AI is the telephone operator…! We tested the power of “AI Assistant Manager,” a savior for restaurants that are extremely busy at the beginning of the year. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

AI is the telephone operator…! We tested the power of “AI Assistant Manager,” a savior for restaurants that are extremely busy at the beginning of the year.

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Answering the phone during the busy season is the bane of understaffed restaurants. ……

The beginning of the year is the time of year when people have the most opportunities to drink. Especially since the end of last year, when Corona dawned in full swing, the number of people in the downtown area has visibly increased and restaurants are very busy. Many of you may have experienced the frustration of calling a restaurant to make a reservation, only to find that they are too busy to answer the phone.

However, no matter how busy the restaurant is, there is a system called “AI Assistant Manager,” in which an AI voice answers the phone and even takes reservations for you. I immediately tried calling.

Thank you for calling. This is XXX-Ya. Please follow the guidance and enter your preferred number. Please enter “1” for new reservations, and “8” for confirmations, changes, or other inquiries.

What I heard from the receiver was a mechanical voice that I often hear when I call credit card companies or cell phone customer service. I entered “1” with a bit of a start.

Please answer the following questions aloud. Are you making a new reservation? Please answer with “Yes” or “No.”

What? I am supposed to respond with my voice from this point on? For a moment, I was at a loss for what to do, and then the AI scolded me.

Hello? Is this a new reservation? Please answer “Yes” if you are sure, and “No” if you need to cancel or do something else.

─ ─ Yes. I’m sorry.

“May I make a reservation for a table only?”


Please tell us your preferred date and time, such as “today at 20:00.”

I specify “today at 20:00” and am asked how many people I would like to book, to which I reply “4”.

I replied, “Four people.” “Are you sure that there are four people in your reservation?

I replied, “Yes, that’s correct.

Thank you very much. I will check your seats.

Then, I got an unexpected answer.

“Unfortunately, there are no seats available at the time you requested, but we can arrange a table for 120 minutes from 8:30 p.m. on December XX, for four persons for 120 minutes.

To my surprise, he told me that the table was full, but that he could move it up by 30 minutes. I said yes, and was then asked for my name and phone number. I was then asked for my name and phone number, and if I had anything more to say, I could leave a voice message. I replied, “Nothing in particular.

Your seat has been reserved. We will send you a short message with the details of your reservation. We look forward to seeing you at our restaurant today.

It seems that the reservation has been made. It took about three minutes. I have the impression that the response time is always long because of the lengthy announcements and slow response time of the typical machine voice response, but I had the impression that it was smoother than that.

We interviewed Mr. Hiroki Sakawa, Director of Idea Records Inc. who developed this “AI Assistant Manager (formally known as GATE AI Call).

Our company originally set up a call center specializing in restaurants, and it has been growing while adapting to the evolution of technology in the business since its establishment. The industry originally had a service called IVR (Interactive Voice Response). It is a service where you are asked to select a number you know and press a button to enter the number.

It was technically difficult to use AI to listen to the voice and do that, but in recent years AI technology has evolved to make that possible. The COVID-19 crisis has dawned in earnest, and inbound tourism is booming, so the number of restaurants that have suddenly become busy and are suffering from a shortage of personnel has also been a factor behind the launch of this service.

Many restaurants are facing the problem of having to run their restaurants with a small number of staff, which makes it difficult to answer phone calls, resulting in a decrease in new bookings, he says.

The “AI Assistant Manager” service is a combination of the “GATE” reservation ledger service provided by Idea Records and an AI voice service. The system arranges reservations by analyzing the customer’s voice request and referring to a database. What were the challenges in developing this system?

A human operator can make more detailed adjustments, so the reservation closing rate is higher. We focused on the extent to which we could reproduce the adjustments that a human could make. However, there are things that can be done by AI calls and things that cannot be done, so we have created a branching pattern so that the parts that cannot be done are handled by short mail or by a person.

In terms of what it can’t do, it is difficult to correctly recognize the names of the courses, which have many similar names and the copy changes depending on the gourmet media. The other part that is also difficult at the moment is to correctly recognize combinations such as a coupon for an all-you-can-drink upgrade or a coupon for a discount for one organizer by voice, and to set up the system so that reservations can be made without error.

We are currently working on a way to handle such cases by sending a short e-mail with a URL and having the customer select the appropriate combination using a form.

In addition, when a customer wants to change an existing reservation, such as changing a 30-person reservation to a 20-person reservation or changing the type of hot pot, they are currently handled by short mail to avoid the risk of making a mistake.

As a result, at this time, AI alone can only handle a portion of new reservations, but as the reporter experienced firsthand, it will adjust the time of the reservation. Also, if the restaurant is full on the day of the reservation, an announcement will be made to that effect.

It is likely that AI will be able to handle areas that are currently difficult to handle in the future. However, even at this point, a big advantage for restaurants is that they can reduce the number of calls they have to take.

In our experience as call center staff, about 30% of the calls we receive are new reservations. Surprisingly, there are many calls for directions and forgotten items, and a large percentage of calls are for non-reservation calls, such as changes to reservations and inquiries about courses.

Therefore, we have created a branching pattern and set up a detailed system that allows us to better allocate calls to stores according to their business style, such as what kind of calls are forwarded to stores. For example, a customer who has forgotten something often wants to check with the store immediately, so we can set the store’s phone to ring immediately.

After all, the most annoying thing would be not knowing what the call is about until you pick it up. I get caught on a long call when I’m busy, and it can hold up my time for five or 10 minutes.”

AI Call just started its service in December. Many restaurants were already booked up for the year-end party season, so the closing rate of reservations made through AI Call is still under verification. However, the company has already received comments from restaurants that have introduced the system, saying that they appreciate not having to take every single call to decline new reservations.

AI may become a strong ally for restaurants suffering from labor shortages.

When a customer calls, the AI consults “GATE” from the conversation to check for available seats and make a reservation. If necessary, the call is routed to a store or handled by a contracted call center.

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