Automation and Customer Service

Where do we draw the line when it comes to automation?

Last Friday, in the middle of a busy day, I popped out of the office for half an hour to get some much-needed lunch. The first place I came across was a kebab shop. It was empty, with one lone-staff member serving behind the counter.

As I started to place my order, the staff member stopped me, pointed to a kiosk at the side of the store and told me to place my order there instead.

I was confused – why couldn’t she just take my order over the counter? Surely it would be quicker than searching through the various options on the kiosk screen to find my preferred kebab filling and toppings!

She didn’t have an answer, only that orders could only be placed via the kiosk.

I left, disgruntled at the interaction, or rather the lack thereof, and went to the supermarket next door and purchased a ready meal via the self-checkout.

But it got me thinking.

So much in our lives is automated now:

  • Banking can be done via your mobile without needing to leave your house or speak to another person
  • Sending or receiving a parcel can be done via a locker rather than at a shop or parcel depot
  • And of course, the obvious supermarket self-checkouts where one only needs to speak to a human if an unexpected item should appear in the bagging area

There are so many examples of where we have completely removed the need for any human interaction.

Logically, hospitality would be the one place where human interaction is vital for its survival. And yet here we are with places like McDonalds and even the local kebab shop where ordering through an automated kiosk is actively encouraged.

Of course one could argue that this was inevitable and that the Covid-19 pandemic moved us along at a greater speed towards this new automated existence and I do understand that

But given that one of the greatest pains many of us went through during that time was not being able to see others and interact with people as we were used to, why would we continue to embrace this new world where human interaction is rare?

Or is it because we don’t like dealing with strangers and want to limit small talk with those we don’t know?

Now possibly this is slightly hypocritical given I spend quite a fair bit of time talking about the huge benefits of moving to digital receptions, but the difference with our product is it doesn’t remove the human element at all – you still talk to a human, just not one who is physically in the building.

We want to retain the personal. Without it, interactions just feel cold and impersonal. And even if we don’t want lengthy interactions, surely, we can all agree that when it comes to the hospitality sector, speaking to a human enhances the experience rather than detracts from it.

What’s your take on the level of automation that currently exists?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially from those based in the hospitality industry – can we expect more technology-based interactions in the future?

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