Truth be told, customer experiences today are often fleeting and forgettable – typically targeted on the moment of transaction and lacking in any lasting impression. As marketers, we understand the increasing importance of creating a memorable human experience in order to retain and maintain brand loyalty. Though, how can you improve human experiences…with a lack of humans. Lookin’ at you, foodservice.

It’s no surprise the restaurant industry is facing their fair share of labor issues. According to the National Restaurant Association’s State of the Restaurant Industry report, recruiting and retaining employees is cited as one of the top challenges faced by many operators. The industry’s labor shortages can be attributed to many factors from low unemployment rate, less teenagers in the workforce and record-high restaurant industry growth.

For some foodservice operators, increasing technology, robots or AI could mean a better human experience for their customers. According to NRA’s report, consumers would most like to see restaurants incorporate technology that focuses on improving customer service, making ordering and payment easier, and offering more convenient takeout and delivery options.

Here are a few examples of how foodservice operators are leveraging new technology to improve their customers’ experiences.  

  • McDonald’s: The fast food giant is testing a number of advanced technologies to free up workers for more face-to-face interactions, improved hospitality and customer experience. Some of these tech tests include voice-activated drive-thru order-taking, robotic French fry makers and automated beverage equipment. While the new technologies free up employees, they’re also designed to improve speed of service and order accuracy as well. While critics have argued that more automation could eliminate jobs, McDonald’s said these efforts are designed to “make McDonald’s restaurants even better places to work.”
  • Chick-Fil-A: Leading the charge in food safety, the fast food franchise (and a client) announced they’ll be using AI and machine learning to analyze social media conversations to spot signs of foodborne illness with 78% accuracy. Through new technology, the chain created a framework to identify keywords and sentiment across social media platforms notifying restaurant managers in the moment and giving them the opportunity to contact the customer directly for immediate customer service. Chick-Fil-A’s senior principal IT leader of food safety and quality said, “For us in this journey with analytics and food safety, we’re going from a place of hindsight to insight … and eventually foresight so we can be more proactive in helping our restaurants better identify and address food safety risks.”
  • Starbucks: The coffee chain is teaming up with Microsoft to test new AI technologies to create a more personalized experience for its customers. From predictive drive-thru ordering to cut down on wait times, to personalized drive-thru menus based on store transaction histories, time of day, and even current weather conditions, Starbucks believes that technology may be the key to better human experience in their stores. Starbucks EVP and chief technology officer Gerri Martin-Flickinger said: “Everything we do in technology is centered around the customer connection in the store, the human connection, one person, one cup, one neighborhood at a time.”

Though creating a better human experience doesn’t stop at the customers. From robotic dishwashers to combat labor shortages, smartbins to reduce food waste, virtual reality to onboard new employees, even AI to instruct employees on proper handwashing techniques – robots, AI and new tech have the potential to create better workplaces for employees too.

With the age of AI just beginning, we predict foodservice operators that combine the “human touch” with digital platforms are set up for success. Interested in how you can create memorable, human experiences with your customers? We’re here to help!

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