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Comment: Technology must never take the place of good service

Advances are benefiting all walks of life, but the power of personal interaction must not be lost, says Digital Drums’ Steve Dunne

Ever since childhood I’ve loved technology. If it is a gadget, I have to have it. I run my life through my smartphone and even my car is classed as “an intelligent car”.

I have seen the impact of artificial intelligence in my own business too, streamlining once arduous, time‑consuming and laborious tasks and making them simple for me to just sign off.

And, in travel too, I have loved the advance of technology. I recently sailed on Princess Cruises’ Regal Princess, a MedallionClass ship where, instead of a key card to one’s cabin that doubles up as an identification card aboard, I was furnished with an OceanMedallion, a device that combines several technology‑driven initiatives aboard the ship.

This piece of Princess Cruises technology showed me customer service on a whole new level, including having a pizza delivered to my sunbed in 15 minutes to save me giving up my valuable space. It was brilliant customer service, driven by fantastic technology.

Yes, there is no doubt about it. I’m living my best life when it comes to technology.

Pizza problem

However, I was reminded recently that technology can be a double-edged sword and that the custodians of customer service, for any brand, must always be front and centre of any technological enhancement to a brand’s offering. The incident that reminded me of this happened in a very well‑known pizza establishment.

I had driven half the length of the country for a business meeting and was pretty exhausted after the drive. I was hungry too, and before hitting my bed in a local hotel I decided to have a pizza.

After entering the restaurant I was shown to my table by a quaintly titled “customer service operative”. But just as I looked for the menu, with the intention of ordering a soft drink to quench my thirst while I perused what was on offer, he pointed to a QR code on the table.

“If you scan your phone over the QR code it will take you straight to our website,” he said. “Then you can select menu and order from there”.

“Can’t I just order with you?” I asked. The answer was a curt no.

Slightly put out by this approach to customer service, but hungry nonetheless, I scanned the QR code as instructed. But I quickly encountered a problem: I had no signal. To add to my troubles my phone wouldn’t recognise the restaurant’s Wi-Fi.

Hunger games

I called the customer service operative over and informed him of my difficulty in accessing the website where I would be able to see the menu – a copy of which, I noticed, he had under his arm.

There then followed lots of rolling of eyes, deep sighs and a critical appraisal of my older-model smartphone.

After 10 minutes of this fruitless exercise in harnessing the power of 21st-century technology, he sighed deeply and said he would need to see his supervisor.

“Can’t you just take the order yourself using that menu under your arm?” I innocently asked. “Well, I’m not supposed to,” was the reply.

Apparently, everything was automated and ordering in any way other than using the technology would slow the process. The fact that being unable to use the technology had already slowed down considerably a very simple process seemed irrelevant to him and the prospect of a loss of a sale as a hungry diner left in frustration also seemed to elude the ‘customer service operative’. My predicament was solved when eventually the manager agreed to take my order “the old-fashioned way”, as she put it.

I’m sure my experience was a one-off and that normally technology gives the restaurant an edge in customer service and efficiency. But it also had me thinking that while technology is brilliant and can enhance the customer experience considerably, it must never take the place of training our people in what good customer service is. In short, it must never be technology for the sake of technology – for that way lies customer dissatisfaction.

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