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Kea offers an AI-powered sales boost to QSR concepts


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Adam’s Restaurant Group in Texas hopes Kea can replace a remote call center.

Think you’re busy? Consider the plight of QSR cashiers answering calls while taking in-person orders and coordinating with the back of the house to expedite food. It’s not easy, and we’ve all been on the other side, calling in to place an order and immediately being put on hold.

While this very situation has fueled the growth of third-party delivery, there’s a new option to improve this arrangement for workers while trimming labor costs, increasing upselling and ensuring that every caller ultimately gets to place an order. The secret sauce is automated call answering powered by artificial intelligence.

Adam Ahmad is the founder and CEO of Kea, which recently began offering computerized, cloud-based call ordering that eschews the long-standing issues with phone calls coming into busy restaurants.

Ahmad noticed how burdened QSR cashiers were and the difficulty of attracting and retaining such employees. With the volume of calls that still come into restaurants like Pizza Hut, he wondered how much money restaurants lost by placing most everyone on hold, ultimately missing some of those orders.

“I sat on a bunch of panels and noticed a theme,” he said. A COO would say, “‘Guys, we’re losing between 30 and 40 percent of revenue because we’re not able to pick up the phone’—that was the aha moment for me.”

He conducted an experiment with a franchisee who was a former client, forwarding the restaurant’s inbound calls to his personal cell phone for a week. At the end of this chatty week, they compared sales to the previous week and found a 19 percent uptick.

Adam Ahmad

Kea CEO Adam Ahmad founded the company after routing restaurant calls to his phone as an experiment.

He soon quit his job, dove into developing technology to automate customer calls, and embarked on an ultimately successful hunt for seed funding. Kea was up and running.

Smarter and more responsive than Siri or Alexa, Kea’s technology creates a conversation where customers can ask questions—like what are today’s specials—and the artificial intelligence always remembers to suggest add-ons such as dessert or cheesy bread. Call-center staffers can step in when needed.

Orders are directly integrated into the point of sale, and restaurants pay 7 percent of each order for the service. So far, no location that’s signed up has terminated the service.

A calculator on Kea’s website allows restaurants to plug in average call volumes, ticket sizes and the number of phone operators at a given restaurant. Using 10 orders, a $20 average ticket and two operators, that’s an estimated monthly savings of more than $3,500 and increased revenue of nearly $4,500. Of course, your mileage will vary.

Robotic accuracy

Down in Austin, Texas, the Murphy Adam’s Restaurant Group that comprises the 19-unit Mama Fu’s Asian brand and 13 Austin’s Pizza locations, has been using Kea for several weeks. As Asian and pizza are the two legacy delivery cuisines, the corporation has long used a remote call center to field the heavy volume of phone-sourced customer orders. For Austin’s Pizza, combining online and phone orders is approximately 90 percent of total order volume.

Now with Kea’s machine learning, which is a work in progress as more calls create the cumulative knowledge to help the software do a better job, Adam’s is looking forward to eventually scrapping its call center, a significant reduction in expenses.

“Our [founder], Randy Murphy, came from the tech industry, so he really sees the value in technology and enabling a lot of processes on the operations side,” said Steve Barrow, senior director of IT at Adam’s. “We’re always looking for new ways to help our operations become more efficient, and new ways to reach our guests and have them do business with us.”

A few weeks in, Barrow said nobody would claim the technology is perfect, but the software is already learning from its experiences—and real humans are standing by.

Starting with QSR

Asked about phone orders seeming retrograde as more tech filters into the restaurant world, Ahmad said improving that ordering experience could end up boosting call volume in certain restaurants. Also, he said restaurants have new incentives to self-originate delivery and takeout orders, rather than paying higher fees for orders coming in through third parties.

The company is focusing exclusively on franchised restaurants, especially in the QSR space, and is working directly with franchisors to explain the service’s benefits and, ideally, get their assistance in pushing this option out to their franchisees.

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