How a chatbot brings digital customers to heritage kopi chain Killiney

Woon Tien Yuan, director of Killiney Group

When the famed Killiney coffeeshop opened in Singapore more than 100 years ago in 1919, it won over customers with the rich aroma of its coffee and crispy kaya toast that are still mainstays today.

One secret to its success was the expertise of the Hainanese staff who had been making the kopi and stayed on to pass on their skills over the years.

One of these tow chiu, or head of the koptiam, is now immortalised in a chatbot known as Killiney Ah Gong, who serves customers online by answering queries and giving away discounts to its new shops.

Killiney Ah Gong, based on a late tow chiu who had worked at the coffeeshop, now directs customers to its online shop to buy its ready-to-eat merchandise that include instant coffees, capsule pods, bottled kaya, kopi peng ice cream and ready-to-cook laksa pastes.

“While many don’t remember Killiney Ah Gong’s real name,” says Woon Tien Yuan, director of Killiney Group. “But we remember him as someone who made great coffee and made many people happy.” 

The products sold by Killiney Ah Gong are a modern extension of the traditional coffeeshop, enabling the heritage chain to grow beyond the 35 outlets in Singapore as well as those overseas in Malaysia, Australia and the United States.

Today, the Killiney website sells over hundreds of orders online, with the WhatsApp-linked chatbot adding a strong brand story to its transactional capabilities.

Indeed, Killiney Ah Gong is handy not just for answering queries but also helping people take part in lucky draws and introducing new concepts, such as The Killiney Experience in Changi Airport.

The retail store isn’t a coffeeshop, but it offers Killiney merchandise that are a boon to visitors at the airport. 

During one giveaway run by Killiney Ah Gong, lucky customers redeemed instant coffee packs for free and just added water for a quick kopi O before boarding a plane.

Perhaps more importantly, the chatbot started in 2023 has now enabled Killiney to digitally transform at a crucial time in its history. 

Built by homegrown technology firm Move Technologies, the parent firm of Hidden SG, Killiney Ah Gong helps the coffee chain know its customers more deeply. Potentially, it can upsell and cross-sell better with the data it has on hand.

“People may say they know about Killiney – the customer knew us, but we didn’t know the customer,” says Woon.

“Can we tap on technology to know more about our customers?” he adds. “Having this database is very important for upselling products or knowing the preferences of returning customers.”

For example, based on the phone numbers that it receives WhatsApp messages from, the coffeeshop knows the makeup of its customers at the airport. It knows, for example, if customers from some countries prefer a certain product.

With the data it provides, the chatbot is part of a timely modernisation, especially when Singapore F&B outlets are facing a manpower crunch and rising rental costs. 

Just months before the pandemic hit in 2020, Killiney had embarked on e-commerce sales, which proved prescient, given the lockdown and closure of eateries everywhere shortly after.

Now, its chatbot heralds a new era where it caters to customers in whatever channel they are comfortable with. 

Eventually, Killiney expects this chatbot to cater to customers both online and offline, by knowing their preferences intimately. 

By seeing a customer profile seamlessly, the coffee chain hopes to better meet each one’s preferences.

“We have not maxed out everything yet,” said Woon, about the capabilities of Killiney Ah Gong. “We want to bring in more of a brand story and have a personality that reflects our rich heritage.”