Chips and Tablets Don’t Digest

By Samuel Greengard

One of the problems with automation is that it sometimes delivers short-term gains while undermining long-term results and loyalty. Most interactive voice response systems (IVRSs), for example, save companies boatloads of money but annoy consumers. Nobody wants to punch a mishmash of buttons, get caught in an interminable technology loop and wait on hold. Usually, a human could resolve the customer’s issue faster and better.

Yet the march to automation continues unabated. It turns out that a growing array of restaurants are serving up tabletop tablets that allow customers to order food and drinks, play games, post on Facebook, and pay their bills. Chili’s Bar & Grill has already installed about 45,000 tablets in 825-plus company-owned restaurants. Ziosk, the firm that supplies the tablets, claims that it now has the 55,000 tablets in 1,000 stores across 46 states. Olive Garden and others are also testing these systems.

I’m sure the tabletop tablets trim the need for wait staff and reduce labor costs. I’m sure the devices speed processes, drive efficiency and improve order accuracy. And, unlike IVRSs, they may actually improve certain interactions.

But at what cost? Like IVRs, they can easily disassociate customers from the human interaction that makes a good restaurant enjoyable—and brings people back over and over again. While guests are loading up on a side of Facebook to complement their Mushroom-Swiss Burger and fries, the opportunity to offer a warm experience and build a relationship goes poof.

As many businesses, including banks, hotels and some retailers, are now discovering too much automation and too little customer interaction has a downside. You can’t upsell, cross-sell and, more importantly, build a long-term connection.

I’m certainly not advocating a return to yesteryear. The strategic use of information technology—apps, social media and more—can pay significant dividends in the customer service arena. In many cases, bypassing humans for simple matters is a big plus. What’s more, within some industries, such as fast food industry, in which price and speed are everything, tablets seem like a natural fit.

However, CIOs, along with other business and IT leaders, must consider the big picture and retain some semblance of a human element, particularly in high-touch industries where service makes or breaks relationships.

Otherwise, a business is likely to find itself completely out of touch—and starving for customers.

About the Author

Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. To read his previous CIO Insight blog post, “Doing Automation Right,” click here.

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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