Customer Orders Made Easy: ConverseNow Raises $15M to Scale Voice-AI Ordering Assistant Platform for Restaurants

By Ben Brown
Pacific Wine & Food Classic Photo Courtesy TastePro

Co-Founders Rahul Aggarwal (left) and Vinay Shukla (right) pose at a drive-through ordering platform. ConverseNow uses AI technology to process restaurant drive-through and phone-in orders, among others

ConverseNow, a leading voice-based AI technology for restaurants, has closed a $15 million Series A round, bringing its total funding to $18.3 million. Working with some of hospitality industry’s most prominent national and multinational brands and operating in more than 800 restaurants, the platform is set to continue an aggressive growth trajectory and provide a much-needed solution to the foodservice world’s labor crisis.

Currently, ConverseNow allows restaurants to process phone and drive-through orders using artificial intelligence (AI). A proprietary technology allows the platform to take orders with remarkable accuracy, personalize orders to individual customer needs and offer tailored upsell. Restaurants using ConverseNow have reported up to a 23% increase in order volume, up to a 20% increase in check size, and up to 12 hours in extra deplorable labor timer per store, per week.

“We’re taking phone calls that people would otherwise miss. [ConverseNow] can answer questions, make recommendations, do anything that a physical staff member does to take orders,” said Vinay Shukla, Co-Founder and CEO. “[Restaurants] are seeing amazing results, where they get to take more orders and drive more revenue.”

Automation has become especially relevant amidst the industry’s labor shortage, where staffing a restaurant has become increasingly challenging and often limits the amount of business a restaurant can do when customer demands can overwhelm team members. ConverseNow allows staff to spend less time taking orders and more time on other priorities, such as making and serving food.

“Labor is a problem in the restaurant industry and it happens for many reasons. Fatigue and stress are big factors, and the pandemic has turned a lot of people away from high-stress environments,” Shukla said. “Especially during peak hours, there are so many challenges that come with restaurant operations, handling so many orders at once, making sure they’re right. Our technology works as a best friend to help tackle these operational challenges.”

That ‘best friend’ takes the form of George and Becky, ConverseNow’s voice assistants. Equipped with conversational and emotional intelligence, they replicate natural human dialog to gauge customer sentiment and guide conversations. When a customer calls in pulls up at the drive-through, George and Becky take the order, which is uploaded into the platform’s cloud and passed along to the restaurant’s POS system and kitchen display. Their voices and personalities can be tailored to a restaurant’s needs as well.

“When you put a virtual assistant in front of a customer, they expect the experience to be as human-like as with a real operator. These conversations are complicated,” said Rahul Aggarwal, Co-Founder and COO & CPO. “Customers need high-quality experiences, accuracy and speed…we’re taking more than 500,000 orders each month, which provides a lot of data that creates a feedback look for our AI to learn every day.”

One of Aggarwal’s biggest breakthroughs is the development of an additional voice processor that not only handles orders, but filters out non-essential dialogue such as background noise and sidebar conversations. With so many customers speaking to people around them for input when placing orders, George and Becky are able to take that context into account and understand when a customer is speaking to them as opposed to asking someone in their party about what they’d like to get.

The technology goes even further by correctly categorizing menu items based on related terms. For example, if someone orders thick crust pizza and the term ‘thick crust’ isn’t on the menu, George and Becky understand that the customer is ordering ‘regular crust.’ While a situation like this may be easy for a human being to handle, it represents leaps and bounds in the AI world.

Participating restaurants have been very happy with the results thus far. ConverseNow has grown its store count 600% from last year. They plan to double that by the end of 2021, and triple it by the end of 2022. In some cases, they’ve reported individual restaurants getting more than 400 additional orders each month, where they’ve in turn hired additional kitchen staff to accommodate the spike in volume.

“We have zero churn. Every customer happily uses out platform and loves us,” Shukla said.

Shukla and Aggarwal attribute their success to designing the platform to be a scalable, universal answer to customer orders, while remaining customizable for any operator.

“We built [ConverseNow] to be universal across channels. Nothing changes regardless of whether you’re ordering via drive-through or over the phone,” Aggarwal said. “And the biggest challenge in this ecosystem is that every [restaurant] has its own needs, from special menu items to specific discounts and other nuances. The platform can handle all of them with the click of a button.”

Shukla and Aggarwal are building ConverseNow to become ‘the gateway for every order coming into a restaurant.’ With the platform gathering massive amounts of data through drive-through and phone-in orders, that AI will ultimately translate into George and Becky being able to handle orders placed online, through self-service kiosks, and personal assistant platforms such as Alexa and Google Voice.

The platform’s current focus is on large QSR chains, where Shukla notes that the system only has to be trained once, and can then be deployed to any number of locations and customized by individual franchisees as needed.

“I’d relate us to Twilio,” he said. “Twilio brought a unified communication experience to the customer. People love it for the experience. We’re doing the same thing for restaurant orders, accommodating customers coming in from a wide range of channels.”

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