By Vixen Labs / November 4, 2021 / VCI
The pandemic has definitely challenged how we enjoy our food. While safe takeaways became the new norm, voice simplified ordering and collecting them. And big brands like McDonald's adapted to their customer's needs. Find out how from their Digital Portfolio Manager.
Steve Pearce, Digital Portfolio Manager at McDonald's UK, as a guest on Talking Shop, the Voice Consumer Index Podcast.

Listen to Talking Shop Episode 7

Listen to Episode 7 of Talking Shop: Making Voice Work for Marketers right here. Talking Shop is a brand new podcast series from Vixen Labs, taking you through the core findings and insights from the Voice Consumer Index 2021. 

Steve Pearce, Digital Portfolio Manager at McDonald’s UK, joins us on the podcast today to discuss the Amazon Alexa McDonald’s skill developed by Vixen Labs, the future of voice and multi-platform integrations in fast food, and what’s next on their voice journey. 

Or read the transcript

James Poulter  00:00

Whether it’s finding the opening times of our favourite restaurant or placing an order, voice technology has a lot to offer when it comes to food delivery and fast food. With restaurants under pressure as a result of the pandemic, and UK driver shortages, it’s more important than ever that customers can find out when places are open, and what’s on the menu. And what easier way than that to ask your voice assistant? 

James Poulter  00:21

And that’s exactly what people are doing. More than two thirds of people in the US, the UK and Germany said that asking devices for information about the location and opening times of food outlets was a priority task. And around half of those people surveyed in each country said that placing an order for delivery or collection was something that they turned their voice assistant on for. 

James Poulter  00:40

So, today, on Talking Shop, we’re going to be speaking with one of our own clients here from Vixen Labs, the fantastic Steve Pearce, who is the Digital Portfolio Manager for McDonald’s here in the UK. And I’m going to be talking to him a little bit about the recent voice experience that we’ve launched with them, and what we’ve been working on over the past six months or so. So let’s see where he thinks that voice is going to go as a part of the overall digital ecosystem there at McDonald’s, and the broader market here in the UK. So Steve, welcome. And thanks so much for being here. Just tell us in your own words a little bit about what it is that you do, and your role at McDonald’s.

Steve Pearce  01:14

Sure, and thanks for the opportunity, JP. So, I’m Steve Pearce, the Digital Portfolio Manager at McDonald’s. So, I look after a suite of digital products, the main one being the app in UK and Ireland, but also look after offers, loyalty, and payments, as products.

James Poulter  01:32

Fantastic. And so, Steve, in your role at McDonald’s, obviously, you’ve, you look at the mobile experience, and voice has become kind of part of that portfolio, as you mentioned. But where did this start? How did McDonald’s start looking at voice when it comes to the UK, and ultimately end up launching an Alexa skill? Tell us a little bit about that journey?

Steve Pearce  01:51

Yeah, sure. So I think, you know, looking at voice in the market is kind of been a key thing for me. And I always try and keep quite close to technology and, and trends. 

“I DON’T THINK ANYONE COULD IGNORE HOW MUCH VOICE HAS GROWN OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS.”

And, we know, I think 80% of people use a voice assistant, whether it’s on their smartphone or at home. So, it was, it was something that we had to look into, and be part of that emerging trend. So, it’s really exciting for us to be able to kind of dig into voice and what it can do for us today, but then trying to build a roadmap for the future as well.

James Poulter  02:27

Just thinking a little bit about that roadmap, as we’ve seen, you know, voice is definitely maturing — I think, I would say over the past 12 months, we’ve seen it kind of coming out of the innovation space and being much more embedded into different lines of business. And we’re seeing a lot of businesses looking at it in terms of conversational marketing and being part of their digital strategy. So, for you, where do you see the biggest opportunity for voice in the kind of digital business at McDonald’s?

Steve Pearce  02:51

Right now, I think we have to look at how our consumers engage with voice. And I think it’s fair to say, at the moment, we see it as an engagement platform for us. So looking at kind of our website, very similar kind of model. So it’s how someone would maybe come in to, to kind of greet the brand of McDonald’s, and then how we can then hand off to other digital products. Obviously, the Nirvana would be to get to digital ordering at some point. But we need to make sure that’s seamless and frictionless for our customers. 

Steve Pearce  03:19

But right now, you know, our focus is: how do we get people engaging with the skill, and then hand over to our kind of more established digital products? Because McDonald’s is really convenient to order from — we’ve got our mobile app, as I’ve already mentioned, that I look after. And, I think voice has a way to kind of integrate nicely with with apps in the future.

James Poulter  03:39

Yeah, just maybe context for those outside of the UK. Just tell us a little bit about what the digital ordering experience on mobile is like right now at McDonald’s? Because it’s different around the world.

Steve Pearce  03:49

Yeah, sure. So there’s a few markets that have the app that we have here in McDonald’s. So, we branded it as the My McDonald’s app. So, this gives you the ability to place an end-to -end order, whether it’s at the restaurant, or something that we’ve recently launched is what we’re calling integrated delivery. So this gives you the ability to have your order delivered by UberEATS. And essentially, it’s a, you’ve all visited McDonald’s, you’ve seen those big kiosks that you can go to order yourself, and it’s having one of them in your pocket. So you create your account, you’re then able to browse our full menu, add any item you want, and then choose how you want to collect — whether that’s delivery, Drive Thru, in store, or one of our new features, which is Click & Serve, so have it brought out to your car parking bay, which is a really VIP experience.

James Poulter  04:35

And obviously, in the wake of the pandemic, a lot of that has changed. I think certainly a lot of the conversation we’ve had around where voice might complement the experiences, has been informed by what’s happened with opening and shutting, and reopening and shutting of restaurants in the country. So, I think what you mentioned before about this being an engagement opportunity so as you think about voice when it comes to mobile and loyalty, which are two of the big parts of what your portfolio includes, where do you see voice connecting into these other digital channels to help support the business?

Steve Pearce  05:08

So, I think, yeah, it’s a really good question, and, you know, something that I, you know…

“…I’D CALL UPON VOICE PROVIDERS — GOOGLE, AMAZON —  TO TRY AND CREATE A CLOSER CONNECTION, HANDLING AND INTEGRATING WITH OTHER DIGITAL PRODUCTS.”

I think I briefly mentioned it before, you know, I’d love a world where voice can kind of start the journey, hand off to another experience, maybe via mobile or web, and then come back to voice at the end. 

Steve Pearce  05:33

So, I’ll talk through the experience of, you know, imagine you’re at home, Friday night, you want to order your kids’ dinner, you ask Alexa, you know, ‘I want to order from McDonald’s’, but actually, as a consumer, you want to browse the menu, you want to have that visual in your hands input, that kiosk in your pocket. So we could then start the order on your app, seamlessly, browse the menu, place the order, and then Alexa then takes over and manages the tracking of the order and gives you regular updates of when Uber’s gonna deliver it. I think that could be really powerful in the future…how voice doesn’t just sit by itself as a standalone digital product, but how it kind of crosses all those platforms and creates this kind of a unified experience across digital.

James Poulter  06:15

Yeah, and I think that, you know, seeing these different channels come together is a pattern we’re seeing in the market more generally —  you mentioned those stats upfront — here, we’re seeing a lot more people using voice across multiple different platforms, whether they’re doing that on their mobile, in their car and, you know, obviously, our smart speaker in a more traditional sense, even though that it’s not been that long for it to be a tradition. 

James Poulter  06:36

And I think you mentioned that, yeah, kind of the Drive Thru experience, as well. So, one of the facts that we’ve seen in the pandemic has been the impact that it’s had on people wanting to drive thru and use takeaway business, obviously, far more as they’ve been unable to spend time in stores. What do you see is the opportunity for voice when it comes to places like…on the move, in the car and, obviously, in the drive thru, in the future, because it’s a large and growing part of the McDonald’s business, both here and internationally?

Steve Pearce  07:02

Yeah, and it’s such an important part of our business. McDonald’s is the leader on drive thru, you know. Our Drive Thru is hugely busy and, during the pandemic and as we reopened, we’ve all seen kind of those cues that were published on like BBC News etc. And, and, you know, that’s something that  we need to continue driving as a business, and during that reopening period, I think it was last May – June time, I actually went to work in one of my local restaurants, which was a bit of an eye opener, because, you know, it’s been a long time since I’ve been kind of on the ground in the field like that.

Steve Pearce  07:34

And we looked at opportunities to try and make that experience better, and something that did come to mind was, you know, how we can use the mobile app, so having customers or passengers in the car pre-ordering on the mobile app and also pay meant they can almost skip the order point and the cashier window, meaning we could just focus on delivery of their food, so that really kind of sped up the Drive Thru experience. And then kind of translate that into voice and how powerful that can be. 

Steve Pearce  08:02

Like, you know, if you’ve got Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant in cars, then, you know, it’s like having one of those Drive Thru ordering hosts in your car that you can then have your family talk their order to ahead of arriving at McDonald’s. So, you can be on a motorway heading to a McDonald’s service station, or you could be just, you know, out on a day trip, but, importantly, all the family members are interacting with voice, building their order to the point that you arrive at the restaurant, you can then seamlessly glide through the Drive Thru, and you’re just almost skipping the order point and the payment window, and going into your collection window, or even skip the driver altogether. And I mentioned Click & Serve previously, you know, that kind of new product for us as a collection point is so important — that family could just pull into one of those bays and have their order brought out to them.

James Poulter  08:50

Yeah, I think the magic of being able to order, yeah, I often talk to people how, you know, I’ve used McDonald’s as an example for many years. I see a future where you’ll be driving along the motorway, you’ll see an advert hoarding over the motorway that says, you know, ‘order your Big Mac now’, get up at corner, and you’ll soon be able to do that and I think that that’s a phenomenal potential future of where this goes, but before we move to talk about the future, we should probably just focus a little bit on what we’ve just launched in the UK, which is the Alexa experience. Do you want to just talk a little bit about what’s in there, and what that’s been like — to create something like that?Maybe some of the stuff you’ve learned as we’ve gone through that process together.

Steve Pearce  09:26

Yeah, as I said before, you know, McDonald’s is kind of hugely convenient and the pandemic has clearly changed the direction on a lot of digital products in the field, not just McDonald’s and we looked at it from the beginning of, like, what do our customers want right now. And I’ve talked about the Nirvana of having voice ordering in the future and clearly that’s where we want to get, but right now, you know, I always use my wife as a good grounding point with technology, and you know, I look at how did she use our kind of Alexa at home, and it was setting a timer for her boiled eggs, or checking the weather, or playing music. And I thought, well, how do we kind of just build on those kind of simple engagement experiences to then support what McDonald’s do, and that’s where we kind of landed with, well, you know, maybe it’s what’s my local McDonald’s? What are the opening hours? Because during COVID, they’ve been changing all the time. So yeah, having the ability to get up to date opening hours has been key, and simple questions like what time does breakfast finish? — everyone asked that question. And now our skill will tell you exactly what menu is being served within McDonald’s. And then something we’re about to kind of update within the skill is the ability to tell us what McDonald’s Monday offer is available for the week coming.

James Poulter  10:38

Just explain what the McDonald’s Monday offer is, because that’s not a thing that’s necessarily around the world.

Steve Pearce  10:43

Yeah, so McDonald’s Monday is, is basically an offer that we publish within our app every Monday. So, you know, this, this Monday, it’s Big Mac and fries for £1.99. Next Monday, might be a 99p Big Mac. 

“EVERY SINGLE MONDAY HAS A DIFFERENT OFFER THAT’S AVAILABLE WITHIN THE MY MCDONALD’S APP, AND USING VOICE TO PRE-PROMOTE THAT IS REALLY QUITE POWERFUL FOR US.”

So, we’re planning to leak it through voice on the Saturday, obviously, we’ll be looking to do our normal media channels through social etc., over the weekend. But it’ll give kind of a habitual usage of the voice skill where a family or whoever can check what is the McDonald’s offer coming up on that Monday, because normally,  within the app, you won’t find out until the day, unless you’ve seen any of our pre-promote advertising.

James Poulter  11:29

And it’s also been linked in to some of the other marketing channels as well. There’s… big email blasts have gone out and other things, and we’re beginning to see a channel, and so you guys are beginning to actually look at how this isn’t just a standalone channel, it does integrate with everything else that’s happening across the business. It’s really exciting to see as we kind of wrap up here, why we…let’s just take the final question and looking at the future, you know, we’re in a half post-pandemic, half jammed reality at the minute. And yeah, we’re seeing a big opportunity for quick service restaurants to really take advantage of the voice ecosystem, just maybe what’s two or three things that you’re thinking about as we look beyond the kind of this COVID time where everything’s been so up and down, to where you see voice going down the line, and maybe what some of the things are on your mind as we plan for 2022 and beyond?

Steve Pearce  12:15

Yeah, I think, you know, as I mentioned numerous times throughout this interview that, you know, the Nirvana for me is to get to that voice ordering experience. I don’t think any QSR has nailed it right now. And there has been some of our competitors who kind of dabbled in that area. I think the only brand that does do it well is Amazon. And I guess they need to do well, right? I love being able to shout at my device, I need to order some more coffee beans, and they’re there on my doorstep tomorrow morning. It’s so easy. You know, again, from a McDonald’s experience point of view, it’s maybe not the same use, you know, customers like to browse a menu. So it’s: 

“HOW DO WE CROSS THAT PLATFORM OF VOICE WHICH JUST TELLS YOU WHAT’S AVAILABLE, VERSUS HAVING A WAY OF BROWSING AS WELL, BUT ALSO MAKE THE ORDERING EXPERIENCE NOT A HEAVY LIFT?”

Steve Pearce  13:03

I think it’s fair to say right now, you know, it’s quite a lot of work to, to build upon an ordering experience. You know, I look at the McDonald’s ecosystem and amount of platforms that we would need to integrate to make it work. And I’ve seen some of our competitors and how you have to set a favourite order, set your default payment, set your delivery address, online, not even in voice, and then you can finally say I want to order my favourite item, I think really to get where our customers want is that kind of conversational ordering, like you can do with Alexa, you can just say what you want, and it’s then going to be delivered. And that’s where I’d love to see this go — you know, I want McDonald’s to be the first brand that does it right. But as I said before, yeah, we’re already known for being super convenient, and good at what we do. So we’re going to make sure that if we do launch voice ordering, we do it correctly and rightly. It kind of resonates with our consumers.

James Poulter  13:56

Yeah, absolutely. I think that, as we see across the ecosystem right now, there’s more and more strides being made with things like Alexa Conversations, with the new LaMDA functions from Google, and many other features connecting up to mobile and things like that, that are beginning to edge us in that direction. So, we’re excited to see where this goes. And thanks for your partnering on getting this far with the skills. If people want to try it, and if you’re in the UK or have a UK device, you can just go and say ‘Alexa, open McDonald’s’ and you’ll be right in there and can go give it a try. For now though, thanks, Steve so much for taking the time to join us. And we hope that the skill goes from strength to strength as the project grows and continues. But, for now, Steve Pearce, Digital Portfolio Manager for McDonald’s in the UK, thanks so much for being with us. 

Steve Pearce  14:40

Cheers!

 

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