A Diet Coke. That’s all I needed, a large Diet Coke. I walked up to the counter at my local McDonald’s and after a long pause, a manager walked towards me from the back. As I smiled at her and started to say, “Just a large Diet Coke, please. I have my own cup.” (I purchased a 32oz reusable cup and straw to reduce waste a few months ago and it’s been AWESOME!) she walked around the counter and motioned me towards the self-service kiosks. I looked at her, confused. She began to push the necessary buttons to ring in my Diet Coke and pleasantly said, “You can order your Diet Coke for yourself here.” I looked at her, still confused. I smiled and said, “Thanks, but it always takes me so long to find the Diet Coke in the list of options. That’s why I always order at the counter.” Her very pleasant answer back was, “Well, we have to push the same number of buttons at the counter that you have to here and you can avoid the line at the register.” I look around. There was one other person in the entire restaurant (it was 6:30am, please don’t judge me.). As a consultant and a naturally inquisitive person, this response led me to 1,000 questions. “But there is no one in line, so why not just ring me up at the register?” “Why would you walk me over here, only to have to use the same buttons as you would have behind the counter?” “Does your corporate office track how many people use the kiosks as opposed to how many are rung in at the register?” You get the idea. Her continued very pleasant answer was that the kiosks are more convenient for customers as they no longer need to wait in line at the register.
The obvious thing here is that having to navigate their POS system isn’t more convenient for me. Needing to understand their technology and take care of this on my own does not benefit me, the customer. It’s an inconvenience. I wish I could say that this was a one-time incident. That this one manager simply didn’t get it. However, it has been my experience at McDonald’s, at gas stations and at large box stores that I am repeatedly directed to technology to take care of my own orders. While I certainly understand the business desire to create faster and “more convenient” ways for people to purchase their items, my concern becomes around the loss of critical thinking and empathy that often occurs when new technology is introduced. The customer service experience is replaced with the customer metric. “Number of seconds the customer waited for the Diet Coke” becomes more important than “How valued, appreciated and welcomed does the customer feel when interacting with our company?” With the rapid advancements in technology, artificial intelligence (AI), predictive learning and the Internet of Things, it’s easy to get swept up in all the things that technology “can” do. The real test of our leaders will be using critical thinking skills regarding what technology “should” do. Should technology replace human interaction with our customers? Should we require our customers to understand how to navigate our technology? Should we place speed of service over the customer experience? (Though one could argue that an employee who uses that technology every day would be faster at locating the Diet Coke button than a person who only uses it a few times a month.)
We all know that technology is drastically changing the world that we live in, and that the pace of change is accelerating daily. However, now is a more crucial time than ever for our leaders to think critically and thoughtfully about the full impact technology has on our businesses, our employees and our customers. Leaders must shift from, “We can, so we should.” to “We can, but should we?” Technological advancements will undoubtably be meaningful, impactful and game changing in our businesses. However, it is our job as leaders to ensure that technology adds value to all those that interact with it, especially our customers.
Lindsey Weigle, Partner