Can Technology Provide Better Customer Service Than Humans?

When I sat down to grab a bite before a flight, my table was complete with an iPad and credit card scanner.  

Cool.  

Being a service geek, thoughts of how good this would be raced through my mind.  I will select what I want from the menu on the iPad, the order will go to the kitchen without mistakes, somehow come back to me and I would pay when ready then catch my flight on time.  

The future is here!

AlmosT, But Not Exactly

Well, even though it didn’t work that way and there were some glitches, I questioned if this was the future.  

I wanted the veggie sandwich without cheese and there was no option for variations on the menu so I had to ask the waitress or whatever she was.  There were other executional issues that I thought could easily be worked out but I still questioned if this was better.

So, I asked my 18 year old daughter who is pretty pragmatic and of the next generation who would easily accept ordering food electronically.  

Did she think that this was the way of the future?

She replied yes - except for service in better restaurants.

When I asked her why she said because you’d be missing out on the experience.  

How Human Interaction Adds to the "Experience"

Hmmmm.  I thought to myself, “what experience does the waiter or waitress bring to a nice dinner?”

It got me thinking of the better restaurant experiences I’ve had and I was hard pressed to come up with many.  

A good waiter or waitress would be able to recommend a type of dish but then, so could an iPad with a good program.  

What else?  

Good service would make sure my food and order was satisfactory but that could also be done through a text to the kitchen.  “Hey chef, this veggie sandwich has cheese and I ordered it without!”

There must be something more that a service brings to the table or why would my daughter say that?

Is it the human connection?

Would a nice dinner be less special if it was just about the food and company?  Is it special because someone is “serving” us?  If that’s at the heart of a special dinner, then that puts some pressure on that service person to make it…"special".

Otherwise, the iPad wins!

What Makes It Qualify as GOOD Customer Service?

So let’s dissect what  good server brings to our dining experience.  

On my trip (which started with the airport sandwich) I dined out for the 3 nites I was in North Carolina.  

My family went to a variety of restaurants none of which were very upscale but all had waiters or waitresses so my iPad experience was at the top of my mind.  

While out for our first dinner, the waitress couldn’t have been friendlier or more passionate about the menu.  She helped us decide on some of the dishes.  When we had trouble deciding on what dessert to share she gave us 2 (one of them was on her!).  

Could all of this been done electronically?  

Easily.

It's the Connection That Matters

But, in trying to be objective, I truly believe the waitress added to the experience and connected with all of us.  

I guess the question is “what if she didn’t provide that experience?” Or worse, what if she provided poor service making the experience worse?  

Not to over analyze this but I think technology poses some interesting questions about our future in many businesses.  

When it comes to the service industry, I think the issues are the same in that you have to be good.

You have to provide that “experience” that customers are looking for or be the victim of an iPad, or your closest competitor!

Your Thoughts

Do you feel that technology can replace human interaction?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.