Context shared

Sharing context through paper order form at Ping Pong restaurant

Ping Pong, a chain of Dim Sum restaurants in the UK, asks customers to complete a paper form to order their meals. The system helps Ping Pong improve speed and accuracy, reflecting the nature of Dim Sum, which encourages ordering multiple small dishes with names unpronounceable to most British tongues.

On a recent visit, I noticed they’ve added a section at the end of the form where customers can add a note to share the context in which they’re eating. For instance, you can state you’re there for a business lunch and want quick and quiet service. Alternatively, you can indicate you’re celebrating something for a specific member of your party and you’d like the restaurant to make it extra special for them. Some friends tried this recently and received a bottle of champagne with the compliments of the house.

Understanding the context of users, whether you’re running a restaurant or delivering a digital service, is one of the most challenging – but potentially rewarding – elements of customer experience. Asking users to explicitly tell you what they want, in a medium they feel comfortable with and doesn’t take too much of your staff’s time, is an effective method. However, the way in which this question is asked and the customer’s perception of the reward they’ll receive determines success.

The benefits must be clear or suitably enticing. In this Ping Pong example, there is a clear benefit for the business context faster service with fewer interruptions. The celebration context is also tantalising: you’re not being promised anything, but there’s the possibility you might get a pleasant surprise, such as the champagne delivered to my friends.

The medium is also right: paper and pencil allows freedom of expression and easy editing. Context is a personal thing and the ability to write it out allows you to be understood exactly as you’d like.

Could a digital element enhance this offering? What if Ping Pong added this question to a mobile reservation service? The restaurant would then know ahead of time if there was another way they could best respond to your context, perhaps choosing a specific table for you or suggesting particular menu items. It is often the inflexibility of digital channels and the fear their needs won’t be properly understood which sends users back to expensive and time consuming channels such as phone or face-to-face conversations.

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