When Is Shake Shack Open? Ask the Bot


Shake Shack is tapping into a chatbot to solve the pesky problem of digital customer service.

The brand partnered with chatbot maker Conversable, the firm that has empowered Wingstop and Domino’s to create bots that can fulfill orders and answer basic questions. At Shake Shack, they opted not to pursue commerce, but create a solution that helped customers get common questions answered via chatbot, and help them get to a customer-service representative for questions that need human attention.

Abbey Reider, the director of digital marketing and guest experience at Shake Shack, said it was something that pushed both of her roles into the digital realm.

“This is the prefect blend of both of my worlds, it takes the focus on community and engagement and hospitality,” said Reider. “This is really our digital hospitality moment where we’re using the chatbot to better engage with our guest on online to get them answers to commonly asked questions.”

Instead of answering the phone or emails for questions like, “When are you open?” or, “Where is your store?” the chatbot can do the work. Seasonal lemonade had been an especially frequent question, and one that wasn’t easily found elsewhere. Now a customer can just type “seasonal lemonade” and the chatbot will mention the brand’s strawberry mint lemonade and where it’s available.

Ben Lamm, founder and CEO of Conversable, said the Shake Shack use of the chatbot was a great way to cover the most important questions, but also keep the brand voice intact.

“We love this product experience because they marry the two so well, they give people what they want but they’re doing it the Shake Shack way,” said Lamm. “Getting the voice right was the biggest part of the whole experience. The tech is really there, so it’s not a lot of technical work but building the tone and the voice and getting it right takes time.”

Reider said the number of questions crept significantly during internal tests where everyone in the organization came up with questions and helped test the chatbot.

“We had number of ideas about the various of questions to ask. We started with 75 questions, we netted out with over 300 today,” said Reider.

That kind of feature creep is immense, but Lamm said the was created to be added to.

“This is a completely additive model, as people use it, we’ll all learn more. Given that its completely additive, were able to build,” said Lamm.

While there could have been 3,000 questions covering every possible query about Shake Shack, that’s not what the chatbot is for. It’s for helping people find what they need fast. It links customers to nutrition information, to maps, to local menus and kicks people to a human helper when necessary. Lamm said it should be an example project for other brands looking into chatbots for two reasons.

“There are two big things: don’t try to boil the ocean, a lot of people we see are trying to do that. We try to get brands to focus on how to build out an experience that is dedicated to your customers, and the second thing is really understand the guest experience,” said Lamm.

To do the latter, Shake Shack gave the chatbot a little personality and a handful of emojis, what everyone expects to find when customers open up their Facebook Messenger or Twitter apps. Finding that balance took three months of work and input from across the organization.

Neither Reider or Lamm said how much it could save on customer-service labor, but at the home office, the most meaningful part of the chatbot is the data. The data the chatbot gathers guides the brand just like a survey. By measuring question content and volume, Shake Shack is able to see how important things like gluten or dairy free products are. If users keep asking if Shake Shack is open in a certain location after hours, the brand may opt to stay open later. It’s helping to understand the consumer without putting a scorecard in their hand. 

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