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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

A taste for big data and AI pays handsomely for Mobikon

Singapore-headquartered firm finding traction here with system that harvests data and uses artificial intelligence to helps restaurateurs retain customers

Kumar Katra, president of Mobikon in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
Kumar Katra, president of Mobikon in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

Once upon a time having a great chef fulfilling a tasty menu was sufficient to draw custom to a restaurant.

Now a "cook and they will come" attitude can lead to doom in the F&B-blessed UAE as thousands of outlets vie for diner dirhams.

With this in mind, Singapore-headquartered Mobikon is finding traction here with a system that harvests data as its ingredients, adds a pinch of artificial intelligence, and helps eateries inspire customer retention.

Founded 10 years ago, it purports to be the world’s fastest growing AI and big data-driven customer relationship management platform, focusing on marketing and customer engagement for the restaurant industry.

One year after launching in Dubai, its 100 UAE clients include Zaroob restaurants and Citymax Group.

Kumar Katra, Mobikon president of business development, says many restaurateurs are yet to comprehend the revenue implications of maintaining virtual relationships once diners have paid and gone.

Addressing the Restaurant Show Middle East, he highlighted the potency of customer data alongside marketing automation in driving repeat business and habit creation.

Put simply, Mobikon seeks to make outlets smarter to incite loyalty – and ultimately survival in a crowded marketplace.

“I’ve been in this business 25 years,” says Mr Katra, whose diverse hospitality resume includes Taj Hotels.

“When I was a restaurateur I would have customers walk in, I’d know people one on one.

“Often restaurants were neighbourhood [focused]. The entire knowledge base was in the entrepreneur/manager’s head.

“Now we’re trying to solve an interesting problem for the business. Customers are from different sources; walk-in, by reservation, ordering in or coming via third-party platforms such as TripAdvisor or Zomato.

“Typically the restaurant writes it on paper, forgets about it. They don’t understand that the data, of the customer, is king; the future of the business. If you go to acquire customers … you don’t know where to get them, don’t know the demographic and preferences of customers.”

Mobikon’s technology gathers information from various sources, including online orders and bookings and post-meal feedback forms. It translates that into data displayed on a ‘real-time’ tailored dashboard, an agile database, via which an owner can take marketing action, such as email or SMS discount offers and birthday reminders.

With the right data, it can even produce dining habit heat maps for a particular area; useful for multi-outlet brands.

“We’ve built a solid profiling engine so I can now understand the profile of the customer, individually and collectively, understand preferences,” says Mr Katra.

“We help gather insights on the platform. I’ve captured profile, demographic; I can engage with you [the diner] at an appropriate time. You’ve told me your wife’s 40th is coming up, if I sent you a message ‘would you like to celebrate here’… we have the ability to help engage with customers. It is a virtual relationship, but also personalised.

“I’m a restaurant owner with 10,000 customers; how do I filter which customer has a birthday today, tomorrow, next day?

“We have single owner-operated restaurants and chains. An enterprise client can have 2 million customers. Each customer profile can be six to 10 data points. How do you manage such an enormous amount of data?”

“We built the system in such a manner campaigns become more efficient. Every piece of information is actionable.”

It can also enlighten owners to adjust their operation in response to customer perception, and respond directly to criticism.

Mobikon currently works with 3,400 restaurants, 700 brands and 10.5 million diners’ data in nine countries, having debuted in Singapore and India.

With some 16,000 restaurants in the UAE – 9,000-plus in Dubai - from high-end to mall cafes and food trucks - this is fertile ground.

Mobikon’s basic product costs Dh2,500 annually, rising to Dh6,000 to 8,000 for larger operations.

"Customer success" managers train outlet staff in dashboard usage and data application. They examine platform usage weekly for the first three months, and work with owners to identify opportunities and enhance profitability: with returning diners often comes new custom in the form of family or friends.

It’s ultimately up to the restaurateur to decide how to utilise dashboard information - and the fine line between a gentle nudge and bombardment.

“There’s so much noise around, so many possibilities,” says Mr Katra, who says his company is adding 500,000 consumer profiles a month globally.

“How do I filter that noise as a restaurateur? It’s relevant for me to reach out to a customer who has experienced my restaurant.

“On average people eat out at least twice a month – 24 times in a year. If you don’t come back after 60 days – an automated message can go out. We believe nine to 12 engagements per year keeps a customer loyal, brings them back at least six to eight times.“

While dining out at a restaurant might be considered a leisure pursuit, with recent headlines concerning Facebook and Cambridge Analytica in relation to personal data, is it not perhaps a sensitive time to be discussing personal information usage?

“Our big data is very different; it’s about consumer profile, dining experiences,” says Mr Katra.

“The restaurateur has his own engine and is reaching his own customers; that’s all we’re enabling.

“We’re facilitators, giving a tool to understand your customer. Analytics is throwing up real information … now he can act on it.

“It’s owned by the restaurateur - he’s using this tool to run his business efficiently. It tells him where his business is taking him.”