Innovative Technology vs The Personal Touch: What Do Customers Want?

Pizza Hut and Chaotic Moon Studios just released a video of a new table that eliminates waiters by letting patrons order through a touchscreen, pay with their smartphones, and play games while they wait. Overall it’s a pretty cool concept, and limits your human interaction to the brief seconds when the waitress delivers the pizza, and maybe brings a to-go box.

Question: when was the last time you ate at a Pizza Hut? I’m not talking about when you had it delivered during the Super Bowl or picked it up on the way home from work. When was the last time you sat down and ate there? Pizza Hut has built its franchise model around delivery and carry out, even changing the structure of its stores take the focus away from dining in. This table is a cute little novelty gadget, but wouldn’t have much value or use on a large scale.

Despite my bone to pick with the economics of the table (maybe the short term cost would outweigh the long-term benefits of cutting back on wait staff needs?) technology is seeping deeper into service industries and reducing our need for human contact.

Tablets as Far as the Eye Can See

IPads and other tablets are now commonplace in doctor’s offices and restaurants. Instead of waiting on a receptionist, patients can check in and fill out any paperwork on the tablet. Chili’s has decided to add tablets to the tables at its 1,266 restaurants to make the ordering and payment processes easier.

The success of incorporating technology into the service industry relies on the tablet (or table top) actually working, and people actually using it. The iPads at Chili’s tend to sit neglected on the table while the waiter continues with his or her regular duties. For the most part, they’re large paperweights that take up space on the table. Even though corporate made a decision that all tables will have an iPad, customers haven’t necessarily started using and adopting them.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves by replacing waiters and waitresses with SmartTables, let’s take a few steps back and consider the self-service check out.

I Support Self-Service Check-Out

The self-service check out was considered the future. It was supposed to be used if you only had a few items and wanted to get in and out in record time. There would be no more forced-polite conversation with the check-out girl while she examined your food and counted out your change by hand. For the most part, these machines worked well, except when someone with a full cart tried to use them, or someone tried to buy alcohol and an employee needed to check their ID.

Self-service check-outs have become a coin flip. Their use and convenience depend on the store and the current line to use them. The future has started to fade into the past, as more and more grocery store owners are pulling these machines and returning to traditional express lines. Managers of Wal-Mart, Albertsons, and Winn-Dixie all argue that customers want the personal touch and the high level of customer service that comes with traditional check-out lines. Technology just made the traditional grocery process more cold.

Which Do You Choose?

Many have said that the future of America’s economy will rely on service jobs. As technology eliminates the need for the human touch, customer service will become invaluable.

Will ordering and paying through tablets become normal for restaurant goers? Or, like the self-service check-out and 3D TV, will this just be a fad associated with the era?

One thing is for sure, we won’t be hanging out at Pizza Hut and ordering off of massive table computers anytime soon.