self service technologies can't replace traditional service

Brands must find a balance between digital experiences and human ones

The words digital and human exist at opposite ends of a spectrum – and until an AI has passed the Turing Test, the two will remain unavoidably divided.  

But just because the mechanics of our systems are different, that doesn’t mean we can’t both be put to use overcoming the same challenges and completing the same, or similar, tasks.

In the last year, technology has been put to use, not replacing humans, but helping them create new efficiencies, leading to greater revenue streams and allowing brands to diversify their businesses. In particular, the 2020-2021 has seen a surge in self-service technologies. More than ever, customers are able and being encouraged to use their own digital devices to engage with the brands they love.

While its benefits are clear, there is a natural level of concern from industry employees and customers about the humanity of hospitality being overtaken, and eventually replaced, by computers. If ordering and payment can now be managed without the need for physical server interaction…if chat bots can be used to answer customer enquires….if burgers can be flipped by robot arms…if balance sheets can be calculated by EPoS…where does it end?

The truth is humans will always be needed by customer-facing businesses. Whether food, hospitality, retail or entertainment; a certain segment of consumers will always prefer a human touch. Plus, there are some elements of customer experience and brand management that technology will never be able to fulfil. For example, computers cannot understand emotion. Wherever and whenever empathy is needed, a human response will always be required.

In a post-pandemic world, choice will be key.

Businesses must find ways of bridging the gap between the digital and the traditional. When it comes to self-service technologies, an option should be given. If a person prefers human contact, that should be made available to them. Guests want to feel in control of their experience. They do not want to be forced down either route and they will choose to engage with brands that give them that freedom or offer the specific experience they’re looking for. Brand management will play an important role in helping customers make these choices; a fast-food chain may be better placed to push a technology agenda and automate customer service because a high level of staff interaction isn’t expected.

Accessibility also needs to be considered. In this high-tech and mobile-led world, it would be easy for certain demographics to be forgotten and left-behind, but it is crucial that this doesn’t happen. Humans will be needed to help guests if ever they struggle or have questions about the technology in play.

If companies can find the right balance between digital and traditional for their brand, then guests will become ever more comfortable deciding on the experience that suits them in that moment. When they select traditional, it will be because they want that extra level of personability and interaction. When they opt for digital, it will be because of the convenience and simplicity it offers. Think about mobile phones. It isn’t that long ago since smart phones were introduced to the mainstream, but already we use them on autopilot – still most households still maintain a landline. A good self-service technology should be easy to learn and master in a matter of minutes. When that’s true, using them regularly will make their functionality second nature.

Having digital technologies available to guests, or offering a traditional, analogue approach to customer service will only ever be mutually exclusive in the rarest of cases. In the coming years it’s going to be about finding a balance that fits the business, the brand and the customers. The role that human staff take will evolve with the growth of digital, but rather than becoming obsolete, the tasks they complete will diversify. If spending less time taking orders, they may, for example spend more time on fulfilment or adding the extra touch of ‘flare’ that takes the customer experience from great to extraordinary.

When you adopt self-service and guest facing technologies through Theravada, we spend time walking you through the onboarding process. That includes advice on adapting your operations so that you can strike the perfect balance and make guests feel comfortable, no matter which route they decide to take.

Contact us today to find out how we can work with you.