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Self-service vs. human connection (commentary)

By Mike Cearley

I spend a lot of time in the Detroit airport nowadays and recently I encountered something interesting and little bit frustrating – a self-serve only kiosk to order your food.

In theory, this is more interesting than frustrating, but when you have three people – employees of the establishment – standing right behind the kiosks and no one else in line to order the food, it tipped the scale to frustrating.

There I was, in a hurry, trying to catch my flight, and within the span of 30 seconds, I could have given my order to one of the employees. And within a couple of minutes, could have gotten my meal and jet-setted off to my plane. Rather, I had to spend a good 1.5-2 minutes going through the kiosk to place my order. Wait another couple of minutes to get it and violà, an experience that should have taken less than five minutes, suddenly took at least five minutes.

I'm all for self-service, interactive ordering and ticketing and the like. But the balance with this sort of technology, out in the real world like this, is how much is takes away from or supplements customer service. That's right: good, old fashioned customer service.

See, I want to take care of my business quickly and efficiently. Technology like this can help. But I also have a need for some sort of human interaction, particularly if it helps me take care of my business more quickly and efficiently. When we replace one with the other, we are shifting the balance of what technology can really do for us. We are deeming it just as good, just as quick, just as efficient – if not more – than what we as humans can provide. This is scary. It's not a complete replacement. It should be a comprehensive supplement.

The voice, the smile, the service. That's something that a Siri-like device can give us now and in the future. It will likely be even more real. But it's not. And it never will be. And that's the point. Human interaction, at our core, is a consistent point of connection and that will never go away. Even when we have more and more technology and kiosks and computers and Siris.

Right now, a complete substitute is just frustrating. In the future, well…I just hope that we can hold on to that human connection.

Mike Cearley is the SVP of Digital Strategy at Fleishman-Hillard.

This commentary originally appeared on the Digital Screenmedia Association website.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Gemma Disney
    I agree, a "complete substitute" is frustrating and shouldn't be what self-service technology is solely for. I can absolutely see the benefits of deploying such solutions though. In an airport environment self-service kiosks are proven to reduce waiting time for passengers, boosts satisfaction and frees up airline employees to spend time with the right customers. And thats just the start! Thanks for the article. www.sentios.co.uk
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