Over the last year, we’ve published a lot of material about how the COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the way in which customers interact with brands. The Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) industry saw a huge shift in customer behavior and demands. As we start to reopen the world, there’s endless chatter about going “back to normal.” But the problem is this: There is no going back to how things were before the pandemic. Industries have fundamentally changed and these new customer expectations are here to stay. What was once a novelty (for example, curbside pickup) is now mandatory and expected.

All of these new expectations and changes in customer behavior revolve around one “pandemic-proof” idea: Convenience is king (sorry, Burger King).

The systems many QSRs adopted as temporary solutions to expedite the order process and smooth the customer experience have now become standard. Customers have been trained for the last year and a half to expect speed and convenience over everything else. The tricky part of convenience is that once you give people a taste of it, you can never take it away.

Mobile order and pay is here to stay

PYMNTS research finds that 92 percent of top-performing restaurants offer the ability to order using a mobile app, compared to only 31 percent of the lowest-performing restaurants. On top of that, they found that 56 percent of restaurants that offer mobile order-ahead options have seen their revenues increase since the start of the pandemic.

At this point, mobile order and pay is a necessity for any restaurant. Customers expect the feature, so the focus is now on perfecting the full experience and reducing friction along the mobile customer journey. Consumers have no patience for glitchy interfaces or hard-to-navigate apps.

Drive-thru continues to get better and better

There’s a reason drive-thrus were successful before the pandemic: There’s nothing more convenient than ordering food without leaving the comfort of your car (aside from ordering food from the comfort of your couch). By nature, drive-thrus can’t get much more convenient than they were pre-COVID. However, with the increase in volume these QSR drive-thrus experienced, they had no choice but to finesse their processes and technology. Moving the lines faster, getting more orders correct the first time, and expediting payment all became priorities.

As time goes on, people will return to sit-down dining and drive-thru volumes will likely decrease. But the innovation that the surge produced will remain.

Investments are rising for mobile loyalty programs

If we think about the typical customer journey, you want to nurture them and turn them into fans as soon as they become a customer. QSR brands are no different, except for how lopsided the funnel became for them over the last year. With the surge in new customers (a recent Mobiquity report found a 36 percent year-over-year increase in the number of people saying it was their first time using a restaurant’s mobile app), brands didn’t have to focus as much on acquisition. Instead, they’ve all turned their attention to mobile loyalty programs with the hopes to convert those new customers into loyalty members. In another recent survey, Square found that 42 percent of restaurants planned to invest in customer loyalty programs in the coming year.

The most successful loyalty programs are the ones that are convenient. They don’t require customers to keep track of a punch card or proactively remind the cashier. If customers can just pay with their mobile app that’s synced with their loyalty account, it eliminates friction and makes life easier for everyone involved.

There’s never been a more convenient time to learn about customers

We’ve talked about getting new customers and converting them into loyalists. But there’s another benefit to creating a powerful mobile app experience for your QSR brand: It’s the perfect outlet to learn more about your customers. By collecting feedback in-app, you gather rich data that you can then analyze and act on quickly.

One of the keys to collecting useful customer feedback is by asking at the right time and place. If you have your customers using your app to order and pay (and then likely sitting on their phone while they wait in line in the drive-thru), there’s not a more convenient time to ask for feedback. They’re a pseudo captive audience that has nothing better to do than answer your survey or leave you a quick rating in the app store. They’re also experiencing your app and your brand experience in real time, so they will be able to give a more personalized, detailed, and useful bit of feedback.

Finally, the more customers you get to sign up for loyalty programs, the better you can target and remarket them as well. You can more easily start tracking behavior and asking for feedback at key points. Did they take advantage of the daily deal? If not, why? Are they happy with the menu selections? By proactively prompting for feedback from targeted cohorts at the right time and place, you can get ahead of issues before they become larger problems and also foster relationships with happy customers.

All in all, while these investments and innovations over the last year were initiated out of necessity, they’re here to stay because of the convenience they offer. And convenience will never go out of style. The easier you can make life for your customers, the more loyal they’ll be and the more money they’ll spend.