As a teenager, I would’ve died before picking up the phone to order a pizza. Everything about the act was mortifying to me, from the awkward salutation (“Uh, hi, I’d like to... pizza?”) to frantically trying to remember my address while on the line with a bored Domino’s assistant manager. Thankfully, by the time I reached young adulthood, online pizza ordering became a thing. But now one pizza chain is piloting an alternative: an artificial-intelligence-driven voice-to-text ordering system. Even to me, a formerly phone-averse kid, this system seems like a massive waste of time and money.
QSR Magazine reports that Marco’s Pizza, an Ohio-based chain, has announced a 50-store pilot of its new voice-to-text ordering system with the goal of a systemwide rollout by the end of 2022. Per QSR, the speech-enabled ordering system uses “conversational artificial intelligence (AI) which yielded 100 percent order accuracy in initial beta testing as well as increased employee and customer satisfaction.” The system works like this:
1. The customer places a phone order with Marco’s.
2. The AI types the order into the point-of-sale system, alerting team members to begin filling the order.
3. At some point, the customer interacts with what QSR calls “conversational AI, which simulates a human-like conversation and can convert voice across multiple digital channels and technology platforms.” The AI apparently understands multiple languages, as well as “accents, dialects, and colloquialisms.”
Couple things here. First, when I think of robotic customer service representatives, I think of the pre-recorded Walgreens lady. I hate the Walgreens lady. Because of her, the simple act of refilling my anti-anxiety prescription involves repeating myself 30 times at higher and higher octaves. By the end of the call, I’m always begging to “speak with customer service. SPEAK WITH CUSTOMER SERVICE!”
That brings me to my core quibble with the Marco’s technology: no one asked for it. I have never in my life encountered someone who enjoys speaking with an automated phone system, let alone anyone who actively prefers it to a human on the other end of the line. In my experience, the average consumer tries to skip straight to the customer service representative part of the voice activated menu. Still, Marco’s insists that its new voice-to-text system is “designed to provide a seamless interaction with customers.” I cannot imagine this is the case, especially for marble-mouthed customers who have trouble enunciating every syllable in “pepperoni.”
Marco’s also claims that the technology will benefit team members who “no longer have to deal with the frustrations that come with busy nights when there’s an influx in orders, kitchen noise distractions, and the challenge of juggling multiple tasks.” But what can this A.I. do that online ordering can’t? If you don’t want to speak with a human on the phone, you can enter your precise order online in the same amount of time it’d take you to interact with this precocious chatbot.
Overall, this is a case of unnecessary technological innovation. Channel that energy elsewhere, Marco’s—into an all-pepperoni crust, for example.