Nothing drives innovation like a crisis. When everyday life goes awry and all the rules change, people and organizations need to adapt to the new normal, and that requires embracing new ideas and technology to help smooth the way.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed, at least temporarily, the way we do business. Fortunately, process automation has aided in the struggle to thrive in the chaos of a worldwide lockdown. We are about to delve into how the fast-food industry has used digital transformation technology to stay afloat. You can incorporate these lessons into any type of business, regardless of size or industry.

The Pandemic Challenge

Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the restaurant, hospitality, and entertainment industries. Thanks to lockdowns, quarantines, and other social distancing measures, people have either been unable or unwilling to frequent many of the businesses they used to.

For example, in the United States, total restaurant and foodservice sales fell by USD 240 billion in 2020 from 2019. By the end of 2020, over 110,000 eating and drinking establishments had closed either permanently or temporarily.

The movie theater industry fared even worse. Theater revenue fell a whopping 77.2 percent in 2020 thanks to the pandemic, prompting many theaters and chains to close down, some for good.

Any business that wanted to survive 2020 had to learn how to adapt and use both emerging technologies and new pandemic-driven business operations to help them navigate the tricky waters of the pandemic. Fortunately, the success stories are out there and serve as a blueprint for other businesses' survival.

Digital Transformation to the Rescue

One of the biggest success stories comes from the fast-food industry, which has employed digital transformation to reshape the workload and its workforces. Additionally, fast food restaurants have figured out how to extract more value from their operations through process automation and digital marketing.

For example, restaurants have had to deal with lockdowns and reduced indoor seating capacity if not having in-house dining outright banned. Some establishments turned to a drive-through, delivery, or contactless pickup takeout to keep their cash flow coming in. Customers could order food via mobile apps or the restaurant’s website, pay their bill ahead of time, then schedule a pickup time. Then the customer picked up their food with minimal human contact, and everyone was happy.

Online orders are easy to accomplish and make the dull chores of order-taking and payment processing a smoother, more efficient experience. Also, orders taken online are likely to come out more accurately than the ones where you pull up to the drive-through and yell at the microphone, hoping the server can hear you!

There are even examples of restaurant chains investing in artificial intelligence (AI) products to help schedule order preparation more efficiently and dispatch each step of the order to the right automated station or human worker.

These advances aren’t limited to customer interaction, either. Robotic process automation is flourishing in restaurant kitchens, where specific machines use time cycle programming to prepare food such as fries. A San Francisco restaurant has a fully automated burger assembly line, and a Seattle startup called Picnic has a pizza robot to save time in pizza assembly.

And is there any phrase that’s cooler sounding than “pizza robot?”

Ever since AI arrived on the scene, critics have warned us that it could eliminate jobs. Ironically, it seems that AI may end up saving jobs by helping companies stay afloat during these trying times.

Rethinking the Customer Service Approach

Let’s circle back to customer engagement. The more a business knows about its customers, the more it can create a unique experience for each person, increasing customer loyalty and better word of mouth. For instance, Wendy’s CIO wants to see AI in place that can better predict customer’s tastes by analyzing their order histories, thereby improving turnaround time, upselling orders, and steering clear of recommending items the customer doesn’t like.

Some chains offer a mobile app that uses location services to inform the restaurant that the customer is in the parking lot, ready to pick up their order. This approach saves time for everyone involved and helps enhance the contactless pickup experience.

AI also improves the drive-through experience as chains explore voice automation tech, where AI bots take orders at the drive-through stop. The “smart” drive-through concept parallels the touchscreen pads and kiosks in restaurants, where customers can order and pay without ever relying on human interaction.  

How to Make Process Automation Work for You

Fast food and chain restaurants have given the rest of the commercial world a blueprint for surviving in uncertain times where everyday life has turned upside down. While there is no substitute for things getting back to normal, we now see options for keeping a business afloat in troubled waters, thanks to process automation and other digital transformation technologies.

What worked for the fast-food industry can work for your business. You don't have to have a major corporation's resources to access the technology that can get you through a crisis. Digital transformation is the key to survival and maintaining competitiveness.

You can make digital transformation and process automation work for your company by:

  • Analyzing and reviewing how your business flows and see at which points automation could be introduced
  • Keeping abreast of the latest technology breakthroughs and processes
  • Brainstorming new ideas and rethinking approaches to how you conduct your daily business
  • Upskilling your workforce, giving them a working knowledge of digital transformation

For that last point, you need a reliable, knowledgeable source of training. There are many resources available, and it can be challenging to find the best ones. Fortunately, Simplilearn is here to handle all of your certification and upskilling needs. Simplilearn offers certification training courses in relevant subjects like Machine Learning, Deep Learning, and Artificial Intelligence.

You can also explore many other options to upskill your workforce in peripherally related categories such as Data Science & Business Analytics, Business & Leadership, and Digital Marketing.

Even after the COVID crisis passes, there is no guarantee that everything will go back to exactly as it was before this whole mess went down. We may be witnessing the permanent passing of some old, familiar customs, institutions, and methodologies. By leveraging process automation, your company will stand a much greater chance of coming out of this crisis not only intact but stronger