Last month at a CRM (customer relationship management) conference I ran into my supervisor at my very first professional job, Jay Duff. Back then we helped sales reps use CRM to manage their territories. But today Jay works at Chick-fil-A leading some of their development around analytics, artificial intelligence and speech technology.
Jay shared a few examples of how these technologies are helping the company improve the customer experience. Examples all businesses can learn from.
Small Business Trends: Why is Chick-fil-A interested in voice technology?
Jay Duff: We serve a great chicken sandwich. But it’s the customer experience that we keep our eyes focused on and we see some promising technologies with speech and voice that would enhance that. For example, we’re interested in improving the dialogue that people have when they’re ordering.
It’s difficult to work a point sale system while trying to keep track of the customer’s order – especially if they have any alterations like no pickles, or a different kind of cheese, or whatever it is. You spend all your time trying to get the order right, and the dialogue suffers when you’re not able to maintain eye contact. So we can see how speech and voice processing is going to help that; if the computer assists us in taking an order, then I can maintain eye contact and smile and it’s a much better interaction.
Another thing we’re looking at is acoustic quality and the content of what’s being spoken by our team members. We see some voice technologies where we might, combined with vision, be able to measure our team members. Are they maintaining eye contact? Are they smiling? What choice of words are they using? What about their voice quality? We wouldn’t do this to measure our customers, but for watching our team members to give them feedback.
Small Business Trends: Tell us about the full-blown Chick-fil-A mock stores at the company headquarters.
Jay Duff: We call that “The Hatch.” Recently we set up a complete drive-thru simulation; we had the drive-thrus reconstructed using foam board. We hired 30 or 40 people from the outside that weren’t Chick-fil-A employees to participate in the simulation, and we had physical cars in the building to simulate the drive-thru experience. The whole idea was using speech technology to take the order. We tried one drive-thru where there was no person there. You would just pull up to the window, and technology would take your order and repeat your order back to you. Then in the other one, we had a team member there with an iPad, and the speech tech picked up their order. The team member was there to make sure it was correct, but they were there engaging with the customer.
Small Business Trends: Many companies look at this technology as a way to cut costs, but Chick-fil-A uses it to primarily improve customer experience?
Jay Duff: Our goal is clearly to improve the experience. It isn’t to eliminate a person. It isn’t really even to save money. The whole idea is how can we make that experience better for the customer. That’s been the success of Chick-fil-A.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, we also want to make it easier on the team members. We love our restaurant operators and team members there. We know they’re under a lot of stress. So if we make it easier for the team member, we know they’re going to serve the customer better.
So the next time you head to Chick-fil-A you should check out how they’re using technology to constantly improve your experience. And if the long drive-thru lines are any indicator, this approach is definitely working. So just remember on your next trip there’s more to walk away with than just a great chicken sandwich and some waffle fries.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.