Why restaurants need voice AI, not just call centers, to keep up with demand

Fast food employee talks on the phone

Key Takeaways:

  • Call centers alone aren’t meeting restaurants’ needs for cost efficiency or service quality
  • Voice AI technology has emerged as a natural evolution from call centers, supporting restaurants with virtual ordering assistants that take limitless calls at once 
  • Voice AI is becoming a critical tool for restaurants to stay profitable amidst rising costs, while also enhancing guest experience and freeing up staff to focus on fulfillment and service 

With the challenges brought on by the pandemic, businesses in many industries have started leaning on outsourced call centers for support to ensure their customer experience remains strong. This includes restaurants, which have had to pivot and, in many cases, adapt their entire business model to keep up with demand despite labor shortages.

As diners return to restaurants at pre-pandemic levels, the industry continues to face operational challenges like never before as dining rooms remain short staffed. Outsourcing support has become more common to tackle this increased demand, but traditional call center technology alone is not adequate to support restaurants as they build back their business and try to keep up with surging guest demand and order volume. 

By comparing two solutions—traditional call center services and voice AI technology—we’ll examine how voice AI (artificial intelligence) outperforms agent-only call centers as the smarter and more scalable tool, providing superior support for restaurants looking to improve efficiencies and quality of service.

What is a call center and how do restaurants use them?

What is a call center? Man talks on headset in call center

A call center helps businesses handle high-volume customer service by providing customer support over the phone. Traditionally, a team of customer service agents are ready to receive a patron’s call and address any issues or problems that the caller might have. Customer service representatives can also assist in other parts of the customer journey, for example, by helping to finalize a sale.

Similar to a call center, a contact center provides omnichannel customer support through its website, social media, email, chatbots or live chat messaging. While traditional call centers and contact centers can provide extra support to businesses with off-site live agents, they are limited in their capacity and don’t always result in high customer satisfaction. Additionally, because the vast majority of drive-thru and phone orders don’t involve web, social media or live chat messaging, contact centers aren’t as helpful for restaurants.

Among the major pain points of traditional call center jobs are unpredictable high call volumes, which can overburden agents and leave callers frustrated from long wait times. This happens because call center agents spend a majority of their time responding to routine, low-level inquiries or providing technical support (or in the case of restaurants, taking orders), making the role a repetitive and tedious one. As call center agents become overwhelmed, customer satisfaction plummets because callers are disappointed with frustrating automated phone menus and long hold times, a lack of valuable information or an otherwise unsatisfying interaction.

Restaurants have faced similar issues, as recent labor shortages and a continued influx of patrons have left team members feeling stressed. While restaurants struggle to fill the gaps in their teams, guests are demanding service at pre-pandemic levels, leaving employees who remain feeling overworked, burnt out and likely providing a less than optimal customer experience. 

As positions continue to be hard to fill, restaurants can benefit from integrating virtual agents into their teams and embracing more advanced technology-based AI solutions—such as voice AI—instead of traditional call centers.

The limitations of call center operations

While traditional, agent-only call centers may relieve some of the stress restaurants face, they still present the same labor and cost challenges, simply in a different setting. If you’re thinking about bringing in a call center, consider these 5 key constraints:

1. Scale limited by overhead costs

Since a call center relies on live agents to answer calls, volume is limited to the amount of agents available at any given time. Staffing a call center during peak hours and holidays, when restaurants get most of their business, presents the same challenge as staffing the restaurant itself. You can’t just hire additional call center agents to handle peak hours and holidays; they have to work a minimum number of hours that will likely go beyond those periods. 

2. Missed calls

Because traditional call centers are limited by the number of staff available, guests still may have to deal with long response times during restaurant peak hours. Inevitably guests may choose to hang up and take their business elsewhere, rather than wait for a call center agent to be free, leading to restaurants missing customer calls entirely.

3. Limited or no upsell

When busy call center agents rush to get to the next caller or fight fatigue at the end of a long shift, they might not remember to upsell the guest, leading to lower average tickets. Small add-on items, such as extra cheese or adding drinks, not only increase average ticket but also can significantly boost a restaurant’s overall revenue. 

4. Inconsistent communication

A call center can be located anywhere in the world, which is great for 24/7 availability, but also poses barriers in communication. Agent voices can vary by country or region or can be difficult to hear altogether due to phone connection and equipment issues. In addition, lack of contextual knowledge may lead to a misunderstanding or error by the agent and can be a frustrating, unsatisfying experience for the guest. 

5. No backup 

If call center agents back up a busy restaurant, then who is serving as the backup for the call center when the agents become overwhelmed? A call center, like a restaurant, deals with limited employee availability during holidays, weekends and peak times, and it can be challenging for call centers to staff additional agents for those busy times.

While traditional call centers may have certain benefits restaurant operators are searching for, they unfortunately face their own obstacles and limitations. Artificial intelligence (AI) technology, specifically voice AI, is not subject to these constraints, and has proven to be a much easier and more cost-effective solution for restaurants looking to keep up with guest demand while providing excellent service.

How voice AI succeeds where call centers fail

What is a call center? Woman takes a bite out of a fast-food hamburger

Though restaurants have always been reliant on in-person service models, the pandemic has shifted guests to embrace new ordering platforms that allow for the most ease of use. Guests are searching for more seamless and time-saving interactions that easily integrate into their busy lifestyles. 

Voice AI is the fastest-growing technology to help restaurants automate phone and drive-thru ordering. Simply put, voice AI isn’t subject to the natural limitations that live agents face, in turn creating better experiences for guests who no longer have to wait for a restaurant staff member or a call center agent to place their orders. Taking the form of virtual ordering assistants who chat directly with guests, the AI frees up restaurant staff members for more high-value tasks like food prep and order fulfillment, rather than routine tasks like manual order taking. With all of the challenges restaurants are facing today with workforce management, there is a dire need to find new ways to offer support beyond traditional call centers. 

Here are 5 ways voice AI benefits restaurants in a way call centers can’t match.

1. Infinitely scalable

Voice AI is capable of handling limitless incoming calls and orders at once, so guests don’t experience long waits or hold times, whether they’re phoning in their order or are waiting in the drive-thru. This leads to better customer satisfaction as guests don’t have to wait to place their orders, and the opportunity for restaurants to serve more guests with a faster resolution time while providing each guest with the one-on-one attention and service they deserve.

Unlike a call center, there’s no need to add additional staff during peak seasons and times, as the AI automatically adjusts to take an infinite number of calls and orders.

2. No missed calls

A virtual ordering assistant is available any time to answer a guest’s telephone call, so restaurant owners don’t have to worry anymore about missed calls—and missed sales—because workers were too busy and couldn’t get to the phone.

In addition, restaurants can increase their output during peak hours and unexpected rush times as the Voice AI frees up staff from manual order taking. Workflows improve when routine, tedious tasks are handled by AI technology. Team members are then able to focus on high-priority duties such as food preparation and in-person service, increasing their productivity as much as 100% when their time is spent wholly on order fulfillment.

3. Automated, dynamic upsell

Voice AI, or conversational AI, can help restaurants increase their revenue effortlessly through automated, intelligent upsell using speech recognition and advanced machine learning. While overwhelmed restaurant staff members may miss the opportunity to upsell because they are multitasking, a virtual ordering assistant can upsell every order and do it in a highly intelligent way. Voice AI is trained on menu specifics, including food combinations, order flow and upsell preferences.

How does it do this? Voice AI uses sentiment analysis to extract valuable insights on previous customer interactions to tailor suggested upsells based on the customer’s previous orders, as well as based on learning from other conversations the AI has experienced across millions of other guest interactions. A virtual assistant analyzes massive amounts of data instantly to provide personalized recommendations to guests based on their previous patterns and preferences. This automated upsell helps your store meet sales KPIs and drives a restaurant’s bottom line, including helping to increase average tickets and same-store sales metrics.

4. Reliable communication

Voice AI provides reliable communication, with voice profiles that are clear and easy to understand in all regions. Guests receive the same service experience regardless of geographical location or the time of day, whereas guests can have inconsistent experiences when speaking with traditional call centers depending on the call center agent.

5. Using call centers as a backup option

While voice AI completes nearly every order, there are times when guests prefer to speak with a live person, or when a complicated conversation requires human intervention. In these cases, top-performing voice AI providers transfer guests to a call center. The virtual assistant seamlessly transfers the caller over to a call center agent who picks up where the AI left off, without the guest having to start over. 

Call centers still serve an important role in the order-taking process, though using them as a backup solution rather than a primary solution will allow restaurant owners to enjoy the scalable, cost-effective solution they’re looking for.

Voice AI is essential for recovery

While guests have largely returned to their normal pre-pandemic routines, restaurants continue to be in need of additional support as hiring and staffing challenges persist. Adding tools like voice AI streamlines restaurant operations while helping staff provide excellent guest service, greatly reducing the burden on team members, all while improving the bottom-line because restaurants no longer miss phone calls and orders, or lose valuable upsell opportunities.

Instead of being limited by labor and capital costs, voice AI provides limitless scalability without having to hire more staff, meanwhile leading to higher productivity and increased sales. By implementing ordering support via automation, customer care happens much faster from the start. Team members are freed up from the headset to focus on other customer needs because of the optimization of the ordering process. Both work in tandem to deliver a high-quality customer experience while reducing operational costs.

ConverseNow offers cutting-edge voice AI technology to automate and personalize the ordering process for your restaurant’s phone and drive-thru channels, with no charges for non-order calls and no special costs or equipment to get started. Find out how ConverseNow can help support your restaurant’s recovery by scheduling a demo

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