Wendy’s is introducing an AI-powered chatbot order taker to its drive-through service in June, using natural-language software developed by Google. The AI chatbot is designed to understand the many ways customers order from the menu and streamline the ordering process, preventing long lines from turning customers away. Wendy’s is joining a growing group of companies that are using generative AI for growth. The chatbot will be rolled out at a company-owned restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, and CEO Todd Penegor hopes it will improve the customer experience.
Wendy’s Introduces AI Chatbot for Enhanced Customer Experience
The company is introducing a new artificial intelligence-powered chatbot to provide customers with a more conversational experience. The chatbot is powered by Google’s large language model, which is loaded with words, phrases, and popular expressions in different dialects and accents.
Wendy’s software engineers have been working with Google to build and fine-tune the AI application, although the cost of the initiative has not been disclosed. The chatbot is designed to recognize and mimic the syntax and semantics of human speech, allowing customers to interact with the chatbot as if they were talking to an employee.
They are using generative AI tools to generate natural-language responses, images, and computer code from customer text prompts. This technology is designed to cut through extraneous noise, such as music or children in the back seat, and focus on the person making an order and the kind of language they are using. It also has to be able to capture changes in an order midway through.
Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian says this is one of the hardest problems for AI, as it requires a lot of fine-tuning. Wendy’s is using this technology to understand customer terms, phrases, and acronyms, such as “JBC” for junior bacon cheeseburger, or “biggie bags” for various combinations of burgers, chicken nuggets, and soft drinks.
Wendy’s Pilots Chatbot-based Ordering System for Faster and Accurate Service
The fast-food company is rolling out a pilot program of a chatbot-based order taker system at one of its Columbus, Ohio restaurants. The chatbot is designed to take orders quickly and accurately, and even upsell customers on larger sizes, Frosties, and daily specials. The orders are then relayed to the pickup window and handed off to drivers by a worker.
According to Wendy’s Chief Information Officer Kevin Vasconi, the test runs have been favorable, with the chatbot providing service that is at least as good as the best customer service representative, and likely better. The goal of the pilot rollout is to show Wendy’s franchisees that the technology works and can improve service speed and consistency.
Wendy’s Targets Drive-Through Growth and Cost Savings for Sales Growth
Wendy’s is streamlining its costs and aiming for mid-single-digit sales growth through 2025. To achieve this, the company is focusing on increasing drive-through orders, which now account for up to 80% of food orders. Wendy’s is aiming to get more customers through the drive-through in the shortest amount of time, shaving off minutes from the ordering process and increasing sales. The company is also targeting to hold general and administrative costs flat for the next two years and expects global sales to grow 6-8% this year.
The global generative AI market is expected to reach $42.6 billion by the end of 2020 and grow to $98.1 billion by 2026, according to PitchBook Data. Wendy’s is taking advantage of this growth by deploying a drive-through chatbot to help workers with manual tasks. The chatbot is not intended to replace workers, but to help them do their jobs more efficiently.
The chatbot order taker is expected to improve customer service and reduce wait times, while also freeing up workers to focus on more complex tasks. With the help of generative AI, Wendy’s is hoping to stay ahead of the competition and provide a better customer experience.
Amendments & Additions
Wendy’s and Google have been working together since 2021 to leverage data analytics, machine learning, and cloud tools. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Wendy’s saw two-thirds of its food orders come from the drive-through lane. Wendy’s and Google have been collaborating to use data-driven insights to improve customer experience and drive business growth.
The partnership has enabled Wendy’s to better understand customer preferences and develop more efficient operations. The two companies are continuing to explore new ways to use technology to enhance the customer experience.
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