Hold The Phone!

Hold The Phone!
Brian McHale
Hold The Phone!

Restaurant owners estimate they are losing between 20-50% in revenue due to missed opportunities with phone orders. Combine that with competitive labor markets, increased customer demand and the pandemic, and you have the “perfect storm” for brands to adopt advanced digital technology, including power assistants, to handle phone orders.

Cashiers in the Cloud

Brands including Dunkin’ and Denny’s have recently deployed bot and voice-enabled ordering with success. But what about brands like Papa John’s and Chipotle Mexican Grill who specialize and pride themselves in customized ordering for each customer? A more advanced version of bot and voice-enabled ordering has arrived just in time. The technology is called AI-powered voice assistants, AKA “cashiers in the cloud,” that can process orders quickly and efficiently without human customer service.

Artificial Intelligence Learns Customer habits

Here is how it works. You call a local Chipotle and you are greeted by a female voice. She responds to the customer beyond standard bot programming. She actively listens to the customer placing an order and will then make suggestions when she thinks the customer may have omitted a topping for a burrito or bowl. Example: “Would you like to add guacamole or salsa?” With each order, she learns the idiosyncrasies of how people place their order, creating algorithms that will be stored and used over and over. This ultimately increases order accuracy. Even more impressive in Q4 2021, amid the pandemic, Nation's Restaurant News reported Chipotle digital sales tripled with a 177.2% growth in their digital sales.

AI-powered voice assistants capture information from customers so when they call back, the technology can identify a guest by their phone number. This allows the bot to suggest items each customer has ordered in the past.

Increase Customer Satisfaction and Efficiency

Customers love the convenience. They can order, pay, and skip the line by grabbing their food from the pick-up shelf. AI-powered voice assistance also reduces the amount of time both manager and employees must spend on the phone, enabling them to focus on other aspects of the total experience.

Chipotle’s CEO and chairman, Brian Niccol said, “Expanding access and convenience through our digital ecosystem has kept the Chipotle brand relevant.” He added, “With this success, we will not allow complacency to set in, rather, we will continue to look for ways to further enhance our digital ecosystem.”

Papa John’s combines AI and Human Interaction

Similarly, Papa John’s announced in November 2020 that they have adopted an AI phone system. The new platform integrates into the restaurants’ pre-installed systems to manage phone orders that come through their call center. This platform combines AI with human operators to ensure they don’t miss an order. The system is designed to allow human intervention in case the AI system can’t accommodate a customer’s needs or if they simply prefer to speak with a person instead of an AI system.

Papa John’s new AI phone system can also deepen customer loyalty, since Papa Rewards members can earn points by placing phone orders when they provide the phone number associated with their account.

During its Q3 earnings call, Papa John’s CEO Rob Lynch said, “the one-to-one marketing platform is also a growth driver and strategic technology priority for us.” He added that loyalty members “drive outsized revenue” compared to non-loyalty members. Not only do they drive higher ticket averages, but also higher frequency. Papa John’s plans to expand the system to 1,000 stores across 37 states by the end of 2021.

Digital Ordering Works for the Customer and the Business

It’s interesting to follow how consumer behavior will continue to drive AI improvements to online and mobile ordering platforms while ensuring the best possible customer experience and maximizing profitability for the brand. It’s a win-win for both consumers and operators in the QSR space. #AIisheretostay