KFC goes large with facial recognition to predict customer orders

13th Jan 2017

KFC has flipped the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ on its head – by introducing facial recognition technology in one of its Beijing restaurants to predict customers’ orders.

The artificial intelligence-enabled system recommends menu items based on a customer’s estimated age and mood. Baidu – the search engine company often referred to as “China’s Google” – gave an example of the type of recommendations it makes to customers, suggesting that a male customer in his early 20s would be offered a “a set meal of crispy chicken hamburger, roasted chicken wings and Coke”, while a female customer in her 50s would get a recommendation of “porridge and soybean milk for breakfast” (as the technology can factor in what time of day it is).

If a customer doesn’t want what’s recommended, they can click through to see some alternatives. Once they’re happy with their choice, they can pay with their mobile phone at the machine before collecting their meal shortly after at the counter.

The technology has delivered mixed results so far. An issue raised by one customer was that the system recommended a meal that they’d ordered the day before but didn’t enjoy and wouldn’t want to order again. KFC and Baidu, however, hope the technology will learn about customers’ preferences over time.

KFC is also hopeful that facial recognition will help make serving customers quicker and easier, while helping to personalise the service it offers diners.

There is a danger, though, that profiling diners in this way could offend customers and eat into KFC’s profits. The technology also raises privacy concerns, although the restaurant chain has been keen to emphasise that the data it collects is highly secure and won’t be used for other purposes.

Balancing act

Balancing personalisation with privacy is a challenge facing not only organisations but customers too, noted The Institute of Customer Service’s The Customer of the Future report. The report found that customers are concerned about how organisations collect and use personal information, but that they will also increasingly seek personalised experiences and recognise that this means being more open to sharing information about themselves with organisations.

Meanwhile, organisations will need to be more imaginative in how they collect, analyse and use data about customers, including their values, emotional and personality preferences. But the report added that the shift towards such analysis of customers means that earning customers’ trust will become more challenging.

It’s a challenge that KFC is set to face throughout China – the company is planning to introduce facial recognition across 5,000 restaurants nationwide.

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