices, but research indicates we see them as a final fortress of privacy to be guarded carefully.
Not Everyone Carries a Mobile Device
Not long after the iPhone first hit the market in the summer of 2007, people had already turned the great advantages of mobile technology into an addiction with its own name. “No mobile phobia,” or nomophobia, was coined by British researchers in 2008 to describe how people feared losing connectivity.
A study of 1,000 people last year indicated two-thirds of respondents fear losing or being without their mobile phone. Forty-one percent of people have two phones or more.
We’ve reached a near-saturation point with mobile technology. Now comes the inevitable backlash as people become annoyed that they can’t grab a bite or enjoy a movie without the ringtones and phone conversations of obnoxious fellow patrons destroying their peace. Some restaurants across the country are even asking customers to turn off phones or leave them at home.
In Chicago recently, phones were banned for the 5,000 to 6,000 people who visit Cook County criminal courts every day. And everywhere, people are taking pledges to withdraw from hyper-connectivity for a weekly “Sabbath” from mobile devices and “unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors and connect with loved ones.” There’s even a National Day of Unplugging planned for next March.
The point here being that you can’t assume that every guest will be carrying a device you can use to manage their visit via SMS.
Can’t Leave Traditional Pagers Behind
So, yes, mobile apps provide lots of guest management benefits to hospitality establishments. They can help improve staff response times and table turns, decrease congestion at the host stand, decrease overall system upkeep and reduce pager loss – not to mention that many people prefer to receive a cell phone message instead of being tethered to a pager.
However, it’s important to remember that you’re in the business of ensuring that every guest has the best possible experience, and that some of those guests will want the option of a physical pager over giving you their phone number. A hybrid paging solution is your best bet.
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Michelle Strong is chief marketing officer at LRS wand an advocate for meaningful customer engagement.