A&W Canada digs into the Hawthorne Effect to Gamify Food Service

aw.kiosk_Thanks to a new gamified app, food isn’t the only thing that’s fast at A&W restaurants in Canada.

In as little as three seconds, burger and root beer lovers can now rate their dining experience using Loop, a mobile app designed to improve customer service at 50 A&W Canada locations across the country.

“Businesses want to be in tune with guest satisfaction and guest experience. This allows A&W Canada to connect with their customers on their terms and capture their insights, all in real time,” says Tony Busa, marketing director at Benbria, the Kanata, Ont. firm that built the app.

Customers can use Loop on iPad kiosks placed in each restaurant (shown above) or download it on their smartphones. The app poses three quick questions to each customer: “Was your meal delicious? Were we fast and friendly? Were the facilities clean?” The ratings are posted in real time on an electronic scoreboard for employees to see. That gamified element is aimed at motivating staff to provide better customer service. (Busa says that in future, A&W may add a competitive element by posting real time rankings of the top performing Canadian locations based on Loop ratings.)

Incorporating mobility, gamification and real time location-based data may seem like a surprisingly high-tech approach for a chain that built its first Canadian restaurant in Winnipeg back in 1956. In fact, 20-year food industry veteran Darren Tristano says Loop is the first app of its kind he’s seen in the restaurant sector.

“We’ve not run across this before,” says Tristano, executive vice-president at Technomic Inc., a Chicago research and consulting firm covering the global restaurant trade. The firm publishes the monthly Canadian Foodservice Digest and also organized the recent Canadian Restaurants 2013 Trends and Directions Conference in Toronto. While some chains display Twitter feeds in their restaurants, run social media contests and respond to reviews on sites like Yelp, “often times it’s too late for the customer to be acknowledged by management,” he says.

“More of this real time, publicly displayed information is very positive,” Tristano says of the Loop approach. “It demonstrates the willingness of the brand to recognize and acknowledge feedback and be able to grade their stores and how they’re doing in terms of how the customer feels.”

Busa says the app is based on principles of the Hawthorne effect, which suggests that people change their behavior when they know they’re being watched. In this case, A&W employees have an incentive to improve or maintain customer service levels because they know their performance is being tracked in real time, he explains.

Customers may also become more engaged with the A&W Canada brand because they know their opinions are being monitored—and potentially acted on—immediately, Busa adds.

“Typically, in many industries, [a comment card] goes to corporate headquarters where they analyze it, and maybe six months down the road something happens from it,” Busa says.

He notes that Loop user participation is highest in A&W locations where scoreboard ratings are displayed for customers as well as staff, suggesting the Hawthorne effect impacts customer behaviour, too.

Loop users also have the option of adding their own specific feedback comments, which are then sent directly to the manager of that A&W store via text or email. Since it all unfolds in real time, managers can potentially address a customer’s feedback before they’ve even left the restaurant.

Does Loop get results? A&W Canada didn’t provide any data to correlate the Loop program with higher sales figures. But at locations where the Loop system is in place, more than 15 per cent of customers are using it. By comparison, the industry-wide participation rate for traditional paper surveys and comment cards is just one per cent.

When it comes to Loop’s “heat map” feature, which gives the store manager at-a-glance metrics about customer feedback from a specific shift (or day or week), there’s at least some anecdotal evidence that the app is effective. Spotting particularly high or low ratings can help managers pin down the reasons and react accordingly. At one A&W restaurant, consistently low ratings on Wednesdays helped managers realize they were understaffed on that day of the week.

“It’s actually boosting staff morale because the majority of [feedback] is positive,” Busa says.

Loop will be rolled out to all 770 A&W Canada locations by early next year. (The Canadian company is a completely separate corporate entity from the U.S. A&W chain.) Other Loop clients include the Intercontinental Hotel’s San Francisco location and BeaverTails Brand Inc., a chain of pastry kiosks founded in Ottawa and now based in Montreal.

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