McDonald’s Raises the Bar by Implementing Voice Search

Jackie Brusch
Publication Date
27 September 2019

McDonald’s Raises the Bar by Implementing Voice Search

“Alexa, help me get a job at McDonald’s,” is now a real request you can pose to Alexa to start the application process. Similarly, “Hey Google, take me to McDonald's Apply Thru,” on Google Assistant will also start the process.

McDonald’s already allows potential hires to apply for jobs by text, via social media, and within messaging apps. To expand on these efforts, McDonald’s created the Made at McDonald’s campaign, created to amplify first-time, part-time, or lifelong career opportunities at McDonald’s. 

This week, the company announced that its campaign now encompasses the use of voice assistants, with the greater goal of reducing employment barriers to 2 million young people by 2025.

In a USA Today article, McDonald’s Executive Vice President and Global Chief People Officer David Fairhurst commented, “I’m focused on ensuring that we’re also harnessing technology to enhance the employment experience of the 1.9 million people around the world who work in our company-owned and franchised restaurants.”

Curious to get an expert’s take on this, I sat down with Erin Abler, Principal Conversational Designer at Mobiquity, to hear her insights on how she thinks McDonald’s use of voice technology will impact the industry, including how other businesses may view this, and what it means for innovation roadmaps in 2020 and beyond. 

Q: How do you perceive voice technology impacting McDonald’s business model in light of this recent news?

Erin: This is a really interesting move for McDonald’s. I think they’re onto something as far as making this a starting point, rather than trying to shoehorn the whole application process into a voice experience. It sort of stands in for a role you might imagine as a point person, someone you know who works at McDonald’s and can help you get over that first hurdle of finding out what kinds of positions are open, how to apply, and the handoff of finding out who to talk to. It’s the friend you know who already works there, or an “in” you have that sets you down the path to getting your application submitted and reviewed. They’re effectively treating the conversational agent as an employee, which is smart.

All of this provides young people with access to job opportunities, without the pressure of having to talk to someone you don’t know over the phone, which we know is something millennials in particular tend to avoid.

Making this experience available on Google Assistant also means that anyone with Assistant on their phone can use it. That level of immediacy makes a lot of sense. You don’t have to make plans to visit a certain location; you don’t even have to visit their website and hunt down the “Careers” section. It’s all right there for you to ask about, or at least to get started. This level of efficiency demonstrates that McDonald’s is interested in making themselves available and accessible to potential candidates on the candidates’ own terms, which I think is especially important for those who engage heavily on social platforms. Job seekers already expect to have a one-on-one relationship with the brands in their lives, and this builds on that expectation. 

Q: How do you see this affecting the greater retail and food service industry? 

Erin: Two things stand out to me here: the practical utility of the technology and the brand perception they gain from pursuing it. McDonald’s, along with a lot of other quick service businesses, pulls a significant contingent of its labor force from a younger-skewing applicant pool. Those in their teens or early 20s will be very familiar with using their phones as a first point of contact for most interactions, so it’s reaching them where they already are. 

But it’s no accident that McDonald’s is making this announcement in the context of moving their business forward technologically. They specifically state that many employees have gone on to careers in IT, entrepreneurship, and other fields. They’re broadcasting a different idea of working with them, which is as a stepping stone on a meaningful career path rather than “just another job.” They’re working to shift the conversation about what it means to apply for a job with them, and that could give them a competitive edge if they find ways to follow it up with employee development programs. Selling that narrative up-front could really bear fruit in the long run if they’re serious about it. More ambitious employees are often committed to improving themselves and building their relationship with the company, which can help shape a  better brand and organization overall.

Q: Do you think we will continue to see other major players announce this type of commitment to technology and innovation in 2020 and beyond?

Erin: I do. Foodservice vendors have seen early adopters, like Domino’s with their investments in chat and voice options, and are realizing they need to answer with their own conversational strategies. One of the best places to deploy a conversational experience is where people are already having conversations. Starting the job application process is one of those spots. 

Like I said, I think it’s smart to use this as a starting point, and then leverage the information capture to narrow down the process of who at McDonald’s should follow up with which leads, and get that conversation moved into the human realm as soon as possible. It takes the arduous filtering process and makes it easier for everyone, moving it to something more personal, much more quickly. 

What’s especially valuable is that McDonald’s found a use case that would push the envelope in the current landscape, while also contributing to their broader omnichannel strategy. I’m always interested when companies make these grand pronouncements about their interest in technology, because at this point what you need to differentiate yourself is not just the association with technology, but an active demonstration that you understand where it really fits into your business. That is, you’re not just doing it to do it; you actually have a strong grasp of the utility of each channel and have developed a strategy for including it in your overall service or engagement model. 

Our special thanks to Erin for contributing to this blog. Do you have additional questions about this skill or other conversation tactics? Feel free to shoot Erin an email, tweet, or message.

About Erin Abler, Principal Conversational Designer

Erin Abler is Principal Conversational Designer at Mobiquity, where she creates voice-first and multimodal experiences for widely-recognized consumer, travel, and healthcare brands. Before joining Mobiquity, Erin served the City of Philadelphia as Lead Content Designer, the first position of its kind in the U.S. She cut her teeth in experience architecture, design research, and content strategy with Razorfish and Allen & Gerritsen, though her writing and editing experience goes back to the early aughts. She enjoys engaging with the wider UX community, having shared presentations with Content Strategy Philly, PhillyCHI, Gilbane's Digital Experience Conference, VOICE Summit, the Code for America Summit, and SXSW Interactive.

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