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Adapting to evolving expectations and emerging trends
COMPANIES in the food and beverage (F&B) and tourism sectors need to adapt to evolving customer needs and expectations as well as to emerging trends in order to stay on top of their game.
Neeta Lachmandas, executive director of the Institute of Service Excellence (ISES), said: "Businesses that are able to remodel structures, processes and operations to keep pace with the changing expectations of customers will more likely than not engage customers positively, raise satisfaction levels and in turn benefit from long-term financial resilience."
And this is something that a number of local businesses are already working on.
McDonald's, for instance, has been tweaking its menu and payment options in response to changing tastes and lifestyle changes.
Aside from healthy options such as salads, it has also introduced premium burgers - made with Angus beef for example - to cater to more discerning palates. Earlier this year, it rolled out customer-inspired menu items such as the Breaded Salmon with Paella Spice Mix.
In addition, customers are also able to pay using cashless options such as credit cards and Android Pay as it found that consumers were becoming increasingly reliant on cashless payment. The restaurant sees an average of 375,000 cashless payments each month, a spokesman said.
Meanwhile, the Singapore Zoo is constantly looking for new ways to "wow" visitors, given that higher expectations and more competition for leisure time means that attractions have to create truly exceptional experiences. At the same time, it tries to promote messages about conservation and sustainability. A prime example is the current 'Zoo-rassic Park' offering, complete with a Tyrannosaurus and velociraptors.
Mike Barclay, group CEO of Mandai Park Holdings, said: "It is the first time we have deployed life-sized, realistic animatronic dinosaurs in a rainforest setting. The dinosaurs will be with us until March 2017, and are helping us to raise awareness about species extinctions."
Mandai Park Holdings operates four wildlife parks - the Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari, River Safari and Singapore Zoo.
And Sentosa, which receives nearly 20 million visitors annually, is working with its partners in a bid to attract both new and repeat visitors. For example, this year, two new attractions were opened on the island - KidZania Singapore and MOSH! "We have also improved infrastructure and connectivity on the island through the introduction of sheltered walkways along the beaches, as well as cycling tracks and enhanced walking trails," said Chin Sak Hin, assistant chief executive of Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC).
In addition, SDC is working on several projects to test-bed new solutions and technologies to enhance the guest experience.
"In collaboration with the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), we are developing an Integrated Guest Experience programme which aims to provide guests with a seamless experience at key touch points, from pre-visit to post-arrival," Mr Chin added. "We have concurrently launched an Integrated Operations project with the IMDA to seek out technologies with the potential to enhance operational efficiency. These initiatives are part of our Smart Sentosa initiatives and are expected to be rolled out in phases over the next few years."
Under the attractions sector, Sentosa scored 74.3 points in Q3 for the Customer Satisfaction Index of Singapore (CSISG), up 2.76 points year on year, while the Singapore Zoo earned 73.3 points, or 1.76 points more. The Jurong Bird Park scored 72.6, or 1.88 more points, while Night Safari and River Safari earned 72.2 and 72.3 points respectively.
The CSISG, released by ISES, measures customer satisfaction across sectors and sub-sectors in Singapore's services industries.
Other trends which are important for the two sectors to adapt to is the growing spotlight on the digital space and social media.
The increase in the adoption of mobile technology in recent years coupled with the growing incidence of social interaction via digital platforms means that public opinion today is often influenced by what is read online, ISES highlighted. This could include platforms such as live feeds, breaking news, instant messages and social media.
Ms Lachmandas pointed out: "Given greater transparency and connectedness coupled with the lack of control on the comments on social media platforms, an issue that is not addressed in a timely and satisfactory manner will quickly find itself being amplified."
Chief operating officer of the Lo and Behold Group, Andrew Ing, shared a similar viewpoint, stressing that reaching out to guests through social channels makes the group more accountable and transparent. The group operates four restaurants, one boutique hotel, five bars, a beach club and a cafe.
"Addressing relevant feedback from customers on social channels is very important," said Mr Ing. "It's also a great way for gathering sentiment and identifying areas for improvement for the businesses. It really makes a direct impact on guests who've had a less than desirable experience and increases the incidence of them returning."
Unlisted Collection chief Loh Lik Peng said: "The way consumers find out about restaurants have changed. They listen to their peers." For instance, chefs often plan dishes and plating to appeal to those who post on social media platforms such as Instagram.
Meanwhile, others are using technology and social media platforms for marketing initiatives as well. McDonald's uses its apps to reach out to users daily with free food or drink coupons as a way of engaging customers.
But while business owners can't stick to the tried-and-true methods of handling customers, one has to be mindful that technology is simply a tool at the end of the day, cautioned Ms Lachmandas. In certain respects, personalised human attention remains key to solving more complex problems for customers.