Drive-thru
Mar 31, 2022
5 MIN READ

4 Ways Conversational AI is Improving Customer Service in the Restaurant Industry

QSRs and fast-casual restaurants are experiencing an accelerated evolution of customer demands in recent years. Keeping pace means finding innovations to meet restaurant and customer needs and implementing them in time to keep up with the competition. There are challenges to be combatted, such as labor shortages with the Great Resignation and increased desire for hygiene and contactless payments as a result of the pandemic. There are also shifts in customer expectations, such as the ability to order ahead, increased take-out services, and enhanced phone ordering. The customer is speaking, and restaurateurs are hearing them and responding with the rapid adoption of new solutions.

The QSR industry is continuing to experience a period of unprecedented growth as customers increasingly seek fast and convenient ways to get their favorite meals. According to a report by ​​Technavio, the quick-service restaurant market is projected to grow by $119.20 billion from 2021 to 2025—a growth that reflects the QSR industry’s urgency for innovative technology to keep up with customers’ demands.

Leading the innovations for QSRs and fast-casual restaurants is the integration of conversational AI solutions that seamlessly integrate with existing ordering systems to increase efficiency, take more orders, and positively impact the bottom line—while offering exceptional service. Conversational AI’s rapid adoption is due largely to its ability to solve the many obstacles restaurateurs are now facing and its ability to exceed the public’s appetite for a service revolution. 

Visionary brands, such as Mastercard, are already paving the way for small and medium-sized QSRs, who need a packaged solution or partner to achieve conversational AI capabilities. Conversational AI is also revolutionizing phone ordering systems with voice assistants integrated into existing POS systems. Restaurateurs experiencing the impact of the pandemic, labor shortages, and pressure from customers for better experiences can now add conversational intelligence to their menus—customer delight and higher revenues will be their just desserts.

Here are 4 ways QSRs and fast-casual restaurants are innovating the customer experience with conversational AI: 

  1. Drive-thrus
  2. Self-service kiosks
  3. Phone ordering
  4. In-car voice assistants and smart TVs

1. Voice-enabled drive-thrus create speed and efficiency

For drive-thrus, speed and efficiency are critical. It’s why they were invented—to get food to customers as quickly as possible from the comfort of their cars. By voice-enabling a drive-thru, restaurateurs are increasing accuracy and speed and providing exceptional customer service. 

According to QSR Magazine’s drive-thru study, 89% of respondents stated that order accuracy was “somewhat” or “most” important to them, 88% identified speed of service, and 75% chose convenience. Conversational AI delivers on these promises with fast and accurate responses—even in noisy environments—and offers the ultimate convenience of natural conversation and ease of ordering.

89% of respondents stated that order accuracy was “somewhat” or “most” important to them, 88% identified speed of service, and 75% chose convenience.

QSR Magazine

Using advanced noise cancellation technology, voice assistants are able to understand customers even when other passengers are talking, and in the presence of wind, music, and other background noises. With a dedicated voice assistant taking the orders and the ability to take several orders at once—either through the phone or multiple kiosks and drive-thru lanes—restaurant staff can focus on meal prep and other essential tasks.

Drive-thru menu boards can be an obstacle for customers trying to find what they want on the massive and lengthy menu or are unable to read the words due to poor lighting, distance, or eyesight. By eliminating the need for customers to search the menu, the process will also be sped up, and orders can be placed faster. 

2. Voice-enabled kiosks improve hygiene

Self-service kiosks are an excellent way to create faster, more efficient service. However, for QSRs and fast-casual restaurants, customers proceed to eat their food, often handling it with their hands instead of forks, without washing up after touching the bacteria-laden screens. A potential solution is making the kiosk voice-enabled to increase public health and hygiene. 

In addition to quicker service and improved hygiene, voice menus are also easier for customers to navigate. Instead of having to know exactly what an item is called or where it is located on the menu, customers can simply ask for what they want, even if it isn’t the proper name, and the voice assistant will understand their request and ask any follow-up questions to ensure the correct item is ordered, removing unnecessary swiping and searching of long menus. 

In addition to quicker service and improved hygiene, voice menus are easier for customers to navigate. 

Voice assistants can also easily process complex requests, understand context without requiring a customer to repeat information, and will follow up with customers to confirm and clarify any requests. While typing and swiping do have their advantages, voice assistants truly excel when large catalogs of information are involved, such as lengthy menus. With a voice assistant, customers wouldn’t have to scroll through different options but instead, ask questions like: 

  • “Do you have any burritos?” 
  • “What are the vegetarian options?” 
  • “Do you have any drinks that are sugar-free?” 

Instead of a one-way interface, customers will be able to ask questions that an employee may not have immediate access to—including food allergies, nutrition information, and dietary restrictions. Voice assistants can quickly relay the information without increasing the wait time for other customers—effectively increasing the number of orders and eliminating customer frustration. 

3. Phone ordering increases customer satisfaction

With labor shortages due to the Great Resignation, QSRs and fast-casual restaurants are facing unprecedented staffing challenges. Lack of staff and a rapid rate of turnover among employees is creating a number of challenges, including the ability to provide the fast customer service these types of restaurants are known for. 

voice AI-powered phone ordering system is an elegant solution that not only relieves much of the pressure restaurateurs are facing to provide frictionless service but also increases the number of orders that can be processed, the accuracy of those orders, and the timeliness of food preparation.

Voice assistants are revolutionizing restaurant phone ordering experiences in 5 key ways: 

  1. Calls are answered promptly and personally
  2. Orders are recorded accurately
  3. Customers interact with a conversational voice assistant
  4. Owners enjoy simple and easy setup and instant solutions
  5. Restaurants achieve increased operational efficiencies

While labor shortages often result in long hold times for customers calling into a restaurant, a voice assistant immediately answers calls and can answer several calls at once—eliminating hold times and delays. A voice-enabled phone ordering system is like a permanent employee who is always on shift, answers calls with zero hold time, and can take multiple orders at once.

With personalization capabilities, the voice assistant can even remember the phone number of returning customers or create a profile for loyal ones—greeting customers by their name, saving their dietary preferences, and storing frequently ordered meals. 

Voice AI-powered phone ordering systems are built with small restaurant needs in mind, making it an easy solution to integrate with existing POS systems and with instant payments built-in. Installation is easy and immediate, so restaurateurs can experience the operational efficiencies of allowing staff to focus on other duties while still providing the type of customer service that fosters brand loyalty. 

Voice AI-powered phone ordering systems are also built with small restaurant needs in mind, making it an easy solution to integrate with existing POS systems and with instant payments built-in. 

Highly accurate and capable of completing tasks and recording information far beyond human abilities, voice-enabled phone answering solutions create operational efficiency not otherwise possible. That isn’t to say the interaction is machine-like, though. Conversational AI interfaces allow customers to ask for what they want naturally and conversationally, making substitutions or changing orders just as they would with a restaurant employee.

4. In-car voice assistants and smart TVs expand possibilities

Car and TV manufacturers are looking for ways to partner with restaurants for expanded user experiences as conversational AI continues to evolve into revenue-generating capabilities. The future of voice assistants is developing monetizable moments that deliver value to users while proving ROI for brands. 

QSRs and fast-casual restaurants can extend their user reach through evolving in-car voice experiences and smart TVs that offer convenient and efficient user experiences. Through monetization opportunities, users can order food to be picked up or delivered while on the road or at home without having to switch devices or tap and swipe across the screen to achieve their goals. 

With helpful prompts and suggestions, voice-enabled smart TVs and in-car voice assistants can remind users of opportunities to order. For example, if they are sitting down to watch a movie or heading home around dinner time, the voice assistant can ask if they would like to place an order. Through personalization, the voice assistant can even remember past order information or favorite restaurants for easy and quick reordering. 

With these advancements in conversational AI, QSRs and fast-casual restaurants will benefit from the increased opportunities to offer customers delicious meals and expand their audience. By handling all transactions through a voice assistant, customers will associate the quick, easy ordering with the brand, creating brand loyalty. 

Want to learn more about monetization opportunities? Check out our in-depth guide Voice Assistants Evolve to Become Revenue Generators.”

With voice-enabled drive-thrus, mobile apps, self-service kiosks, phone ordering, in-car infotainment systems, and smart TVs, QSRs are expanding the possibilities of how they can reach their customers with exceptional service that meets their needs while creating operational efficiencies. As with any revolutionary technology, voice assistants are entering a turning point where those without the new advancements will be left behind in favor of voice-enabled competitors. 

At SoundHound Inc., we have all the tools and expertise needed to create custom voice assistants and a consistent brand voice. Explore SoundHound’s independent voice AI platform at SoundHound.com and register for a free account here. Want to learn more? Talk to us about how we can help bring your voice strategy to life.

Kristen is a content writer with a passion for storytelling and marketing. When she’s not writing, she’s hiking, reading, and spending time with her nieces and nephew.

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