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TGI Fridays’ quest to reinvent happy hour (and itself) with chatbots and IoT

Clint Boulton | Aug. 24, 2017
To return to relevancy in an increasingly digital world, the casual dining chain is developing chatbots and experimenting with bar-top tablets, personalized TV services and other IoT technologies to lure more millennials to its restaurants.

These capabilities are supported by a the Microsoft Dynamics CRM system, which collects the transaction data, as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning software that helps inform personalized recommendations based on customers' behavior and purchase history. As AI and ML technologies improve, brands will "push" offers at consumers rather than require them to "pull" services by initiating requests via text or voice. Fridays has already seen this work with some success.

Take a consumer who has purchased a meal from Fridays the previous week. Using in-app messaging capabilities from Urban Airship, Fridays can issue an offer to let the consumer make the same order in a check-out cart, which the consumer can approve with a single button, or opt to modify. Mityas says the experiment has yielded a click-through rate of 70 percent. "It's new and convenient and it gets people to re-engage with us," Mityas says.


The happy hour’s digital future

But what about those hip bar-top tablets, electronic coasters, self-service TV and other potential internet of things (IoT) scenarios to help Fridays inject more digital into its restaurants?

Fridays is rigorously testing those capabilities and others in its mock restaurant/digital lab. For example, one experiment uses proximity to lure customers to a restaurant location. For example, if Fridays' knows that a customer in the loyalty rewards program is on the way, it can trigger an order for their favorite drink, which will be waiting for them when they arrive. Holographic displays may one day be on the menu after Mityas previewed technology that enables consumers to pull a hologram of a football game from the air and put it down on the bar-top tablet for a closer viewing.

These emerging technologies raise important user experience questions: How will bar-top tech weather persistent booze spilled on the bar? As for the self-service TV solution, the idea of dozens of patrons piping in audio through their phones to watch games lends itself to potential problems. Fans blasting TV broadcasts through their phones will irritate fellow patrons while headphones-strapped guests may put a damper on the Fridays happy hour ethos. "Let's hope it doesn't go that way," Mityas says, adding that his vendor partners are working to ensure a good user experience.


Innovation begets ‘anticipatory IT’

Most companies would bucket such work under innovation. But it also underscores what can best be described as an "anticipatory IT organization." In tapping emerging technologies and services, Mityas is peering around the corners, intent on predicting what services will drum up interest among fickle consumers' and ultimately improve business outcomes.

Anticipatory IT is a philosophy perpetuated by futurist and author Daniel Burrus, who articulated his thesis at CIO 100. He says that companies must do a better job of releasing products and services that cement customers' trust in their brand. "It's about being anticipatory rather than reactionary," Burrus says. "If you change your mindset you change your results."


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