SHANGHAI: KFC launched its first restaurant in China in 1987 and, as it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, it plans to build on its innovative use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to further increase convenience for its customers.

That is according to Steven Li, SVP of KFC marketing at Yum China, which has exclusive rights to the fast food chain's activities in the country.

Speaking to Campaign Asia, Li discussed the company's experimentation with face-recognition technology as well as its Du Mi initiative, the first ever AI service robot in the fast food industry in China that has the ability to understand customers' different regional accents and to take orders.

Launched in collaboration with internet firm Baidu and digital agency Trio Isobar, the Du Mi pilot lasted nine months and Li explained that KFC gained plenty of insights from the experience.

"Our digital ecosystem has become very mature and we hope to embrace technology by partnering with tech companies," he said. "It's very difficult. But in the nine months, we accumulated a lot of learning about AI, data, voice recognition…and discarding background noise."

(Further details about how KFC is making use of AI to target China's young consumers are covered in an exclusive WARC report: KFC's hi-tech makeover targets China's millennials.)

Li said that it was too early to say whether Du Mi would be rolled out across KFC's other restaurants – the AI robot was tested at a store in Shanghai – but the company wanted to be the first to try it out.

While more work has to be done, he also expected that machine learning will eventually prove more effective when it comes to serving customers when they place their orders at the counter.

"When you order through a device, it is actually a machine serving you," he said. "A machine will remind you of an unused coupon, predict your orders based on your transaction data, offering better services than a human waiter."

Li added that KFC remains on track with its digital strategy and aims to be seen as a "young brand", a brand strategy which includes content marketing campaigns targeted at young consumers.

"Consumers feel that KFC is a young brand, that we know what future experience is all about," he said.

Data sourced from Campaign Asia; additional content by WARC staff