McDonald’s is Automating — You Should be Too

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If you’re looking for a sign that automation is making it’s way into every aspect of our daily lives, look no further than the acquisition by McDonald’s of an early-stage AI company earlier this month. The global fast-food giant acquired Apprente, a ‘voice to meaning’ AI company that has developed speech recognition software that can be used to take drive-thru orders. The implication is that in the near future you’ll be ordering your morning McMuffin by talking to a robot — one that can understand you even with background noise or if you speak with an accent.  

This is the third acquisition of a tech company by McDonald’s this year. Additionally, Apprente will be brought in to found a new restaurant technology group in Silicone Valley, McD Tech Labs. These developments highlight the corporation’s aggressive strategy to develop fast-food restaurant technology — especially automation.

Beyond the fast-food space, the news points to a broader trend of consumer brands automating large parts of the customer experience. And if brands as familiar to us as McDonald’s are working quickly to automate, it raises the question for other consumer brands — should I be automating too? The answer is definitely yes. Here are a few reasons why:

If you think there’s nothing you can automate, you’re probably wrong

It’s easy to assume that a certain process can’t be automated. The status quo feels familiar and safe, even if a particular process isn’t especially efficient. When it comes to customer service, there’s a balance that needs to be struck between the customers’ desire for human interaction versus their desire for speed and convenience. Customer service workers are skilled at empathy and advanced problem-solving. That means that the most efficient use of human staff members’ time is doing activities that require these skills; everything else is up for automation. The most innovative brands — like McDonald’s — are actively seeking innovative solutions to outsource functions to machines wherever possible so that human staff members can focus on delivering excellent customer service to as many people as possible.

Customers are willing to interact with automation — when it works

A common misconception is that customers don’t like to interact with automation. This belief stems from clunky interactive voice response (IVR) systems over the phone that have a tendency to fail when there is background noise or the customer speaks with an unfamiliar accent. But nowadays, customer support is moving from the phone to other channels, such as messaging, where customers can interact with support the same way they do with their friends and family on their favorite messaging platforms. Business Insider reports that 59% of consumers look to other channels besides the phone to access support. The same report says that 45% of consumers don’t care whether they interact with a human or automation as long as the process is efficient and timely. Pairing messaging with bots is a win because it allows consumers to interact with bots in a way that’s intuitive and efficient — they also don’t get confused when there’s too much background noise.

When automation augments humans, satisfaction increases

Another misconception is that bots reduce customer satisfaction (CSAT). The belief that customers always prefer to speak to a person is shortsighted. Consider the previous statistic that 45% of consumers have no preference who deals with their issue as long as the process is efficient. That being said, new data from Helpshift shows that when agents and bots work together, CSAT ratings actually go up — it’s no wonder, then, that people are more willing than ever to interact with bots. People still clearly enjoy the feeling of being heard by a human representative of a brand when things go wrong — that will probably never change. But when bots are used intelligently, they make agents more efficient by automating routine tasks, like account verification and issue classification, so the agent can jump in quickly to start resolving the customer’s issue immediately. It’s a win-win for customers and agents alike.

For consumer brands, the question of whether or not to automate is one that many are still mulling over. But the recent news that McDonald’s is aggressively pursuing automation is an omen that brands that delay action will quickly get left behind. Fortunately, augmenting your customer support organization with automation doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking. The newest automation solutions are easy to implement and quick to scale. All you need to do now is do it.

Published September 20, 2019
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