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Domino’s Australia says hello to chatbots

The pizza chain has launched a chatbot that takes orders via its Australian website and mobile app

Pizza chain Domino’s is using a chatbot to take food orders in Australia, enabling workers to focus on what they do best – making pizzas.

Called DRU (Domino’s Robotic Unit) Assist, the chatbot – available through the Domino’s online ordering app – lets people speak to place their order rather than scrolling and tapping through an app. A text-chat version has also been launched on the Domino’s website.

The chatbot – believed to be the first of its kind to be deployed in Australia – was developed by Nuance Communications, which also supplied an order-taking avatar for Domino’s in the US in 2014.

That early version, however, was stretched initially when trying to make sense of spoken requests. Domino’s noted on its Australian website that its chatbot is “still learning but getting better every day”.

Robert Schwarz, managing director of Nuance in Australia and New Zealand, said conversational solutions are being adopted as they are “a more natural way to engage” and enable the business to “get more information about the customer than ever before”.

Schwarz revealed that there would be a social side to DRU Assist in future, allowing people to ask for advice on how many pizzas to order for 15 visitors, for example.

And as it gets smarter over time, DRU Assist could also be used to automatically upsell items or promote campaigns, he added.

Don Meij, group CEO and managing director of Domino’s Pizza Enterprises, said DRU Assist is Domino’s first step into artificial intelligence and machine learning, which would be leveraged “across all of our future developments”.

Domino’s has been keen to forge a reputation as a technology pioneer, going so far as to deliver a pizza by drone last year, though that is not going to be rolled out as a commercial service any time soon.

Focus on making pizzas

Using a robot to take an order rather than a staff member means that no one needs to be paid to provide that service.

However, Schwarz said Domino’s was not motivated to replace workers with DRU Assist. Instead, it wanted to free up the staff in its stores to concentrate on making pizzas rather than taking phone orders.

Whatever the motivation is, Gartner has noted a rising demand for virtual assistants and chatbots, which could replace apps if they are able to handle conversations involving complex actions and requests.

Driven by familiarity with services such as Apple’s Siri and Google Now, 35% of consumers surveyed by the research firm said they had used virtual personal assistants in 2016, compared with 31% in 2015.

Domino’s has been the focus of an investigation that suggests its franchisees have been underpaying staff.

The company’s share price has plunged despite public statements from Domino’s that it has a zero tolerance policy towards franchisees who do not properly pay staff.

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