Few technologies have advanced as quickly as AI while simultaneously causing a divisive stir among restaurant operators.
AI’s multifaceted uses have already been put to the test in drive-thrus of brands including Wendy’s, White Castle, Wienerschnitzel, CKE Restaurants, and Sonic. Domino’s recently teamed up with Microsoft to spearhead an innovation lab backed by AI-powered technology.
According to Oberlo, the number of businesses adopting AI soared 270 percent in four years. While AI’s implementation is at the forefront of the industry, some companies have opted out of this technology in favor of increasing interpersonal involvement.
ConverseNow believes there’s room for both humanity and AI in restaurants. The company’s website states that its voice AI technology is fueled by a passion for quality customer service.
Its platform has come a long way since its inception in 2018, gathering $35 million in funding over the past five years and being deployed in over 1,800 stores in 46 states. Notable brands utilizing ConverseNow include franchisees of Wingstop and Domino’s.
The biggest development in ConverseNow’s service is the evolution of generative AI and large language models. The brand recently announced its integration with ChatGPT and Google Bard to expand its efficiency and personalization in voice AI solutions.
CEO Vinay Shukla describes the technology as a co-pilot for brands, and post-call surveys show guests rate ConverseNow’s AI at around 4.4 on a scale of five across 1,400 Domino’s locations. Survey and call data are fed back into the model for learning purposes weekly.
“When we founded ConverseNow in 2018, those large language models were not there, and food ordering itself is so personalized, so it was a complex problem that we were solving,” Shukla says. “The technology has evolved significantly in the last few years.”
Generative AI is all about learning, Shukla says. The more ConverseNow’s footprint grows across diverse areas, the more the technology develops and “trains” itself.
“Our deployment in 46 states helps the AI get trained from different types of conversations, different demographics, and different preferences,” Shukla adds. “It helps personalize the experience.”
For example, the AI can answer the phone at a Domino’s location and call the customer by their name based on their previous order history. It can also analyze past preferences to upsell and offer the chance to repeat or customize an order.
In some cases, the brand reports voice AI increases average tickets by up to 20 percent and boosts same-store sales by up to 30 percent through upselling and streamlining the ordering process.
Furthermore, customers can request human help at any time, and the AI can escalate the call itself if there is excess background noise, trouble processing a card, or other complex issues.
This was something impossible in previous versions of the platform; the leap to generative AI and use of large language models from a rule-based model has allowed ConverseNow to engineer a product that can handle complex order scenarios and confused customers.
To date, ConverseNow has taken 8.5 million orders and added 1 million labor hours, easing staffing burdens on restaurant operators nationally. ConverseNow reports that its technology adds up to 12 hours of extra trade deployable time per store per week.
Shukla says “B+ stores”—ones performing at average or slightly above average—see a faster facelift in KPIs and order volume.
Striking the right balance of technology and people comes down to the partnership between AI and restaurant brands, Shukla says. Because the software increases order capacity, restaurant operators must consider their workflow design before implementing AI.
“The AI is going to give you more orders, so if you can’t fulfill those, the AI will not add value,” Shukla explains. “Imagine a store is short-staffed and suddenly deploys AI and now they are getting more orders. [These things] need to be considered.”
Shukla adds that ConverseNow actively works with brands to decide which of their locations should use AI as a productivity aid—factors like store and team member performance are reviewed to determine which restaurants will deliver ROI on day one.
“There are brands who find the right balance between the technology and human touch,” Shukla says. “We like to partner with brands [who think this way]. We want to find where AI makes sense.”
At first, the time it took to onboard mid-to-large enterprise brands was the same as smaller ones, so ConverseNow originally partnered with large-scale companies like Domino’s and Wingstop. Now, the tech company is targeting smaller brands in the quick-service space as deployment processes change and demand fluctuates.
Q1 2024 will bring forth a repackaged version of ConverseNow’s AI, centered on the full-service industry. This technology will be trained to handle not just phone orders but also reservations.
“People call for different reasons [in full-service] as compared to [quick service] … and fast casual is somewhere in between,” Shukla says. “We are working on a solution specifically for full-service brands so they can also leverage AI in the future.”