Freshii And Kiosks Could Be A Great Combo, If…

Freshii is reverting to live cashiers after a bout with live virtual cashiers did not go as planned. What happened in the implementation and can kiosks be part of the brand’s customer experience journey in the future?

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Introduction – Freshii

Freshii is the go-to chain for fresh salads and main plates for the health-conscious crowd for many years. Matthew Corrin is the Founder & CEO of Freshii. Headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the first Freshii location was opened in 2005. Since then, Freshii has expanded worldwide and now operates in over 300 locations across 85+ cities in 20 countries.

What is a virtual cashier?
Back in April 2022, Freshii trialed a new technology platform focusing on improving customer experience with virtual cashiers. This technology uses a screen to replace a live cashier with one hosted in another country. Public reaction has not been robust as the high-quality daily interactions between cashiers and customers are lost. Additionally, the public is not happy to see that minimum-wage cashier jobs were offshored to another country with a 1/5 cost base.

The Freshii virtual cashier experience (Source: Percy)



Hi. Welcome to Retail Mashup. I’m DeAnn. I’m Larry. This is the podcast about the intersection between customer experience and the realities of running a profitable retail business.

Larry, I understand you visited a Freshii restaurant recently. What did you think of that?

Virtual Cashiers at Freshii

Well for our listeners who don’t know the Freshii brand, it’s a health-related fast food chain in Canada, where they serve quick-to-order salads and main courses as well. But mostly salads that are based on healthy ingredients that you can choose yourself.

And it’s great. They have been in business for several years with real success. One of the amazing components of the Freshii experience is the ability to talk to a live person. In many of the stores previously, they would have a cashier that would have knowledge of healthy eating habits and would be able to recommend some of the better quality or a combination of food that would be best for meeting your health needs.

In the last few years, Freshii looking into managing its cost and customer experience decided to change the ordering system. Rather than having a live cashier, they move into a virtual cashier experience. Instead of McDonald’s where it became a kiosk where you would pick all the foods that you want for your salad in this particular instance, Freshie would have a live agent, but virtually.

The live agent was outsourced to another company called Percy, and they come from all over the world, but mostly Central America at the time. For a lot of brands thinking, can I replace a live person with a live virtual person?

The Percy platform was used to introduce virtual cashiers at Freshii (Source: Percy)

In this particular instance, maybe the experiment did not work as well. Feedback was quick that customers were not comfortable speaking about their needs to someone that’s not physically there. They are also not able to build that relationship that you would have with going to the same store, ordering the same salad, with the same cashier.

That’s the type of habit that you would form. In the past couple of weeks, Freshii has decided that they’re gonna remove the kiosks from the restaurants and replace them back with cashiers. In the future, they may have a kiosk where you can just order the salads that you want and not have that virtual person in place to manage your needs.


Virtual Bank Teller

That’s my little story. Let’s talk about it a little bit. First of all, you have a lot of experience DeAnn, with self-checkout. Have you experienced a self-checkout kiosk that featured a virtual person in real-time?

My bank has a virtual teller, which I quite like. It is a real person. It’s the same teller that I would talk to in a bank, and so I get the same level of service from a machine. it was a little weird at first, I have to admit, but they’ve done a good job because they’re giving me that same well-trained teller to do all of the things.

I can ask her a question in real-time. She can guide me through what to do. It’s a very intuitive, very natural feeling, experience, and the teller is every bit of the same level of service I would get in the bank itself. that experience tells me it’s possible to do it well.

The key is I got the same teller that I would get in the bank. If I had someone who was a kid fresh outta high school who had very little training and was just reading off of a sheet and struggling to speak to me and answer my questions, that would be an inferior experience. I would almost rather not have any live video person to talk to. I’d rather have the buttons to push and get frustrated, but at least I’d know why I was being frustrated.

Comfort and Habits

Because it’s not something I have seen in the retail space very often. It would have been more important for Freshii to talk about the merit of having a random virtual person to manage your food ordering needs. It’s like you said, if it’s the same person constantly, maybe then the pushback may not necessarily be swift.

Since they’re outsourced to another country, people didn’t always feel the comfort. They certainly would have more comfort with kiosks seen in many restaurants already.

You know, I talk a lot about technology at the checkout point and a lot of people kind of think I’m anti-technology and against self-checkout. But I’m actually for it. I see the value in it and when applied correctly, it does make things a lot better. We do need to address speed in retail because the speed of service has a direct correlation to overall re-sales and profits.

Applying Technology To Improve Customer Experience

In the food industry, the biggest choke point is placing your order and paying for your product. The choke point to the restaurant is getting that order in the hands of the kitchen as soon as possible to get that customer’s food ready in the bag and served up ASAP.

Case Study: McDonald’s

Technology today is really good and efficient at helping solve those choke points. But they need to inject a customer experience, and employee experience mindset into that. So McDonald’s, for example, 70% of their sales are driven through their drive-through window.

They focus a lot of time and attention on that experience. Typical drive-through experience, you pull up to a speaker, you wait for someone to come and say, what do you want? You tell them what you want, you drive up to the first window, you pay, you drive up to the second window and you get your food, and you drive away.

McDonald’s next-generation drive-thru experience (Source: CityNews)

That’s a typical US fast food experience. Some fast foods do the same thing. They combine those two windows into one. With increasing frequency over the past couple of years, the order has been wrong and I like to order my cheeseburger with only mustard on it. I don’t like the other stuff on it. It’s like I’m asking for something in a foreign language. They have a hard time figuring it out.

So it’s been very frustrating. I order Diet Coke, and I get Diet Dr. Pepper, which I hate. No offense to the Diet Dr. Pepper. But it’s been a very friction-ridden experience and getting worse over the years, especially as fast food chains have struggled to get good staff.

It’s typically low-paying hourly wage jobs. You don’t tend to hang on and attract the quality people who are gonna do a consistently good job and hold onto that training. So you’re constantly training new people? Some are okay. Some are not so, okay.

Over the past year, McDonald’s in my area has switched over to remote ordering. It is a live person offsite somewhere. Oftentimes they’re even assisted by artificial intelligence, but suddenly I have this very clear voice that I’m speaking to, and they understand what I want.

They get my order right – 99% of the time. Suddenly the service is improved. They always remember to say, thank you. It has upped the game. I found out that it’s because of this third-party service where the order takers are remote. The people are in their environment, they’re comfortable, and they’ve chosen to do this for a living for whatever period.

They’re well-trained and they have the tools to do a good job at this one thing. They’re not multitasking, they’re not trying to do other things. They’re not shouting back to the kitchen. The kitchen’s happier because they’re getting the order faster.

They’re getting the order clearer. The restaurant’s happy because they have fewer wrong orders that have to be thrown away. The customer, of course, is happy because they’re getting the right thing much faster and it’s just a better experience.

Back To Freshii

That’s a technology-assisted experience that’s been filtered through a great customer experience. A great system wrapped around what the customer wants and needs with Freshii, it can be a little creepy to have a face pop up.

If it were just a voice or just a touch screen, I think that would be a lot easier to accept than to have some strange face on a video screen in front of you that you have to talk to and maybe you struggle to understand them or is there a language barrier that can be frustrating too?

Freshii, known for its healthy food offerings, is reverting to using live cashiers over virtual cashiers. Pic: New poki offering Source: Freshii

I love everything you said because it’s not necessarily always about the technologies, how the technology’s being deployed and how is the customer experience tested and experimented with the right people before you push out technology across the chain.

I applaud Freshii for trying something different. I applaud them to continue moving the innovation forward. But in this case, it did not resonate with their clientele, which wants a person to talk to.

If they want the fast-track experience to order at a kiosk, it could take more time to talk to this virtual person to order food than just punching in what you want to see in your salad bowl.

Case Study: Panera Bread

Yeah. Again, technology when used well can increase sales. There’s a similar food chain that has a lot of the same components as Freshii. Here in the US, it’s called Panera Bread. I love Panera Bread. I love going there. For most of its life, it’s been live in-person ordering In the past few years just before the pandemic, they started putting in your self-ordering touchscreen.

What they found overwhelmingly was their revenue went up because people are much more willing to order extra items on the touch screen than they are in person. You feel kind of embarrassed to order a cookie after you’ve just ordered this huge Italian sandwich sub.

Panera Bread kiosk in action Source: Salina Journal

With a touchscreen, you don’t care. Nobody’s judging you, nobody’s watching. And it’s so this little silly psychological trick, but it works. And so using technology in the right way, I think you need to evaluate what your goals are. Is your goal to raise sales and improve the choke points for customers or is your goal to try and emulate the human experience, which never works?

You can’t use a machine to copy a human experience. You have to create a technology experience that fits around the human journey. If Freshii wanted to consider pre-order touchscreens, they might see an increase in sales.

People will order that full-fat salad dressing instead of the light vinaigrette, which is what they want, and the cookie on the side. Instead of trying to copy a human cashier with something that turns out to be a little bit creepy and a little concerning when you think about the fact that maybe this is a poorly paid third-party offshore worker somewhere.

Yep. And now I want a cookie. Mm-hmm. Where’s the touchscreen I can press? This is another episode of Retail Mashup. If you like the episode, please press like and subscribe to the channel and we’ll talk to you next time.

Key Summary

Freshii, a Canadian health food chain, experimented with a virtual cashier experience but quickly reverted to live cashiers after receiving negative feedback from customers.

Customers were not comfortable speaking to a virtual person who was not physically present, and they also missed the ability to build relationships with live cashiers. Freshii is now considering implementing pre-order touchscreens, which could improve the customer experience and increase sales.

Here are some additional points from the podcast:

McDonald’s has had success with remote ordering, where customers speak to a live person who is offsite. This system has resulted in fewer wrong orders and happier customers.

Technology can be used to improve the customer experience, but it is important to focus on the customer’s needs and wants. Trying to emulate the human experience with machines will never work.

Pre-order touchscreens could be a good solution for Freshii, as they would allow customers to order ahead and avoid the line. This could lead to increased sales and a better customer experience.

* Retail Mashup made some modifications to the transcript to improve understandability and flow.

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