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​Subway keeping its tech fresh for improved customer experience

The restaurant giant says it's always endeavoured to embrace technology opportunities in a bid to keep up with the pace of innovation and the rising expectations of its customers.

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Digital transformation is no longer a term reserved for corporate entities, and according to Carman Wenkoff, chief information and digital officer for Subway, restaurants that don't keep up with the surrounding world will lose customers.

"The world is changing and the velocity of change in consumer behaviour is changing at an increasingly rapid pace," he told ZDNet. "Our guests expect more convenience, personalisation, and options -- and we need to provide this access through the same digital methods our guests are using."

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Subway considers itself a pioneer when it comes to technology, having implemented a bunch of solutions, and toying with even more for over a decade.

"We actually experimented with mobile ordering and payments in 2003," Wenkoff explained. "In 2006, we also launched the first dual gift/loyalty card program in the market. We were also one of the first large chains to deploy end-to-end credit card encryption and NFC and contactless in all of our US restaurants."

The availability of NFC technology meant that Subway was mobile wallet-ready, and enabled the company to be launch partners with both Google and Apple.

Just last month, Subway launched a Facebook Messenger bot which allows guests to order and pay for their sandwiches and salads via the social media giant's chatroom. Subway touts the launch as the largest deployment of a Messenger bot in the restaurant industry.

In addition, Subway is currently testing kiosk and digital menu boards and is planning to launch an entirely new app and loyalty program later in the year.

Technology has always been something Subway has invested in; however, Wenkoff said the sandwich giant decided to "double down" in the areas of customer-facing technology solutions in 2016.

"That's when we added an entirely new division we now call Subway Digital," he explained. "This group bridges and unified the marketing, technology, and operational groups to deliver scalable exciting digital solutions for our customers and sandwich artists in our restaurants."

Subway built and implemented its own POS software, which is now running in over 31,000 restaurants across 25 countries and in five languages.

The company also built its own credit card processing platform through its supply chain, as well as its own ecommerce platform.

"All of these initiatives give us incredible flexibility and control to implement new features and programs to our ecosystems," he said.

"We have always endeavoured to embrace technology opportunities ... we are in the processes of undergoing the next level of transformation in order to get further ahead of the curve and keep up with the amazing pace of innovation and rising expectations of our guests.

"Keeping up with technology is tough; everything must integrate to everything else and it's easy to make costly mistakes."

Wenkoff said that while stakeholder demand often outweighing the restaurant's capabilities can be discouraging at times, her teams remain motivated by the opportunity to make a difference for Subway customers.

"Now, more than ever before, technology will grow and shape the future guest experience in ways that no other function can, even for a humble sandwich shop," he concluded.