In this COVID-19 environment, many quick-service restaurants (QSRs) are touting a “contactless” customer experience when ordering and receiving food.
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As more QSRs adopt this as the “new normal,” ConverseNow Technologies Inc., an Austin, Texas-based startup, is poised to meet the demand with its platform that automates and personalizes restaurant orders on high-volume call channels using artificial intelligence.
On Wednesday the company announced $3.25 million in seed-round funding led by Bala Investments with participation from LiveOak Venture Partners, Tensility Venture Partners, Knoll Ventures, 2048 Ventures, Bridge Investments and Ken Neeld, CEO of Delphi Display Systems.
“The seed funding will help us keep improving our AI platform and strengthen our channel partnerships and customer acquisition,” ConverseNow CEO Vinay Shukla told Crunchbase News. “We already have many franchisees using the platform, but we want to create meaningful partnerships.”
In addition to the investment, Bala’s managing director, Rajiv Bala, will join the company’s board of directors.
ConverseNow’s Voice AI platform helps QSRs automate and personalize the ordering process to make it more efficient, account for peak demand, reduce customer wait times, and drive higher order value through personalized upsell recommendations.
When Shukla and Rahul Aggarwal, COO and CPO, started ConverseNow back in late 2018, big restaurant names such as McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza and Sonic Drive-In were starting to experiment with AI, Shukla told Crunchbase News.
“Some leading QSRs were doing some experiments, but not many people were doing it because AI was considered an expensive thing,” Shukla said. “When these leaders set an example and showed the value of AI, all of a sudden we saw a surge in demand. At the same time demand was shaping up, the cost of building with AI came down to an affordable price.”
The pair, who first met in college, then saw those companies acquiring AI companies. For example, in March 2019 McDonald’s acquired Dynamic Yield, and later on that year, deployed AI to improve its ordering process.
“That solidified that we were going in the right direction,” Aggarwal added.
Two years later, COVID-19 has now increased demand for contactless ordering, which includes curbside pickup stations, drive-through windows where food is waiting without human contact, and new safety measures inside restaurants, Shukla said.
ConverseNow is also helping QSRs sell more products, in some cases showing a 25 percent increase in order value, Shukla said. Using AI, a restaurant’s online ordering system is able to suggest options, such as upgrading a drink size based on the amount of food ordered.
“There is a shift in consumer behavior, and we will see the next time we go to dine in a restaurant, a new normal,” he said. “One of those may be a digital employee for the restaurant that is an ordering expert, learns new things every day and will be with the restaurant always. It is a powerful thing that we are building.”
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias