AI Failures or Growing Pains? Lessons from McDonald's Tech Trials

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Michael Zema, Head of PR North America

20 Jun 2024

AI Failures or Growing Pains? Lessons from McDonald's Tech Trials

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McDonald's recent decision to halt its AI ordering experiment after encountering numerous mishaps serves as a significant reminder of the challenges and opportunities accompanying technological innovation. This situation echoes the experiences of other tech trials, such as self-checkouts and cashier-less stores, which, despite initial excitement, faced significant hurdles in their implementation.

The essential lesson from these trials is clear: technology should augment human roles, not replace them. Striking the right balance can enhance customer experiences and improve operational efficiency. Leaning too fast into technology as a replacement for human workers may ultimately necessitate a retreat, as seen with the home of the Big Mac.

At the same time, experimentation across all industries is good for AI and should be encouraged. There are just some areas that should be kept in mind.

The Importance of Starting Small

Implementing AI effectively requires a thoughtful, gradual approach. Beginning with small, manageable projects allows businesses to test and refine their strategies before scaling up. This minimizes risks and ensures a smoother transition. For example, pilot projects like what McDonald's attempted can be an excellent way to evaluate AI deployment in real-world scenarios. The insights gained from these pilots can then inform a broader implementation strategy, successful or not.

Define Clear Objectives

Setting specific goals and clear objectives for AI initiatives is crucial. These objectives guide the overall strategy and provide benchmarks for measuring success. Whether the goal is to enhance customer experience or improve operational efficiency, having a clear direction helps keep the project focused and aligned with business needs.

Monitoring and Adjusting AI Solutions

Continuous monitoring of AI solutions is vital. Feedback and changing requirements may necessitate adjustments to the system. For instance, personalization and data-driven insights can significantly enhance customer experiences. By analyzing ordering patterns, such as what customers typically order alongside, let’s say, a burger, cell phone or new toy, and how these orders vary seasonally, businesses can optimize upselling strategies. Understanding these patterns allows for more effective promotions and better inventory management.

The Importance of Reskilling

News flash – a lot of workers aren’t scared of AI but see it as a partner.

According to our research, 66% of full-time workers desire their employers to offer AI solutions, recognizing the transformative impact it can have on productivity and efficiency. Rather than AI being a replacement technology, it holds great potential to act as a democratizing force in the workforce.

At a high level, workers can use AI to uplevel their skills, think the bigger picture, and evolve their roles. Industries of all sizes need to consider this as we work alongside these technologies and get their workers ready to embrace it.

"The generative AI alarm clock is ringing, and we are collectively waking up to the opportunities that come with it," said Gil Rosen, Chief Marketing Officer at Amdocs. "AI provides a great opportunity for all economic classes to do things that were once only possible to those who spent years in a university, creating an amazing opportunity to close bridges in the socioeconomic divide. In essence, I see AI as a new superpower that levels the playing field."

Preparing for the Future

While McDonald's AI ordering experiment may have faced setbacks, it underscores the importance of a balanced and thoughtful approach to technology implementation. By starting small, setting clear objectives, continuously monitoring performance, and focusing on augmenting human roles, businesses can harness the power of AI to deliver exceptional customer experiences and operational efficiencies. The future of AI in various industries looks promising…one experiment at a time.


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