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Why Dominos' virtual assistant struggles to understand your orders

Clint Boulton | Aug. 25, 2016
Dominos CIO Kevin Vasconi is bullish on virtual assistant technology, but says that natural language processing and artificial intelligence technologies require more polish.

RANCHO PALOS VERDES -- As pizza chains go, Dominos Pizza’s use of digital technologies to allow you to place orders from any computing device is among the most progressive in the U.S. But even an innovator can struggle to implement emerging technologies that some smartphone-toting consumers may not be ready to embrace. Such is the case for Dominos, which is running into some user experience hurdles as it attempts to process orders via voice technologies.

Dominos CIO Kevin Vasconi
Dominos CIO Kevin Vasconi.

The problem, according to Dominos CIO Kevin Vasconi, is that most people don't place their orders clearly when speaking to Dom, the chain’s homegrown voice-activated virtual assistant. And while ordering a pizza can hardly be compared to assembling a car in terms of difficulty, Vasconi says training Dom to recognize all of the different combinations with which people order pizza, wings and soda is no trivial task.

“While we would love people to go through that selection process in a logical linear fashion, people don’t always order food that way,” Vasconi tells on the sidelines of IDG's 2016 CIO 100 event here last week.

Dominos Anywhere: a hot, delicious platform?

Dominos has accelerated its digital service efforts as it slugs it out with Pizza Hut, Little Caesar's and other quick-service pizza makers. It’s a competitive market and consumer loyalty can switch in an instant when the website or mobile app drops orders. Unlike a bank, which inspires stickiness through complexity -- switching is not easy -- picking another pizza provideris just a Google search and a few other keystrokes away. “If I lose them I might not get them back,” Vasconi says.

That minimal switching cost has Vasconi obsessed with ensuring uptime of its digital infrastructure, as well as meeting customers on virtually every digital platform. Equal parts technology, marketing and operational blitz, the company's AnyWhere platform allows you to place orders through any internet-connected device, including smartphones, smartwatches and smart TVs, by entering orders into the Dominos website, and by tweeting and texting emojis. “Choice drives our whole mobile and digital platform,” Vasconi says. “Millennials love that.”

img anywhere
Dominos' AnyWhere platform lets you order your pizza through any mobile device.

And then there is, of course, voice, which Dominos views as its next frontier. Consumers can place orders by speaking to Ford's Sync in-dashboard service or Amazon's Echo device via its Alexa virtual assistant.

Since Dominos launched Dom in 2014, consumers have logged more than half a million orders through the bot. Yet challenges remain with the technology as Dominos and its partner, Nuance Communications, work together to align the natural language processing and artificial intelligence behind the voice bot to the variety of permutations with which people order pizza.


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