Owensboro Restaurant Testing Out Artificial Intelligence at the Drive-Thru
Earlier this morning, I had to be at work an hour earlier than usual for my radio show. We have a long-standing, Black Friday tradition here of broadcasting from Shoe Stop at Wesleyan Park Plaza. My coworker Dave Spencer was there. I was holding down the fort in the studio. So, as soon as I got a little break and the chance to zip out of the studio to grab some breakfast, I did. I drove down to Hardee's, which sits about a block-and-a-half away from the station.
I noticed that there was already a bit of a line at the drive-thru, which surprised me. I got there right as Hardee's was opening and couldn't figure out why I was already sitting four cars deep. When it was my turn to order, I noticed something that explained it.
There's currently a sign over the drive-thru speaker that explains that Hardee's now has Artificial Intelligence "in training." Then, I was greeted by a very pleasant AI voice, who promptly took my order.
By the way, there were some helpful (and comically explicit) instructions posted on how to communicate with the AI. I was laughing to myself because I speak for a living, but I understand the need some would have for this step-by-step procedural.
I have to say- my first experience was relatively enjoyable. However, I do have a couple of concerns. I have been through that particular Hardee's drive-thru many times and the humans have it down to a science. If you've been to that Hardee's, you're aware, like I am, that the drive-thru can be insanely busy. I am wondering if the AI can keep pace with the humans. I also wonder what kind of traffic backlog just one frustrated customer has the power to cause. That one frustrated customer may create a chain reaction.
That said, I do see one immediate benefit to Hardee's for having the AI in place. When I worked in retail years ago, I remember constant training about "suggestive selling." That's when, in an attempt to persuade customers to spend additional cash, you suggest adding something to their order that would potentially interest them. This morning at Hardee's, the AI suggested a couple of tasty add-ons for me. First, it asked if I wanted to make my order a combo. Then, it asked if I wanted to add a Cinnamon 'N' Raisin Biscuit. Good suggestions, but no.
I can speak from my own personal experience. When I was working retail, it always made me uncomfortable to do that. Some customers appreciated the "suggestive sell", others didn't. The AI doesn't struggle with that internal conflict at all. It asks because it's programmed to. And, I will say that it does take "No" for answer like a champ.
Of course, as you can see from the instructions above, if you hit a snag when ordering you can always tell the AI that you would like to speak to a human by saying "Team Member." This morning, I didn't need one. The AI was welcoming, pleasant and efficient. But, then again, Hardee's humans would have been to.
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Gallery Credit: Paul Feinstein