Chatbots coming soon to a restaurant near you
Businesses are increasingly relying on artificial intelligence in industries such as manufacturing and transportation, and now the technology is coming to restaurants in the form of chatbots. Chatbots are computer programs that imitate human speech and problem-solving skills; they can communicate with customers through text or audio.
On April 18, Mastercard announced that bots enabled with its payment app Masterpass had been introduced for customers of Subway and The Cheesecake Factory to use on Facebook Messenger. Subway customers can now order food by chatting with its bot and then check out using Masterpass. The Cheesecake Factory customers can buy personalized gift cards with its bot.
And on March 8, restaurant marketing platform Punchh announced the release of a chatbot for restaurant loyalty programs. Sastry Penumarthy, Punchh’s Co-Founder and VP of Marketing & Partnerships, says that restaurant customers are technologically savvy and expect to get help from brands across many channels, not just through in-store interactions. In addition, it’s often more convenient to share routine information about a restaurant and its loyalty program through a chatbot.
“A lot of the time, the line staff at the cashier or at the serving interface in the store, they get very standard questions,” Penumarthy explains. “Sometimes something like, ‘Okay, when do you close?’ ‘When do you open?’ or, ‘How many loyalty points do I have?’ things like that that could delay line speed. But also, a lot of the time, the cashier[…] may not even have that information at their fingertips for the consumer. And the consumers themselves prefer to simply be able to text saying, ‘Hey, what is my account info?’ And then automatically the chatbot can present them with, ‘By the way, this is how many points you have’ and so on. Or when they click on Redeem, it automatically presents them with all of the offers that they are eligible for.”
Penumarthy says that Punchh’s technology allows restaurants to gather information about their customers, such as how often they visit, what they like to order, and which channels of communication they prefer. With this data, restaurants can target promotions to customers, which is important because customers don’t want to see offers that aren’t relevant to them. For example, a single person is probably not be interested in deals for families.
“You cannot just have the system of engagement at the restaurant,” Penumarthy says. “What you're also looking to do is to gather insights about your consumers from those interactions. And that is tying together loyalty-related data, spend data, visit data; it means responsiveness to campaigns, many different things. And what that allows you to do is cater offers for a consumer. So a vegetarian consumer only gets vegetarian-related offers.”
In the future, restaurant customers may use chatbots for a wide range of activities. “The chatbot that we have announced has to do with loyalty specifically,” Penumarthy says. “However, we produced it with the idea of over time expanding it to any kind of engagement that consumers want to do.”
Penumarthy believes that chatbots can free restaurant staff to concentrate on the most important tasks. “Chatbots or other types of technology are there to help the restaurant staff,” he says. When chatbots answer routine questions, restaurant staff can focus on interacting with customers and improving the customer experience.