Recently I observed a hair salon employee rejecting a customer’s minor request for his son to get his haircut first, solely because he had made his appointment online, and she was unable to override ‘Corporate Policy’ (as dictated by the technology).
My point was that while technology is often designed to enhance the user experience (and this chain’s reservation system is actually very good), we cannot ignore the value of personal interaction and judgment.
Since then I’ve experienced 2 more man vs. tech situations – one of which was negative, the other positive.
Case 1: Schlotzsky’s Deli, Denver Airport. Schlotzsky’s makes a fine sandwich, and has apparently long used kiosks, presumably to speed the ordering process. (According to Schlotzsky’s, these were first introduced in tech-savvy Austin TX in 2002 to improve the customer experience! Of course.)
I suspect the real reason is that since sandwiches are pretty modular, it lends itself to a automated selection approach, credit card payment, limited human interaction and most importantly, reduction in personnel cost.
The kiosks are fine, but an airport is a unique situation – – customers are by definition not locals, so the kiosk requires some instant learning. And the lack of interaction with a human (their only role is to hand you the food) somehow depersonalizes an eating experience, which somehow makes it seem more like a vending machine and less like a temporary respite from the typically solitary travel experience.
The biggest issue is that despite all of the technology, my food preparation speed was glacial (I had to yell to the kitchen to start my sandwich), and for me there was absolutely no benefit to the kiosk. The only employees visible had an expression of detached ennui. Not a great experience.
Case 2: O’Hare Parking. I’ve used O’Hare for years and they have just recently un-manned the parking booths – no more attendants taking your money. In their stead is an automatic card reader (takes both your parking ticket as well as your credit card).
Now THIS is technology working for us! In the past, the attendants were extremely slow, even though (maybe because) they were processing tons of mind-numbingly similar transactions that required zero judgment.
Now, you zip the ticket in, zip your card in, and you’re on your way. The computer never gets bored or sullen.
Technology is helping facilitate a multitude of transactions that we make every day. We just need to remember that when it comes to optimizing the human experience, technology can be amazing, but for some things there’s no substitute for the human touch.
Hopefully there’s an opportunity for the former parking attendants at a nearby Schlotzsky’s.