Automatic call answering to increase restaurant sales

Think you are busy? Consider the plight of QSR cashiers wearing headsets to answer calls while taking orders in person and coordinating with the back of the house to expedite food. It’s not easy, and we’ve all been on the business side of calling to place an order and immediately being put on hold. While this very situation has fueled the growth of third-party delivery, there is a new option to improve this arrangement for workers while reducing labor costs, increasing upselling and ensuring that that every caller can finally place an order. Secret Sauce is artificial intelligence-powered automatic call answering.

Adam Ahmad is the Founder and CEO of Kea, which recently started offering computerized and cloud-based call orders that avoid the long-standing problems with phone calls in busy restaurants, for employees, owners. and customers. Previously the founder of an early third-party delivery person and later an employee of employee-sharing company Next Force Technology, what’s new for Ahmad is to rekindle the experience of calling into a restaurant, which many have written off as dead. This team of skeptics may also include a few restaurant journalists.

Through his work at Next Force, Ahmad noticed how overworked QSR cashiers were, combined with the difficulty in attracting and retaining such employees. With the volume of calls still arriving at restaurants, like a Pizza Hut, he wondered how much money these restaurants have wasted by putting almost everyone on hold, missing some of those orders due to delays. long waits and loading employees who have bigger fish. fry, figuratively.

“I sat on a bunch of panels and noticed a theme,” he said. “The chief operating officer of one of the [those restaurants] was like, “Guys, we’re losing 30-40% of our income because we can’t pick up the phone” – that was the perfect time for me. Later in the presentation, better planning and hiring more people was suggested as a solution. Thinking of the national challenges of restaurant staffing, Ahmad realized that you cannot “throw a human in the matter”. Enter artificial intelligence.

He decided to conduct an experiment with a franchisee who was a former customer, transferring all incoming calls from the restaurant to his personal cell phone for a week. At the end of that chatty week, they compared sales to the week before and saw a 19% increase right after he was on the phone.

As the story often goes, he quickly quit his job, embarked on developing technology to automate customer calls, and embarked on a successful hunt for seed funding: and so, Kea was operational.

Smarter and more responsive than now-familiar invisible friends like Siri or Alexa, Kea’s technology creates a real conversation where customers can ask questions – like what daily specials are – and artificial intelligence always remembers to suggest. supplements like dessert or cheese bread. Call center employees can intervene whenever the software detects customer confusion or frustration.

“It solves a multitude of different problems, and we only realized it after the fact,” Ahmad said of Kea’s early days. “Now the cashier can focus on the customer, the queue is no longer as long at peak times because he no longer needs to be on the phone,” [and] they can just focus on the customer and provide great customer service.

Orders are integrated directly at the point of sale and restaurants pay 7% of each order for service. So far, none of the locations that have signed up have terminated the service. To keep up with growing demand, Kea’s staff has grown to nearly 100 as more restaurants join the platform. Ahmad stressed that he will not be perpetually adding call center workers, but instead will focus on continuously improving the performance and capabilities of the AI ​​system.

A calculator on Kea’s website allows restaurants to enter average call volumes, ticket sizes, and the number of telephone operators at a given restaurant. Using 10 orders, an average $ 20 ticket and two operators, this represents an estimated monthly savings of over $ 3,500 and an increase in revenue of nearly $ 4,500. Of course, your mileage will vary.

Asked about phone orders appearing backward as more technology leaks into the restaurant world, Ahmad said improving the ordering experience could end up increasing call volume at some restaurants by improving experience. In addition, he said restaurants have new incentives to produce delivery and takeout orders themselves, rather than paying higher fees for orders placed by third parties.

The company focuses exclusively on franchised restaurants, particularly in the QSR space, and works directly with franchisors to explain the benefits of the service and, ideally, get their help in bringing this option to their franchisees.

Of the nearly $ 1 trillion US restaurant industry, Ahmad predicts that $ 170 billion to $ 180 billion of that total will still come through phone calls. Even though that volume will likely decrease over the next few years, he said Kea will roll out the voice AI service to other parts of the restaurant, like the drive-thru takers. It is also in talks with third-party brands to possibly add delivery processing to its offering.

Speaking more broadly about the workforce challenge for restaurants in today’s economy, particularly in markets like California and New York, he said his mission is to mitigate the impact of recent changes to restaurateurs.

“It’s something that, personally and as a company, we have that credo that you need to help save this,” he said. “We have to save the restaurant industry, basically, and that’s just the starting point.”

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