Moe's Voice Interaction

An exploratory research project that investigated opportunities for implementing voice interaction experiences for Moe's restaurants.

Objective

Exploring applications of voice

For this project, Focus Brands tasked us with looking into applications of voice interaction technology for Moe’s restaurants and how it could fit into their brand. 

Our goal was to research the capabilities, use cases, and potential for voice in the restaurant context and to design and evaluate a possible implementation.

Project Roles | 

Research & Design Collaborative

Research Lead (me):

Conducted observations, reviewed background literature, constructed surveys, initiated  and directed pivot, wrote script for Burrito Quest, conducted feedback and user testing sessions, analyzed data, presented research results

Design & research support (Kelsie Belan, Suyash Thakare, Bang Tran)

Project Outcome 

Our research showed that although customers do not feel that voice ordering is easy and efficient enough to be worth using, there are other uses for voice technology that can effectively entertain users while engaging them with the Moe’s brand. 

BackgroundExploring the possibilities and potential of voice interaction 

“Voice interaction is a novel and increasingly popular technology, and Moe’s Southwest Grill wants to determine whether or not the technology will be a good fit for its brand.”
— Focus Brands Representative

From the beginning, we knew this was going to be an exploratory project. Our sponsors had little idea of how they might want to implement voice interaction or even possible directions to go in. The open-ended format of this project was slightly daunting. How would we tackle such a broad prompt? Where would we even begin?

 

But it was also exciting. Within this problem space we had the opportunity to really embrace its exploratory nature and examine the aspects of the Moe’s experience, the potential of voice technology, and all the possible ways in which the two could intersect. 

Phase 1 | Characterizing the Moe's experience, voice interaction, and their users

Given the wide scope of this project, it was essential for us to familiarize ourselves with the way people perceive and interact with the Moe's brand and voice technology to pinpoint design opportunities.

Moe's Restaurant Observations

Why: To experience Moe's restaurants first-hand and identify the features and interactions that were valued by both the customers and the brand.

How: Conducted three observations at Moe’s restaurants noting features, brand representation and customer experiences.

Desk research: Moe's brand and voice technology

Why: To illustrate the Moe's brand and how it conveys its image through online and offline experiences; to gain a deeper understanding of the capabilities and uses of voice interaction technology.

How:  Studied Moe’s branding and franchising resources to learn more about its personality; evaluated Moe's app and website to understand more about the technology it was already using; reviewed literature on voice technology's recent developments, functionalities, and user experiences.

Moe's Customer Surveys (n = 25)

Why: To gather data on customers' experiences with Moe's restaurants and voice interaction as well as explore the prospect of voice ordering since this was the most apparent intersection food and voice. 

How: Electronic surveys asking about experiences and preferences with Moe's, how and why people used digital food ordering, and usage and perceptions of voice interaction technology.

Our exploratory research ultimately led us to some concrete conclusions about how Moe's portrays itself, how its customers engage with the restaurant, and ways in which voice is (and isn't) used and why.

  • The Moe's brand pushes boundaries and doesn't take itself too seriously. Features like funky artwork, rock music, and unique contests and promotions convey its fun-loving, edgy, laid-back vibe.
     

  • Voice technology is often used for simple commands, ordering, and entertainment. Although people like the convenience of it, they're still getting used to the concept. Nonetheless, more and more companies are using voice to promote their brands.
     

  • Moe's customers like the atmosphere of the restaurants and the ability to efficiently customize their orders. But they especially love earning rewards and coupons.
     

  • Digital food ordering was typically used for convenience, speed, and limited human interaction. However most respondents indicated that they would prefer to order food with a screen rather than voice.
     

  • No one used voice to order food and expressed little interest in doing so.

Analysis of voice applications

Why: To better understand the process of voice food ordering, its strengths and weaknesses, and ways we could leverage different features in voice interaction for Moe’s.

How:  Conducted task analyses of voice ordering apps and skills including Domino’s, Wingstop, and Starbucks; evaluated Alexa smart speaker skills including The Magic Door, Jeopardy, and Thunderstorm Sounds, which were the top apps outside of smart home integrations

Voice interaction

can be

very simple or very complex. Customization must be balanced with simplicity.

The interaction does not have to be disembodied, but can be grounded

with visuals.

Chunking information can  help users understand, respond, and navigate effectively.

Explaining essential features at start-up can help users be aware of functions

and interact appropriately.

Familiar sounds and phrases

can help enhance the experience by anchoring the user in the context.

Voice interaction can be enjoyable, entertaining, and interactive in innovative ways beyond voice assistants.

Phase 2 | Pivoting and Iterating on Research Design

Our research indicated that people weren't receptive to voice ordering.

While people liked voice interaction when it was quick, convenient, and reliable,

voice ordering proved to be anything but.

Although we had sufficient data to create an evidence-based design for a Moe's voice ordering application, our research clearly showed that the technology to do so just wasn't capable of affording these more complex interactions.

We realized that we had limited our opportunities by trying to fit the Moe’s voice experience into an application that people simply weren’t using. Ultimately people use Moe’s to order and eat food, which narrowed the potential for voice integration. However the uses of voice technology are almost limitless, so we needed to learn what people already find useful and enjoyable about voice, and then shape those features to Moe’s for possibilities beyond the expected.

Moe’s
Ordering food and eating it
Voice
Entertainment, lifestyle, humor, productivity...

Fitting Moe’s into Voice limited the scope of possible applications.

Fitting Voice to Moe’s yields

more innovative applications.

Voice
... Ordering food?
Moe’s
... Endless possibilities!

Using a Jobs To Be Done approach, we squeezed in one more research activity to help inform our new direction and suggest opportunities for fitting the any of the many uses of voice technology into the Moe's experience.

Follow-Up Survey (n = 90)

Why: To identify what jobs people "hired" voice for, why, and in what contexts they did so and inform possible applications of voice for Moe's.

How:  Digital survey asking participants what purposes and circumstances they used voice for and why, and what they found most useful and enjoyable about their interactions. 

We realized that there was an opportunity to create a novel experience to engage Moe's customers within a space for

leisurely entertainment rather than on-the-go function .

Our survey revealed not only the multitude of ways in which people used voice technology, but how these uses were influenced by the setting and situation. People's usage of voice depended on context and circumstances. When not seeking assistance and hands-free functionality, voice was used in innovative and entertaining ways.

Used for practical assistance when voice was more more convenient than completing a task themselves. Used in cars primarily for hands-free functionality like texting or GPS.

Voice also used voice for entertainment like music, games, and jokes. These were commonly used in the home where there was generally a

wider variety of interactions

Phase 3 | Concept Ideation 

We took advantage of the concept ideation phase to generate uses of different voice capabilities within the Moe's brand and learn what worked with users.

With a better understanding of how, why, and when people used voice and the, we moved forward with the ideation of several concepts before settling on three to sketch and evaluate. Two would be in the realm of entertainment while the third would test whether voice ordering would be more effective with a visual interface.

A.

Moe's Trivia

voice-interactive game 
with weekly trivia on Musicians, Outlaws, and Entertainers

B.

Burrito Quest

An interactive story about a
cowboy searching for the legendary “Golden Burrito"

C.

Multi-Modal Ordering

An ordering application that
can be used with both voice
and a touch-screen

Feedback Sessions (n = 4)

We ran the sessions by first introducing each concept and then either walking them through a storyboard (for multi-modal voice ordering) or reading through an interactive script with the participant (for Moe’s Trivia and Burrito Quest). 

Following each demonstration, we asked questions about their impressions, likes and dislikes, and recommended changes. At the end of each session, we asked them to rank the three concepts.

Concept feedback session using interactive script. Photo used with participant's permission.

Feedback Session Results

By the end of our testing it was clear that when pairing voice with Moe's using it for entertainment triumphed over using it for function. Participants had fun engaging with games and earning rewards while voice ordering overcomplicated a simple process.

1.

Burrito Quest

Had fun interacting with script.

Liked having different paths

and mini games.

2.

Moe's Trivia

Liked playing trivia

to earn rewards.

Found ranking system confusing.

C.

Multi-Modal Ordering

Liked visual simulation of "going down the line" to order.

Complicated and unnecessary.

Phase 3 | How do you prototype and test a voice interface?

Although both Moe’s Trivia and Burrito quest were both highly rated, we moved forward with Burrito Quest because interactive storytelling is a newer application of voice technology with more possibilities than trivia. We wanted to explore a new territory that would benefit more from our research efforts.

Prototype Design

We had to carefully consider how to build a prototype that would allow testers to fully experience interacting with a voice interface and choosing the path of the narrative. 

Our solution was a script that provided options, but ultimately led to the same outcomes, creating the illusion of choice. 

I outlined the structure of our story and then wrote a complete script. Our team members then recorded lines of the script, each of which were placed into slides in a Keynote presentation. The Keynote format enabled us to play the appropriate sound clips that corresponded with the participant’s choices 

Prototype Evaluation

To evaluate our prototype, we mapped recordings in a Keynote presentation and took a Wizard of Oz approach that

simulated interaction with a smart speaker.

To imitate interaction with a smart speaker, we had the participant speak to a small external speaker that connected to a laptop where the Keynote presentation prototype was controlled by a team member acting as the “Wizard.” 

We used a Keynote presentation to prototype the interaction with Burrito Quest where recordings for optional paths were placed on each slide.

We conducted two sets of evaluations. The first session provided general feedback on the concept, its features, and its presentation in the prototype. We used the results of the first session to refine our research questions and gather data on specific issues that were raised. After running through the prototype, we asked participants about their general impressions, preferences, understanding, and engagement, as well as their thoughts on some of the features like mini games and reward points.

Evaluation sessions with Wizard of Oz set-up using external speaker and Keynote prototype. Photos used with participants' permission.

Evaluation Session 1 Takeaways (n = 4)

Successes

 

  • Understood flow of story and input required to proceed at each step

  • Liked storyline, voice acting, sound effects; lots of laughter and smiling throughout

  • Enjoyed playing the shootout mini game and the variety it added

  • Overall participants found it to be fun and engaging

Questions

  • Participants confused about how points were earned and what they meant
    What is the best way to explain Moe's Rewards and how they were earned?

  • Some participants thought there was too much narration, others did not mind it.
    Is the length of narration a matter of usability or a matter of preference?

  • Some suggested including a visual component to improve their engagement.
    What visual could enhance the experience and would people find it useful?

Evaluation Session 2 Takeaways (n = 5)

In our second evaluation we aimed to answer questions that came out of our previous session. We asked participants specifically about their preferences for narration versus interaction and also provided a handout with a story map and information about Moe's rewards, to help us evaluate the value of a visual and whether it would help people understand the points system better.

  • The length of narration was a matter of preference where some really enjoyed the storytelling more than others

  • Participants still had difficulty understanding the points system, despite the written description on the handout

  • People enjoyed the visual component, though some found it more useful than others

  • Gameplay should be more flexible and less linear, allowing people to return to and try out other locations and routes

Handout provided to participants with story map and explanation of reward points system. Designed and illustrated by the amazing Bang Tran.

In Conclusion

This project was a challenge in exploring the possibilities of a novel technology within a novel context. At first it was hard to think outside the most obvious solution, but by listening to what users really liked (and didn't like) we were able to take a more creative approach that was very well received by our industry partners at Focus Brands. 

Future iterations should explore how to accommodate users who prefer more interaction over storytelling, without sacrificing elements of the narrative that others really enjoyed. It will also need to test out how to best allocate the task of explaining the points system to users. Perhaps the system could provide a thorough explanation on the first play, with the option of repeating it on subsequent plays or viewing instructions on the Moe's website. 

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