By David McNamee, Ph.D. (abd)

Originally Published by BIZCATALYST 360°

The manager of a local eatery got an earful he wasn’t expecting when he stopped by our table to ask what we thought of our dining experience. “Not much,” I said. “Call me a Luddite, but I prefer my customer service experience to be with another person, not a robot.”

Recently, my wife and I visited a restaurant that offers her favorite broccoli-cheese soup. We were greeted at the door by a cheery young man who steered us to their brand new automated order kiosks. “You’ll love the experience!” he chirped. “They are very intuitive and easy to use.”

They weren’t. And when we looked around to see if we could get some help navigating the menu, the cheery young man was nowhere to be found.

Eventually, we managed to figure out how to place an order, concluded the transaction, and went to our seats. It wasn’t until we sat down that I realized I was so focused on navigating the not-so-intuitive menu kiosk, that I had forgotten I wanted one of their delicious triple-chocolate with walnut cookies. Not wanting to repeat my experience with the kiosk, and not wanting to wait in line to talk to an actual person, I passed on the cookie. And therein lies the rub.

Customer service isn’t just about efficiently taking orders. It’s about making a customer feel valued. It’s about listening not only for what they want but also helping them decide between options; even suggesting things they may not have even known they wanted…like triple-chocolate cookies. Bombary Company, a home furnishings retailer I once worked for boiled down customer service to an acronym:

A – Ask how you can serve the customer

L – Listen carefully to their response and do your best to exceed their expectation

 L – Link the customer to other products and services that will enhance their shopping experience

Hey! I get it. This restaurant chain is one of several such businesses that are rolling out automated customer ordering kiosks as a way to help human employees improve customer service and lower labor costs. Such efforts have resulted in a nearly double-digit uptick in customer orders and increased job opportunities as restaurants add food preparation staff to keep up with the increase in orders from kiosks and mobile phones. I love being able to visit a self-service checkout line, scan my one item, pay and leave. But I also love to have a customer service representative hovering nearby when the machine decides it is going to have hiccups. I appreciate if things aren’t too busy, getting to know a bit more about the person serving my needs and returning some of the warmth they are sharing with me. I can’t banter with a menu kiosk and ask if it caught any fish this past weekend.

Leaders and managers need to remember that technology has its limitations. Only someone intimately familiar with the technology would ever make the mistake of asserting that it is completely intuitive. Ultimately technology must serve to enhance, but not replace, the customer service experience.

Judging from what I was able to dig up while researching this article, I may be in the minority on this issue. What do you think?

DAVID McNamee, Ph.D. (abd) is Producer and Host of “Leadership Moments” a radio show/podcast and President of Foundations For Leaders, an executive coaching and leadership development practice based in Portland, Oregon. David is an experienced business owner, university administrator, professor, C-Level executive, and U.S. Air Force veteran.