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How Conversational AI Can Help Restaurants Overcome Pandemic-Related Challenges Now


2020 was easily one of the most tumultuous years for the restaurant industry in recent history. The global COVID-19 outbreak forced countless eateries across the country to close for indoor service, and as a result, many establishments are either struggling to keep their doors open or shutting down altogether.

Restaurants that have survived the pandemic to this point turned to delivery and pickup options to help improve sales, but without in-person dining, this model will only be sustainable for so long — and the industry is certain to see more staff and budget cuts as well as restaurant closings before the world gets back to “normal.”

In the face of limited staff, dwindling budgets and a plethora of new customer expectations, restaurant owners and franchisees are looking at alternative options for improving their sales without incurring significant upfront costs. That’s where conversational artificial intelligence (AI) comes in.

Using deep neural networks, customer-facing conversational AI platforms are able to deliver natural language understanding and speech-to-text capabilities in order to carry on unstructured conversations and take live customer orders, call-ahead orders and mobile orders. And thanks to advances in AI technology, implementing these platforms to augment human employees (not take their jobs) is more cost-effective than ever before.

How AI Improves Both Sales and Service

With restaurants offering delivery and pick-up options seeing large increases in order volumes, restaurant owners and franchisees have been struggling with balancing the order volume against providing a safe, contactless customer experience. But conversational AI has the power to both boost sales and delight customers — even while establishments maintain a limited staff.

By integrating conversational AI platforms into existing mobile, web, call-ahead, kiosk and drive-thru ordering platforms and point-of-sale systems, AI can automate the order-taking process, which frees employees to focus on receiving payments, making change, ensuring order accuracy and preparing to-go meals. Additionally, AI can adapt to handle multiple drive-thru lanes to ensure the maximum volume possible. With a significant number of restaurants increasingly operating with a skeleton staff to keep costs down, AI can simultaneously remove pressure from understaffed crews while also opening up additional avenues through which customers can order meals, thereby increasing sales. 

AI can be programmed to assist customers quickly, and these technology platforms never get frustrated — they are always polite and professional. And seeing as how a recent customer experience survey revealed that 35% of disgruntled customers will stop doing business with a company altogether in light of a lousy customer experience, guest service is more important than ever before.

Even better, AI platforms can leverage customer data and other insights for opportunities to increase customer spend. By analyzing customer requests and other factors like time of day, item popularity, weather and items normally purchased together, AI platforms can encourage customers to purchase more expensive or upgraded items, as well as other add-ons, which ultimately boosts profits while improving the customer experience.

How AI Enables a Contactless Experience

Self-service kiosks in quick-serve restaurants have made ordering meals easier over the last decade or so, but — even with improved safety measures — customers are more hesitant than ever to touch surfaces recently touched by strangers. Fortunately, AI can create the contactless experience customers now increasingly crave.

Plus, because conversational AI platforms only need to know a limited vocabulary to take meal orders, their accuracy can even exceed that of popular voice assistants like Alexa and Siri while maintaining the interactivity that customers enjoy when ordering from humans. Conversational AI is designed to simulate human dialogue so that customers can ask questions, order their meal and complete transactions without pressing any buttons or touching any screens. Even if a restaurant doesn’t have a kiosk, conversational AI can be integrated into call-ahead, web and mobile ordering platforms so that customers can simply place their order on their own device and head to the designated pickup/takeout area to receive their meal. By deploying AI in the restaurant to create a contactless ordering option, restaurants can also help keep their employees who come into contact with dozens — even hundreds — of different customers over the course of a day safer while also providing customers with fast, personalized service.

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Rob Carpenter

By making customers’ lives easier, providing interactivity and information and fostering stronger connections between restaurants and their guests through dialogue, conversational AI is revolutionizing restaurants. From improved sales and customer service to the creation of the contactless experience customers desire, investing in conversational AI can bring significant value to your restaurant.

About the Author 
Rob Carpenter, is founder and CEO of Valyant AI, a Colorado-based artificial intelligence (AI) company focused on customer service in restaurants through contactless experiences driven by conversational AI.

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