Last year, Pizza Express launched a chatbot as part of its Christmas marketing campaign.

Moving on from this fun and frivolous approach, it has now followed it up with a more customer service-focused chatbot - one that allows Facebook Messenger users to reserve a table in any of its 400+ restaurants.

Pizza Express is claiming to be the first restaurant in the UK to offer this, but will it catch on? And more importantly – is the chatbot any good?

Here’s what I think. 

What does it do?

While Pizza Express’s #shakethetree campaign used gamification to entertain customers, its new chatbot aims to offer greater convenience for customers who simply want to book a table.

Instead of visiting the main Pizza Express website, it now means that customers can make a booking without leaving Facebook Messenger – giving people a direct and ‘always on’ channel of communication with the brand.

From my own experience with the chatbot, I can confirm that it is definitely convenient. 

While there’s no actual chat involved – I was only required to select from multiple options options rather than talk to it – the process was quick and simple.

It detected my location and provided me with the option of two restaurants located nearby. From there, all I had to do was select the number of people and the time.

It's very simple to use, but let's face it, actively seeking out a booking on the Pizza Express website is similarly straightforward. 

My only gripe was that it felt a little strange not being sent an email confirmation of my booking. And while it asked for my telephone number, I didn’t receive anything further to suggest that it had gone through.

Is it too simple?

There’s nothing impressive about this technology. The fact that it doesn’t reply to human conversation means that it's far from actually being intelligent, and it's probably better described as a multiple choice questionnaire rather than a chatbot.

But, do customers expect extra bells and whistles, or will they be happy with this basic (one-way) booking system?

It’s been suggested that chatbots are suffering from over-hype, with many failing to live up to expectations of ‘conversational commerce’ and disappointing users in the process.

It’s understandable that people might feel let down by a bot that doesn’t understand everyday speech or involves complicated sign-up processes. 

Consequently, perhaps examples like Pizza Express, which is limited but laser-focused in terms of what it claims to offer consumers, will prove more successful. Similarly, with the chatbot resulting in a tangible result – a booked table and a meal in its restaurant – it might have more of an impact that its previous incarnation, which merely involved playing a (rather disappointing) game.

Will other restaurants catch on?

For restaurants looking to implement customer service on social, booking-related chatbots could potentially provide value.

We have already seen the likes of Domino’s and Taco Bell implementing chatbots to enable consumers to order a delivery, so perhaps a combination of the two could be next on the cards.

One company that already aims to do this is AllSet – an app and chatbot that aims to make dining at a restaurant at lunchtime quick and hassle-free.

Essentially, it allows you to book, order and pay for your food ahead of time, meaning there’s no waiting around during the experience. 

While this is a bit of a pipe dream for existing restaurant chains, it could offer a glimpse as to how chatbots could evolve in future.

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Nikki Gilliland

Published 13 February, 2017 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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