Perspectives: In Tech We Trust—Until We Don’t

Most readers of this magazine remember life before technology—before iPhones, laptops and the internet. We carried cash and wrote checks instead of swiping a card. We listened to music on the radio or played records on the stereo. No one had ever heard of Google and robots were only in the movies. Sometimes I wonder how we survived.

But as vital as technology is in all sectors of our world today, it’s important to retain a human touch, especially where customer service is involved.

A case in point: Eric Ekstrand, MAS, of HALO Branded Solutions; Steven Meyer, MAS, of RiteLine, both former PPAI board chairs, and I were at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., in May, getting ready to head home following PPAI’s Legislative Education and Action Day. We had about an hour before our flights departed, so we slipped into a sit-down restaurant for a quick dinner.

At each place setting was a small touchscreen—it replaced the waiter. In an ideal world, the diner would tap the screen, pull up the menu, select a burger or whatever, tap to go to the cart, pay and then go back to dinner conversation. Technology is wonderful—when it works. But not in this case.

After several taps and misstarts, Steven and I finally managed to order and pay for our dinner using the device—even though the system added an automatic 18 percent tip for the privilege of dining at this restaurant. But Eric’s device was inoperable. It only displayed part of the menu, would not allow him to select the items he wanted and kept restarting. We all tried to troubleshoot the problem without success. Flagging down a human being at the restaurant to help him was useless. There were only a couple of food delivery people who buzzed by tables dropping plates of food in front of people. Finally, after repeated attempts and much frustration, Eric got the device to take his order and credit card.

We knew this was not the way it should go. Technology should make life easier and more streamlined for people, not cause them stress and grief. All the man wanted was a salad!

Finally, our food was delivered, but Eric’s salad was missing the dressing. More attempts to flag down a human finally resulted in a promise to bring the omitted dressing. Minutes ticked by as Steven and I dug into our dinner—and Eric waited not so patiently.

Being steeped in providing assistance to PPAI members regardless of the need or situation, I stood up, walked back to the kitchen door and retrieved the plastic portion cup of dressing.

I’m certain this was not the dining experience the owners of this establishment wanted their customers to have. Likely, the self-order devices were supposed to make it fast and easy to grab a quick bite on the way to one’s gate, but that was not our experience. How nice it would have been for a person to have stopped by the table to see how the food tasted and to check if we needed anything else. Then that automatic 18 percent tip would have been earned.

I’m all for technology—shopping and banking online, apps, fitness trackers, smart-home devices, bring it on—but it needs to be intuitive and easy to operate. When it doesn’t work as intended, people need a trained human being who can step in and solve the problem.

Your customers will remember the experience of working with you. Make it a positive one.


Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.

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