Animating Self-Service

icecreammachineThe lobby lounge was animated. The Orlando convention hotel’s afternoon “watering hole” was abuzz with people engaged in upbeat conversation and jovial laughter. For a weekday, it seemed the place to be. A grand piano was playing in the corner and the brandy sniffer on top was filled with dollar bills as the piano man took requests and engaged in light banter as he tickled the ivories. The wait staff was busy delivering drinks.

The lobby bar was dead. It was the following weekday afternoon at exactly the same hour. The few people loitering in the lobby lounge were mostly reading, not talking to others. There was no laughter just a quiet collection of individuals. The nearby bar had little action. The same music was being played on the same grand piano. But, instead of a pianist, the “player piano” mode had been engaged. Bottom line, the only difference between the Tuesday setting and Wednesday lounge setting was a pianist.

In the era of self-service and automation, the same phenomenon can occur. The “player piano” mode can create a flat, vanilla setting robbing customers of the spirit of service they enjoy. There are clearly payroll cost reductions, conveniences, and time saving benefits of people-less service. It means we need to be more creative about building high touch back into high tech service. It requires designing people-less service systems with people-centered thinking.

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