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When Devices Replace People

A Greek, a Pom and an Aussie go into a bar for a drink. No, not a bad joke. This is an annual meeting of three technology business owners for a Christmas beer and a meal.

I was late and the seats had been found so I am guessing we had some human intervention to locate our table. After that the technology replaced the role of human wait staff and what an improvement that was.

A sign on the table showed a QR code which directed us to a website where we could look at the menus on our devices and order online. Perfect, no trying to remember everyone’s order, no queuing at the bar, no credit card held behind the bar to open an account and no chance of being charged for stuff we didn’t order.

IOT is fast replacing people in many industries and hospitality is a very visible one for many of us. We need to ask questions though.


What are the implications – good and bad –  for customers and businesses?

Let’s start with my bar example. It wasn’t exactly a fine dining experience –  more like fancy pub affair but what if one of our party had a food allergy? Who was available to ask which meals were safe? What if I we wanted to ask advice on matching wines or if we wanted our entrees served with the mains? What about exchanging the smashed avocado with salad. Could we slightly tailor our experience?  For us on that day and in that establishment the short answer was no! If I wanted to pay in cash this was not an option and the inevitable technology glitch also appeared with the QR code being unrecognised on one of our phones. Very inconvenient if he was solo dining. It seems the major improvements for the customer is the speed and ease of the transactions at the expense of individual service and flexibility.

So what about from the Business point of view?

A reduction in the largest expense for many businesses and a win straight to the balance sheet- less staff! There is also a very valuable source of data re customer behaviour  as the transactions are being recorded immediately and can be analysed at will. Payments are guaranteed as the customer pays at the time of order and no one leaves without paying either.

So is there a Down Side at all for a Business?

As it turns out the answer is YES. Several in fact. Have you ever noticed front of house staff recommending a certain dish today? Well that’s likely because they have a lot of ‘the dish’ to move today as they may have bought bulk at a good price and preparing a lot of one style of meal is more efficient. Have you ever had those same staff recommending a particular wine? Or suggesting the chefs soufflé is outstanding but you need to order it now as it takes some time to prepare?

Alcohol and dessert are typically high margin items and if there are no staff around to recommend them there’s a likelihood that you won’t go back online later to order and pay. Sales go down as a result which is not an outcome any business wants to encourage. And then,  what about the tip?  When we pay in advance we don’t tip (What for? We didn’t receive any personal service) so any remaining front of house staff may not put in that little bit of extra service.

A survey popped up on my phone to ask me to rate my dining experience. I swiftly deleted it. Not because the experience was poor but just because it was an annoyance.

The Value of Great Customer Service

If you are implementing IOT technology in your business I can guarantee that you are looking at reducing costs, increasing safety, reinforcing standards compliance and reducing liability. All worthy goals. I would simply urge you to look at the customer experience very, very carefully and talk to us first. After 20 years implementing technology solutions we know our stuff.


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