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Cheeky IT: Engagement And Human Experiences Drive Nando’s Tech Ambitions

Sam Pudwell joined Silicon UK as a reporter in December 2016. As well as being the resident Cloud aficionado, he covers areas such as cyber security, government IT and sports technology, with the aim of going to as many events as possible.

Restaurant chain Nando’s places culture and human engagement at the heart of its digital transformation strategy

Nando’s is well known in the UK as the hugely popular Afro-Portuguese inspired restaurant chain that specialises in grilled chicken dishes, but food isn’t its only focus. 

The restaurant industry is undergoing a fair amount of transformation at the moment, as the likes of Deliveroo and Just Eat continue to disrupt the system, combined with customers and employees expecting more from a technology point of view.

Nando’s is no exception and is currently working on several technology-driven initiatives based around increasing engagement and improving the customer experience, as the company’s technology director Richard Atkinson explained to Silicon.

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Digital push

First, a bit of context. Nando’s is in the process of updating itself in terms of how it incorporates technology, migrating to Amazon Web Services (AWS) to build new platforms, increase engagement and more efficiently deal with the peaks and troughs of consumer demand.

And the driving factor behind all of this is the so called ‘Generation Z’ demographic. 

“What we’re seeing is that everything comes back to Gen Z,” Atkinson explained. “It’s about the changing expectations of each generation of what Nando’s is all about, what they expect from our brand.

“Much more of their world is digital, they expect much more from technology supporting, enabling and delivering the services they’re consuming. So that’s the lens through which we’re saying ‘what does Nando’s need to do to with technology?'”

From a customer point of view, these changing expectations are being shaped by the myriad of technology-native startups that are disrupting virtually all industries and now play such a central role in virtually all aspects of our lives.

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That means they want to interact with Nando’s in a different way from previous generations and the onus is very much on the restaurant chain to meet these requirements.

The other side of the coin is that Gen Z is also starting to occupy a larger proportion of the Nando’s workforce, which again requires Nando’s to adapt the way it operates and interacts with its employees.

“I’m a Gen X and I managed my work life balance by segregating the two things. But in gen Zs they mash all of that stuff up and from one minute to the next it’s life, it’s work. It’s just a blur. So we know that our employees are turning up to work in a different way, so what do we need to do for them that we’ve never had to do before?”

The answer to this question comes in the form of a mobile app, which is all about connecting with employees “on a more meaningful level than them just rocking up to do some work that’s just a means to an end of giving chicken and chips to customers.”

The app enables employees to share their experiences and find out what’s going on throughout in Nando’s restaurants across the country, creating a community of employees who can engage with colleagues they’ve never even met.

It also teaches them different skills that will be useful in employees’ professional and personal lives, ranging from food hygiene to data security and privacy best practices.

But it’s not just the employees who the app benefits, as it has also served as “a catalyst for how we work as a tech team, how we engage with the business and how we work together across those functional silos. So it’s been quite a profound project.”

The app is a perfect demonstration of the humanistic approach to technology Atkinson is trying to foster within the organisation. When I asked him about the use of technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, he was quick to highlight the importance of maintaining the human element.

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“We’re very early on in that journey but I think there’s something very interesting about how we can use them,” he said. “We’re not a convenience offering in the world of restaurants, so when we talk about technology in restaurants people tend to talk about kiosks, or using an app to order food.

“We’re a bit more about experiential and the theatre of a restaurant. I want to use technology to bring a humanity to the experience, not to de-humanise it, not to automate stuff and make it a clinical interaction with a kiosk. And I think what I’m seeing is technology is maturing to a place where digital things fit naturally into a very human experience.”

For Nando’s, it’s all about using technology to supplement human interactions, rather than replace everything with robots and algorithms. That way, the social experience that keeps customers coming back Nando’s can be maintained and improved in innovative ways.

Nando’s digital revolution continues on page 2…