If you drove through a drive-thru in the 1970’s and again in 2020, the only difference you’d notice is the type of cars in line. Drive-thru technology has been serving us well for over 50 years, but now it’s time to modernize it.
With AI and automation, drive-thrus can become a thing of the future. AI has the ability to create a faster, more customer-centric experience by reducing wait times, menu personalization, and more.
Welcome to the drive-thru, AI will now take your order.
Why We Need to Modernize the Drive-Thru
In 2019, driving thru was an act of convenience. In 2020, it became an act of safety. During the early days of that COVID-19 pandemic, customer demand for drive-thrus soared. With minimal interaction and touchpoints, drive-thrus became one of the safest ways for customers to get food from restaurants. During this time, most major companies and restaurants began rethinking their drive-thru experience and increasing their spend.
Demand for drive-thrus remains strong today. Brands are putting their dollars where their customers are and upgrading their drive-thrus to become more efficient and cost-effective.
A survey in May 2021 by Bluedot, which provides geofencing technology to restaurant brands, found that drive-thru visits were up 36 percent from the early days of the pandemic. This increase doesn’t hold for other pandemic developments such as curbside pick-up or in-store pick-up, both of which saw declines in 2021.
While more customers are using drive-thrus, they still want a good experience. The survey found that 85% of customers will leave if the line is too long. They also want order accuracy, and 68% said they would revisit a drive-thru if their order was correct.
With customers continuing to flock to drive-thru windows and demand better, faster service, it’s no wonder companies are investing in new technology to make the drive-thru a better experience.
AI and Automatic Speech Recognition in the Drive-Thru
One of the critical components to successfully implementing AI technology in the drive-thru is automatic speech recognition. If the AI can’t understand the person ordering, it must bring in a human to assist, which can potentially result in a lost order when the customer gets frustrated.
Good news is that AI speech recognition algorithms have millions of data points to use for training data. AI models can learn on the job, using the millions of orders a day that drive-thru windows at large companies get to improve the model and make it smarter.
Benefits of AI in the Drive-Thru
There are a number of different technology companies that are pairing with restaurant brands to implement AI technology in the drive-thru. These partnerships have created the following benefits:
- Consistent customer service experience for all
- Reduce labor costs
- Reduced time customers spend in line
- Personalized menus
- Increased upselling
- Operating in multiple languages
While much of the focus of AI technology is on fast food restaurant drive-thrus, this technology will have cascading effects on other industries. Automating drive-thrus could benefit fast casual restaurants, grocery stores, and banks as well.
Consistent Customer Experience
One of the most important benefits that AI technology can have on the drive-thru is providing a consistent customer experience. The success of large chains is all about replication. When you drive through a bank or fast-food restaurant in Iowa, you expect the same experience that you’d get if you’re at a drive-thru in California.
When customers order via AI speech recognition technology, they will receive the same, high-quality customer experience anywhere in the world. With fast food restaurants facing labor shortages and quick turnover with employees, training them to provide a consistent customer experience is a challenge. AI technology can provide that consistent experience.
Reduced Labor Costs
The implementation of AI technology and drive-thru automation can reduce labor costs for companies with drive-thrus. If the AI handles customer transactions and takes payments in the drive-thru, human employees can focus on other, more important tasks. The business becomes more efficient and needs fewer employees to operate, thus saving money.
AI technology can also be programmed to upsell to drive-thru customers. Currently, estimates find that human employees upsell to customers only 40 percent of the time. If an AI algorithm was trained to upsell, it could do so 100 percent of the time, which would increase ticket value and increase restaurant revenue.
Create More Regional or Personalized Menus
As AI technology learns what customers like to order at specific fast food restaurant drive-thrus, it can better customize the menu. This can be done in increasingly personalized ways. A menu could be customized to the region, the person, the time of day, the weather, what has already been ordered, or any other granular specification.
Increase Drive-Thru Speed
One of the most important benefits that AI technology can provide to drive-thrus is by increasing speed. Whether a customer is completing a transaction at their bank or ordering food in a drive-thru, they want to get out of there as quickly as possible. Customers expect the drive-thru to be fast. They want to order their food, get it, and get back to their day.
One AI company that implemented AI automatic speech recognition technology at a drive-thru found that it decreased wait times by seven seconds. While this might seem small, even small efficiencies add up over time.
Process Orders in Different Languages
Depending where in the world you are, there can be more than one common spoken language and for drive-thrus, you’ll never know what language that is until the customer starts ordering. With AI speech recognition, orders can be placed in multiple languages. Allowing customers to order in their preferred language and help ensure they are ordering exactly what they want.
Take Multiple Orders at the Same Time
Where AI speech recognition technology will really be able to increase speed and efficiency in the drive-thru is that it can take multiple orders at the same time. By taking multiple orders at the same time, the AI will reduce wait time for customers in line at the drive-thru. Less wait time makes for happier customers.
AI Drive-Thru Challenges
When it comes to implementing AI technology for drive-thrus, there are a number of challenges that must be addressed, such as:
- Accurate speech recognition
- Identifying speech in a difficult, noisy sound environment
- Recognizing different accents and languages
Finding solutions to all of these problems is key to developing the drive-thrus of the future using AI technology.
The Future of AI and Drive-Thrus
To successfully implement AI technology at drive-thrus and create a drive-thru experience that will make customers happy, companies will need high-quality data and smart algorithm training. Without the right data and training, the AI algorithms won’t be able to create the high-quality customer experience that today’s modern customer demands in every interaction.