Is Technology Turning Your business Into A Human-powered Vending Machine?

Is Technology Turning Your business Into A Human-powered Vending Machine?
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David Woodbridge (pictured below) is managing consultant for The Labs, a firm which specialises in using human centric experience design to create smarter experiences by connecting people, place and purpose. In this guest post, Woodbridge argues tech may be making things simpler, but it’s definitely far more charmless…

It is safe to say our lives are becoming more and more entrenched with technology designed to make things more efficient. In a world where many believe customer experience is the main competitive advantage for all businesses I find myself pondering the future of human interaction vs technology driven experiences.

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As I left my office – or should I say my hot desk – yesterday, I had a spirited conversation with a colleague about the “legality” of “last call for drinks”.

It was more of a general discussion about his annoyance when bar staff pick and choose whether they want to serve you or not. As we continued to walk, our conversation expanded into the Sydney CBD curfew laws and how a friend of his had been denied re-entry into a bar. The rest of his group remained blissfully unaware that the security staff would not let him back inside, because his ID and phone were in his jacket located in the bar.

The next day on the way to work I popped into a McDonald’s conveniently located near my train station and proceeded to place my breakfast order using one of the new automated screens which now dominate the waiting area. Within a few minutes my order was placed, my bank account debited and a paper receipt printed. As I waited, I observed the two remaining staff members who were operating the tills looking solemn as they tried to offer people the opportunity to place their order with a human.

My order number was called and I had my breakfast passed to me with no eye contact or semblance of a conversation. Efficient yes. Rewarding no.

So, are we turning into a society so obsessed with efficiency that we are creating an economy built around human-powered vending machines?

The alternative could have been a less than satisfactory interaction with a staff member, like my colleague’s bar experiences of late, and a long line of people unsure about what they wanted to order. I am sure I don’t want that experience. Fast forward to Sunday morning and on the odd occasion I make it to our local church, I notice the number of parishioners using their tablet devices to follow the readings is steadily increasing. The following few minutes are filled with our kids complaining “why can they have their device and we can’t have our phones?” But putting the kids’ relentless desire to be online aside, there is no doubt that technology can be a very powerful enabler of convenience in all types of situations.

My colleague continued recalling some colourful anecdotes about the same bar, meanwhile I started to think about the role that technology could play to aid or even take away the need for human decision making in this and other similar situations.

Sharing a “virtually” perceived poor experience

Unfortunately, the result of his perceived poor experience has meant he and his friends are no longer spending money at these businesses. In fact, because of the growth of social media influencing it probably means many of their friends are now sharing a “virtually” perceived poor experience of these businesses. But at no time did the staff do anything wrong. In each of these instances technology could easily “make the call” and could take away the emotion of the situation. Seems straightforward, right?

Well, I am not so sure

As I travelled home on the train, I began thinking about similar interactions from the perspective of how they could become “smarter experiences”. Experiences that are personalised, rewarding, convenient and intuitive, rather than simply automated interactions utilising various types of technology.

Is your business turning into a human-powered vending machine? But is there a need to establish a balance between our desire for technology to make things easier for us and the importance of positive human interactions? At home, I am often reminded that we need to find the right balance for our kids and their use of technology, with reading or playing outside on the trampoline.

Although we did find ourselves at the doctor on the weekend with our son who had a sprained arm from the trampoline. Luckily the doctor could look online and see how many people were waiting in the A&E at all the local hospitals and advise which one to go to for an x-ray.

Ah, technology, you have done it again

I am sure we all have experiences of how technology can make elements of our lives more convenient or personalised. These interactions may even seem intuitive but I don’t believe that these experiences are overly rewarding. I believe that human interaction is where we can feel rewarded. Whether it’s a simple smile, a polite thank you or a meaningful conversation where we share our ideas and thoughts, it is highly unlikely we could ever feel truly rewarded by the interaction, even with the onset of artificial intelligence. I want a world where the security staff can decide to let you re-enter the bar to get your ID and the bar staff can see you have had a terrible day and pour you a glass of your favourite wine because they recognise you.

A world of ‘smarter experiences’

Maybe we should strive for a world of “smarter experiences” where we have the right balance between human understanding and machine based decisionmaking rather than a world of efficient transactions. I do know one thing and that is: I have never had a meaningful interaction with a vending machine. In fact, quite the opposite. Especially when it steals my money and there is no phone number to call to get it back.

 

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