RAIN Launches Free Curbside Pickup Chatbot for Restaurants and Small Businesses

Social distancing is the new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, and curbside delivery is a useful way for people to get food and goods they need while limiting physical interaction. Digital agency RAIN has built a chatbot that makes it easier for small businesses to offer curbside service to customers. Named Curbie the chatbot, connects customers to businesses after they place an order so that there’s no need for them to enter the building to get their purchase.

Arriving at a Distance

Curbie is relatively straightforward for businesses to set up. They register a phone number for the chatbot that customers can text when they arrive, then set up customized responses based on their location and what they want to tell the customers. RAIN has templates for ways to inform customers what they should text, whether its the parking stall they are in or what their car looks like so that the store can locate them when they arrive. RAIN is offering Curbie for free to any business that wants to sign up as a way of helping them without adding to their financial burden.

“We started working on Curbie last year, and it’s something we put a lot of thought into, but with COVID-19 around, we decided to finish it up, RAIN vice president of engineering Jason Herndon told Voicebot in an interview. “Larger businesses already have a mechanism for curbside delivery; this is for small businesses. The goal was to find something really quick and easy for small businesses to get up.”

Many major fast-food chains and restaurant groups such as McDonald’s and Domino’s already offer something similar. The service is usually integrated into their mobile apps along with the actual ordering system. Domino’s has even run commercials about how the app tells the store the name of the person who has arrived. Curbie is more basic, at least for now, but the appeal of this kind of feature was there, even before current circumstances made curbside delivery a vital aspect of commerce.

“We’ve seen an encouraging number of sign-ups just since we launched Curbie a couple of weeks ago. They’re mainly in Seattle and New York City, with a few in Salt Lake City and a few others around the country,” Herndon said. “About 80% of the signups have been restaurants, but 20% are other businesses with the same need.”

Chat to Voice

Chatbots are seeing a resurgence as a result of COVID-19. Healthcare providers and governments are rushing out informational chatbots built with questionnaires to help people determine if they are at risk for the virus. AI-powered chatbots are flexible enough to be useful in other contexts right now. As the pandemic continues, speed and simplicity are the watchwords for services like this, Herndon said. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plans to expand the chatbot system. Curbie is limited to text right now, but it’s designed to be adaptable for voice without too much effort.

“We’re talking to voice platforms to help get it out. We built it using Dialogflow, and the plan is to release it to Alexa and Google Assistant in the future, but SMS is the easiest way to handle it right now,” Herndon said. “[Curbside chatbots] were on their way anyway. Kroger’s is dabbling in it now, and Walmart has a pretty good system. The pandemic has made it, so they are here more quickly.”


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