McDonald's MY's Zaid Hasman on avoiding the trap of buzzwords

We have all heard buzzwords such as "AI", "influencers", "5G" and "data". Love them or hate them, they are prevalent in the marketing industry and are changing all the time. However, Muhamad Zaid Hasman (pictured), digital director, McDonald's Malaysia believes marketers should look beyond them and focus on providing a personalised customer experience.

With over 15 years of experience in the digital space, Zaid joined McDonald's in 2018 to lead its digital team and expand the McDelivery business. He was previously the head of digital at Domino’s Pizza for Malaysia and Singapore, a company that he was engaged with since April 2011.

In this edition, Zaid shares the challenges F&B companies will face in the future and the digital trends he is looking out for in 2020.

A+M: What is an overhyped area marketers should stop harping on?

I think marketers should not fall into the trap of buying into the buzzwords or latest trends.

More often than not, these buzzwords or implementations do little to push the envelope in terms of innovation within a company for a large section of the consumers.

We know that AI and machine learning could never replace the human touch at our restaurants. However, these technologies can help us to improve operational efficiency, reduce complexities, and provide hospitality for a more personalised customer experience. Ultimately, all of this can help lead to customer loyalty and retention.

A+M: What are some challenges F&B companies will face in the future?

The rapid change of consumer demands and expectations as well as stiff competition will be key challenges for the industry as a whole. F&B companies need to be agile in this day and age, and at McDonald’s, we want to move fast in the same rhythm as market changes.

We knew that we had to provide a unique experience to customers as a key advantage for McDonald’s to continue staying relevant in the local market. To accomplish this effectively, we had to amplify our efforts in all aspects of our business, such as modernising our restaurants, localising our menu by introducing relevant products that resonated with customers, and nurturing our talent at all levels.

A+M: What are some of the biggest changes you are predicting when it comes to consumers in 2020?

I think this year will see a culmination of the changing habits among consumers from the last decade. Consumers now have higher expectations, whether in terms of experience and ambiance at a restaurant, all the way to wanting to know more about what goes into their food.

In light of these expectations, McDonald’s Malaysia understands the need to evolve the culture and outlook of the company, and most importantly, introduce a new way of running our business in line with market changes and consumer demands. As such, we have introduced a more modernised customer experience in our restaurants – or experience of the future (EOTF) as we call it in McDonald’s – by integrating technology and hospitality, to ultimately serve our customers better.

Currently, 75% of our restaurants are equipped with digital menu boards and self-ordering kiosks (SOKs), to provide customers full control of their ordering and customisation of products. Through these technologies, soon we are able to upsell and cross-sell the right products based on day parts, according to customer’s behavioural patterns and segmentations. Our target is to equip 100% of our restaurants with EOTF elements by the second quarter of this year.

Additionally, our McDonald’s app has more than six million downloads, and through this platform, we are able to use relevant data about our customers to help us improve our customer engagement and satisfaction.

A+M: How can marketers strike a balance between leveraging technology and data and maintaining the human touch?

McDonald’s is built on the foundation of people and the spirit of togetherness, and connecting with our customers on a more personal, one-on-one level will always be integral to our company’s DNA. While technology will play a key role in moving our business forward and providing a more enhanced and personalised experience to our customers, it is also equally important to retain that human touch when engaging with them.

At McDonald’s, we repurposed the resources at our front counter and created a new division called guest experience leaders to provide hospitality services in our restaurants such as table service, where customers can order their meals at the SOKs and choose the option for their food to be served, free of charge. So, even though digitalisation will be a focus for our business moving forward, hospitality and personalised services will still be a key differentiating factor in how we serve our customers.

A+M: What are some digital trends you're looking at in 2020?

While 2018 and 2019 saw us investing and rolling out technology hardware in restaurants across the country, 2020 will see us take it to another level by harnessing data and analytics, such as historical purchases and interests, to give us deeper insights into our customers’ behaviour and understanding their needs. This in turn will enable us to provide hyper-personalised offerings to our customers, and ultimately a better experience whenever they step into our restaurants.

The article first appeared in A+M's January-March edition of The Futurist.

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