Subway Corp. might be the planet’s largest restaurant operator, with more than 44,000 locations in 112 countries and territories around the world, but its leaders fear being left behind by the digital revolution – and are eager to do something about it.
On June 9, Subway announced the formation of Subway Digital Group, a new department that will use every channel available to help the company deliver the personalized service expected by today’s consumers.
“It’s a competitive landscape out there,” Carman Wenkoff, Subway’s chief information and digital officer, told ITBusiness.ca. “To make Subway relevant to our customers… we need to evolve as quickly as everything else.”
Based at the company’s global headquarters in Milford, Conn., the Subway Digital team will start by examining every facet of Subway’s technology use, from the company’s loyalty programs and mobile app, to the digital infrastructure of its restaurants, he said, identifying new opportunities for personalizing the customer experience.
Unlike the company’s technology division, which focuses on every stakeholder including headquarters staff, frontline employees, franchisees, development agencies, and customers, the digital division, which was collaboratively developed with international consulting firm Accenture PLC, is entirely customer-focused.
“We’ve found that we left a lot on the table in the past because our different groups… the marketing team and technology team and operations team – were all operating in a traditional format,” Wenkoff explained. “And we decided that the world was changing so quickly, in order to really hit the target with our end-customers, we wanted to create a new group… that could really focus on creating a new experience that in many cases now begins outside of the restaurant.”
While the company does not expect to reveal any Subway Digital-led initiatives before 2017, Wenkoff said the team will be focused both on “taking the friction out” of every stop on the customer journey, and suggesting new ways to collect and apply customer data to such platforms as Subway’s mobile app, loyalty programs, delivery services, and partnerships.
“We collect a lot of customer data to try and understand the preferences and desires of our customers, and we’ll be leveraging the data quite a bit to create a unique loyalty experiences,” Wenkoff said. “‘Let’s understand who you are, what you like to eat, maybe even get to the point where we’re curating a menu for you, and seeing if you’d like to be part of test groups with us.'”
Another core component will be an e-commerce platform the company is co-developing with Vancouver-based Cardant Software Inc., Wenkoff said.
He was quick to note that any data-driven programs developed by Subway Digital would require consumers’ expressed consent.
“That’s part of personalizing the experience,” he said. “Some customers are very happy to share data if you provide value back to them, and if you respect their privacy and don’t share it with third parties… and some people would prefer not to be communicated with at all.”
Wenkoff also looks forward to wading into the sometimes-turbulent waters of attracting top-shelf technical talent to the company.
“The top technologist wouldn’t typically think of a company like Subway as having really interesting technology program, but when they peel the onion and understand what we actually do here, especially the fact that we have to pull off projects and deliver them in 112 countries, it gets really interesting,” he said.