Automated Customer Service | The Rise of the Machines?
I watched a TV spot on Saturday morning about a machine that could replace coffee baristas. That's right, CBS This Morning on Saturday had a short feature titled, "Coffee Revolution: can a machine make your java?" and I have to admit, I became curious enough to go learn more about the company, Briggo Coffee Haus and what they're doing. It's exciting, more than a little interesting, and frightening all at once. They've (Briggo) had their 'machine' featured in multiple press and media outlets, and got a nice explanation by Christopher Mims (@mims) of Quartz titled, "An army of robot baristas could mean the end of Starbucks as we know it."
Add this to a small, but growing trend in restaurants to add iPads to tables and booths to minimize human interaction, and you've got to wonder, 'what exactly is the future of customer service and is automation the answer?' Yes, full service restaurants are giving diners an iPad to place and customize orders as well as pay for their meal. Upsell dessert or side dishes? Yes, they've got that covered too. The 'humans' in this model might come out to confirm the order, but more than likely just deliver the meals. Customers love it, restaurant owners love it, and you've got to wonder what career wait staff thinks as they read about it all on their smartphones.
There are three sides to this argument, versus the normal two. On one hand, you've got the business owner or corporation who in addition to providing a service or product to the marketplace, has to watch the balance sheet. On the other hand, you've got the end consumer who wants what the business is offering and is willing to pay for it all. Then, on at least one foot, you've got the employees at said business who are the in-between and largely responsible for setting up and closing the deal, and along the way making the aforementioned customer delighted.
Enter Automated Customer Service as a solution for the business and the customer and as a potential replacement for many of the employees.
You know why I like it as a business owner? Because automated customer service is precision service. More importantly, it's consistent, repeatable service. I get to spend more time interacting with customers and less time inspecting, quizzing, and otherwise micro-managing employees to ensure they get every single customer interaction exactly the way I expect my brand to deliver. Oh yeah, there's no need to worry over ACA, this tax, that tax, or payroll.
You know why I like it as a customer? Because automated customer service doesn't make a mistake unless I input a mistake. Because automated customer service never calls out sick (unless someone cuts off the power and/or internet), never rolls their eyes at my order, never has to go ask someone else if there are tree nuts in my entree or dessert, and automated customer service is always at my table, always ready, and FAST.
You know why else I like it as a customer or business owner? Because in today's hyper connected, social savvy, smartphone wielding universe, the machines, devices and apps aren't taking pictures of my check, making fun of my tip and posting it to the world to see without any context other than their own disgruntled, misgivings. Gone are the days of tacky YOLO inspired walk-outs shared across the social networks of employees. NOTE: I'm a notoriously great tipper in case you're wondering.
But you know why I don't like it as a former waiter and bartender? Because there are real-life skills to be learned in the service industry. Everyone who makes your latte, takes your order at a restaurant, recommends a bottle of wine, mixes your cocktails and otherwise serves as the middle-person between you and the raw materials isn't a hungover, chain-smoking, part-time employee waiting to win the lottery, with a closet full of axes to grind along the way. No, there are some who really care that you are a regular at Mama Mocha's Coffee Emporium or The Clubhouse at the Auburn University Club because their customers share little parts of their day and interact - good, great, and the occasional bad - building a relationship along the way.
And that's what automated customer service can't replace (yet), is the relationship that develops between the brand, the customers and the employees who carry the brand in every single interaction. Online, offline and especially face to face.
Oh yeah, there's even a move to replace retail shopping assistants - what say you Gray Gill?