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Assessing the current state

If you speak to any operations or IT executive within a major quick-service restaurant brand for any length of time, the topic of conversational ordering will invariably be a hot topic.

Why? QSRs are obsessed with speed of service, so if you can quickly map customer intent with minimal button pushes on the point of sale at the counter, you are well on your way.

Makes sense: more guests moving through lines faster (or better yet, no lines at all) is a simple formula for maximizing revenue per square foot at your stores, hence the emergence of large mobile ordering and self-service kiosk initiatives at the major brands.

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Simple in theory, harder in execution.

Websites and apps have let us down

Achieving 15–20% of all orders from digital is the best case scenario for most QSR brands (pizza category aside), and that is on the high end. In fact, a leader in the mobile app experience, Starbucks, topped out last year at 10% of all orders coming in via their mobile app.

Why? Essentially, websites and now apps have hit the ceiling of what they’re capable of. They have some fundamental constraints that limit their suitability as ways to transact: the user interface is hard, and the barriers for users — downloading the app, remembering you have it and re-engaging every time — are high.

Whether you are Gucci or Chipotle, all of our websites essentially look the same — navigation bar at the top, scroll for info, content that has to be indexed for search results on Google, etc. Less art, more science.

And even for the brand apps that have become a part of our daily lives — Starbucks, Delta, Chase, SPG to name just a few, are starting to reach a plateau in adoption and usage. For a lot of casual users (the bulk of most brands’ consumer base), the whole process of downloading an app, creating a profile, loading credit card info, opting into rewards, accepting terms and more is just plain cumbersome or even scary for some!

We are beginning to enter an interesting time where there is now a case for websites to start going away completely and apps fading away to operate more behind the scenes.

Conversational — the third wave of digital commerce

As consumers and brands, we are at an important inflection point with the shift to conversational commerce. Siri introduced us to having conversations with our devices back in 2011 and Amazon’s Alexa has led the charge in bringing conversational commerce to the masses. Besides that, messaging apps have become some of the most downloaded apps across mobile operating systems.

For the QSR industry, and particularly the major brands leading in digital ordering like Starbucks, Taco Bell, Dominos, McDonalds, Dunkin’ Brands, Shake Shack, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, Panera Bread, Subway and Pizza Hut, the floodgates to conversational commerce are about to open much wider with the release of Apple Business Chat for iOS and Google’s RCS Business Messaging for Android.

When these two services launch soon, this will turn on a massive opportunity for brands to more easily communicate directly to billions of smartphone consumers within a native messaging application in a rich, immersive way.

The ability, for instance, to order your coffee, sandwich or pizza in a natural flowing conversation, find the nearest location, pay for the order securely (perhaps even after a suggested upsell) via Apple Pay or Android/Samsung Pay and then receive turn-by-turn directions via Maps to pick up the order or choose a delivery service will be a massively powerful pivot to unlocking both digital and true conversational ordering.

I could easily see the trend of reaching 40, 50, 60, even 70% or more of orders via digital because not only does messaging offer enhanced convenience to your mobile app super-users (and likely your most loyal and biggest spenders), but it gets the casual customer inside the door of digital with essentially zero barriers to entry.

We as customers have already moved past calling and switched to messaging on our smartphones to communicate with our friends, family and colleagues — it’s much more convenient. The same logic holds true for consumer-to-brand communication for QSRs in quickly eclipsing traditional walk-in and order at the counter, kiosk and in-app.

Operationalizing messaging in QSR — the blueprint for success

The opportunities to implement messaging are not just limited to increasing digital orders, order size and speed of service, but it can also improve personalization, operational efficiencies, lower labor costs, address customer care and improve your team members’ work experience.

Your brand can then really turn up the heat, no pun intended, by incorporating chatbots and artificial intelligence at the customer endpoints for addressing repetitive tasks and facilitating the ordering process into your stores while working alongside and escalating to actual team members when necessary to deliver an optimal customer experience.

Taking action now

For the QSR brands leading in digital, the operational hiccups of digital ordering have been ironed out at this juncture. It’s much harder to go from 0 to 10% in digital orders without organized infrastructure than it is to go from 12% to 45% when your guests are craving the convenience of messaging.

Here are the steps a large QSR brand needs to take to implement conversational commerce at scale:

1. Select an official CSP (Customer Service Provider) for Apple Business Chat and Google RCS Business Messaging

You’ll need a CSP and a registered Business Chat ID with Apple to turn this service on for your brand. Currently, there are only four CSPs integrated for Apple Business Chat and a wider variety for Google RCS.

I can guarantee that there will be a 100% all-conversational restaurant startup brand in a few years. In a highly competitive space like the QSR industry, why not differentiate now and bring this experience to market. Start small in select stores for quality control and then scale quickly as you gain traction.

2. Implement an open backend platform for key integrations

To manage conversational commerce at scale, you will need an enterprise messaging platform that not only connects you to all of the available consumer endpoints like Apple Business Chat, Google RCS, Alexa and others, but also internal systems such as CRM, POS, KDS, online ordering, loyalty and even your IVR in the call centers.

You will need to consider all of the key consumer endpoints balanced with speaking to your core in-store and above store systems in a flexible and scalable way.

3. Build a conversational design flow that incorporates bots and artificial intelligence

You may already have a good sense of how customers order or what they are asking for from your brand today. Use these “transcripts” when designing list pickers, menu suggestions and how to offer an optimal option based on their intent.

80% of those interactions should be managed by highly specialized chatbots. Note: not all chatbots are equal, nor is one chatbot able to do everything effectively. Some bots are better at natural language processing (NLP), or order routing, or payments or scheduling, you get the idea…than others. So when implementing your conversational commerce platform, you will need to be able to incorporate multiple bots.

Lastly, you cannot forget that in the restaurant industry, it’s still about delivering good hospitality. People like ordering their coffee in the morning on the way to work with a friendly greeting from the barista…just help digitize that stellar experience to offer an additional layer of convenience where apps fall short.

When developing good conversational design, you’ll want to not just focus on the science, but think more artistically…unlike what has happened with websites and apps. Conversational design and bots will for sure rely on science, but we are at a time when communication between consumers and brands needs to flow naturally more like poetry and delivering great hospitality, otherwise your customers are going to be turned off by the experience.

4. Expand the use cases

Your brand will absolutely not want to miss out on Apple Business Chat after it launches with iOS 11.3, quickly followed by Google’s RCS. However, this is just the starting point.

Here is a high-level list of actual use cases of messaging inside QSR:

For Guests:

  • Provide frictionless, fast ordering on the go or in-store using the customer’s natural language and preferred channel of communication
  • Personalize the ordering experience, far greater than what can be done via a mobile app
  • Offer a better customer care and support experience by deflecting expensive call center and support calls from the IVR to messaging, which gives time back to the customer and is typically half the cost for the brand
  • Give suggestive selling options and timely interactions in a much richer way than SMS marketing or app notifications
  • Collect customer feedback and satisfaction surveys
  • Increase loyalty and encourage easier rewards program opt-ins
  • Extend to offering VIP and concierge services — just look at what buddybank is doing in the banking industry

For Team Members:

  • Enhance in-store communication between front of house and back of house, or managers to employees
  • Offer tipping
  • Hire new team members and manage the application process
  • Provide shift management and scheduling
  • Address payroll questions
  • Track and manage catering orders
  • Manage delivery drivers
  • Offer a better customer care and support environment, allowing agents to be 2–4x more efficient

Build vs buy — why not have the best of both worlds?

LivePerson is the only CSP to be partnered with both Apple for Business Chat and Google for RCS, offering essentially 100% smartphone penetration as these services roll out widely this year.

We are also the industry leader in conversational commerce, starting over 20 years ago when we invented live chat for customer care, and evolving to today as the only platform to help over 18,000 brands and 110 of the world’s largest enterprises implement messaging at scale.

Using an open, secure, cloud-based platform that connects into your tech stack using APIs and SDKs that also leverages multiple bots working alongside human agents, and the unique capability of measuring customer sentiment in real-time to smartly route the customer to the appropriate person who can address their needs most effectively is key to success.

Let’s get started with planning a workshop today!

I sit on the enterprise strategic account team with leading global conversational commerce platform, LivePerson (NASDAQ: LPSN). I work strategically with large enterprise brands to implement a best-of-breed technology stack that will transform the customer care and sales experience to digital messaging, leveraging bots, AI and a proven operational blueprint. Follow me on Twitter @BrandonTechExec and read more about LivePerson news here.

Rethinking Conversational Ordering At Scale In QSR was originally published in Chatbots Life on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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