Popular fast-food chains are embracing the rise of artificial intelligence by integrating the technology into the drive-thru – and customers might not even be able to detect when they are talking to a computer.
Since the release of OpenAI’s chatbot ChatGPT last year, research labs in Silicon Valley have been racing to build comparable and more powerful systems. Amid the race and widespread attention surrounding the revolutionary tech, more companies and corporations have begun adding AI into their workflow, especially in the customer service industry.
This month, Wendy’s announced plans to “revolutionize the drive-thru experience with artificial intelligence” through a partnership with Google. The fast-food chain plans to launch its pilot program next month in the Columbus, Ohio, area that will employ Google Cloud’s AI technology that can speak with customers and take their orders.
“You won’t even know that it’s AI taking your order, but you’ll be talking to the voice of Wendy’s,” Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor told Yahoo Finance Live this month.
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The chatbot will be able to have conversations with customers, generate answers to commonly asked questions, and most notably, understand how to take modified or special orders.
Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, touted the announcement as one that “will set a new standard for great drive-thru experiences for the quick-service industry,” according to Wendy’s press release.
Generative artificial intelligence tools have already had a beneficial impact on customer service workers outside of the fast-food industry, boosting employee’s productivity and improving how customers treat the workers, according to a landmark study released last month.
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The National Bureau of Economic Research embarked on what is believed to be the first study on “the impact of generative AI when deployed at scale in the workplace.” The study, conducted by researchers at Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, examined more than 5,000 customer support agents across a year at a Fortune 500 software firm, and found workers’ productivity rose 13.8% on average when using conversational AI software.
Using the technology allowed employees to respond more quickly to customers, more successfully resolve issues and answer more customers than without using AI. It also led to improvements in how the workers were treated by customers and lessened the likelihood of customers requesting their issues be referred to a supervisor.
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For Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., the fast-food chains have already implemented their own AI drive-thru tech, dubbed “Tori.” Tori was brought on to help speed up the drive-thru process for customers, and can even boost revenue for the fast-food companies.
The technology has the ability to upsell customers, with a Hardee’s operator in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, saying “Tori’s” sales ability led to the fast-food location running out of apple pies during the tech’s first week on the job.
“We actually ran our distribution center out of apple pies the first week because Tori never misses an upsell opportunity,” Vice President of Northland Management Services Sam Munger told WEAU this week. “With upselling, she’s spot on every time. She’s extremely accurate, and you know it kind of depends on the vendor, but our particular one Tori is extremely personable, and Tori is very friendly.”
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Panera and Popeyes also announced last year they were teaming with OpenCity, the tech company behind “Tori,” to test the AI-powered tech for drive-thru orders.
McDonald’s already rolled out AI-powered drive-thru windows back in 2021 at a handful of locations in the Chicago area. In 2022, McDonald’s unveiled a fully-automated restaurant in Texas, where machines handle everything from taking orders to delivering them.
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Social media users, however, have taken to documenting the technology’s failures, including one TikTok user saying the AI-powered drive-thru mistakenly added eight sweet teas to her order, when she asked for one sweet tea, a Coke and hash browns.
As artificial intelligence grows in power and use, there has been some anxiety over the technology taking over jobs typically occupied by humans. A report from Goldman Sachs earlier this year found that generative AI could replace and affect 300 million jobs around the world. Another study from outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that ChatGPT could replace at least 4.8 million American jobs.
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Proponents of the technology argue it provides the opportunity to create completely new industries if it does in fact become more common across various businesses, while also improving the quality of life for human employees. Sam Altman, OpenAI’s CEO, argued earlier this year that ChatGPT should be seen as a “co-pilot” to professionals.