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  • Brands are discovering that using AI provides a more customized, reliable shopping experience.
  • Marketers say conversational AI is taking some of the pressure off of live customer service. 
  • Two major food brands, Wingstop and Home Chef, have big plans to expand their AI tools across the business.
  • This story is part of “Revolutionizing Customer Experience With AI,” a series exploring the game-changing technologies driving customer interactions.
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Humans make mistakes. Employees come and go. They also cost money. So brands have much to gain by testing AI programs that improve their customers’ interactions with the brand and cut down on the disadvantages of live customer service. From simple chatbots to experiments with underground robots delivering food directly to customers, companies are finding that artificial intelligence can improve the brand experience for people on both sides of a transaction. 

Brands are discovering that using AI costs less, gets more done in less time, and provides a more customized, reliable shopping experience. And conversational AI is at the forefront of this strategic shift. 

AI is predictive analytics

Home Chef, a meal-kit-delivery service acquired by Kroger in 2018, employs the chat tool Herb, the Home Chef virtual assistant, as the first-line interaction for customer service. While customers can also chat with a live agent if they choose, Herb first funnels the customer through chat options such as sign-up, orders, account, and promotions. Customers can view the week’s menu, family options, and dietary selections. Once the bot quickly moves customers through the initial choices, they can request to speak with a live agent over the chat or send a message if it’s after hours.

But while Herb is intended to add value to the customer experience, management at Home Chef is quick to point out that AI means more than bots walking customers through inquiries and service needs. “AI is also predictive analytics, which helps us learn who will stay with our service and who will churn,” Katie Bevier, the chief technology officer at Home Chef, said. 

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On the Home Chef homepage, new customers can opt to “pick your meals” or “take our quiz,” which helps determine customers’ preferences and buyer personas through valuable data collection.

“These tools allow us to target our customer promotions better and tailor our marketing spend more effectively. All of this enables us to provide our customers with a better overall experience, giving them what they want,” Bevier said.

Conversational AI is better at upselling on phone orders

Other brands are getting increasingly sophisticated with testing how AI can serve customers. Wingstop is experimenting with an AI pilot on phone orders in select restaurants. The pilot, which began in early 2023, handles 10% of the brand’s phone orders, with 100% being the goal if the AI is rolled out permanently.

When customers call a pilot location, they are greeted by an AI phone voice taking them through the ordering process. The AI asks the customer if they want add-ons, such as fries, and tries to upsell them on other items. 

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“Our customers like it,” Maddie Lupori, the senior manager of public relations at Wingstop, said. “Their orders are more accurate and efficient than when a staff person takes them. AI is also successful in increasing call-in orders with higher-value tickets.”

The pilot is aimed at streamlining processes at multiple levels of Wingstop’s operations. “Employees can focus on the guests in line, providing better quality and overall improved operations,” Lupori said. “Since those employees don’t have to focus on orders, they can give more attention to order times and help the staff in the back of the house fill orders.”

What the future holds for AI in restaurants

A growing number of marketing and customer-experience leaders are testing AI to help their brands redefine themselves in the marketplace. “We see ourselves as a tech brand,” Lupori said. “Our eventual goal is to become a 100% digital brand.”

Bevier sees several AI ideas to explore long term. “Home Chef is unique in that we build our tech in-house, so we’re looking at several ideas we may implement over time,” Bevier said. “We’ve talked about bots making meal selection recommendations for customers. Eventually we may look at bots giving our customers cooking instructions in real time.”

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“AI provides real-time learning,” Lupori said. “It allows us to constantly improve the experience for both our guests and our team members.”