Customer Self Service

As a customer, I like to be in control.

Our family goes out to eat at least once a week (on weekends, mostly). Many times once we are seated we spend quite a bit of time waiting for our initial drink order to be taken, then for our actual order to be taken, then for the check to be presented, and finally for our payment to be taken by our server. I know, pretty normal scenario — what is there to complain about?

Well, I’m not complaining really, just thinking. How could you enable customers to order for themselves and pay when they are ready to leave? Would putting customers more in control of the things they have to participate in anyway increase their satisfaction with the service?

I’d love to see a restaurant in which you are handed a wireless device with a card swiper as you are seated (or it could even already be at the table). The device can be used to select your drinks, appetizer, and meals which is routed to the serving staff (haven’t figured out the specifics of this one yet) who can then fill the order and bring it to you. Once you have finished your meal, the device can present the charges for you, allow you to swipe your debit and / or credit card and pay for the meal. Absolutely no waiting involved except to have the actual things you order delivered to your table.

Tom the Architect has told me that they have something like this in Vegas. I can’t wait for it to get to the mainstream. As a customer, I like the idea of being able to take care of the things I’m able to take care of without waiting on someone else to act first. I like to be in control — and I’m guessing that most people feel that way. I’m more satisfied when I feel like I’m more in control of the situation.

I think the one area that would have to be worked out is the security of the system. As we were sitting in a restaurant one day, I decided that I would enlighten my wife, Jonna, about these ideas. The first thing she hit me with was the opportunity for credit card fraud (she has the innate ability to point out flaws in the utopian ideas I come up with).

She brought the same thing up a couple of weeks ago when I was complaining about having to wait on someone to come over to the Jewel self-service checkout aisle to press a button to allow us to buy a six pack of beer. I started railing on as to why friction had to be added to the transaction, since the bank that we have the credit/debit card knows how old I am and can verify my age electronically. Jonna brought up that it would be quite easy for kids to take their parents credit cards and just go buy alcohol if age verification was done from the credit card (see, I told you she was good — I didn’t think of that).

Ok, thats a problem. What if in these situations you could get the benefits of “frictionless shopping” if you transacted with your debit card only and kept the PIN away from your kids? Then I could have my “lack of friction” and we could ensure that the kids weren’t off buying Tequila on my identity.

These are just a few things that I think about every now and again when I have to wait around for things that I know technology can solve. I love the idea that we are getting to the point where we can automate the friction out of a lot of the transactions we perform in daily life. Now and again, I’m disappointed that we haven’t removed all of the friction that we could out of the process.

As a customer, I just really like being in control.

4 thoughts on “Customer Self Service

  1. If I was a restaurant owner, I don’t know that I would benefit from focusing too much on “efficiencies” over friendly, helpful, and generally ‘human’ service. While no one likes the typical 40-90 minute wait on Friday and Saturday nights, once you are seated, typically most people are going to want to relax and be waited on (that is why you went out instead of cooking at home, right?). Technology is supposed to enhance our lives and give us more time to do the things we want. Isn’t going out to eat supposed to be a leisure activity, at least most of the time?

    Granted, excessive wait times can be a pain in the ass, especially if you are trying to catch the 8:00 movie. But then, you can always go the the McDonald’s drive-thru.

  2. I think there’s a difference between waiting to be seated and waiting on someone after you’ve already been seated. As long as you know your order has been taken, its more relaxing than sitting there waiting for someone to come and take your order. Conversely, once you are done, you are more than likely done, and want to pay and leave — not wait for someone to deliver the check (then leave), and come back to make a payment.

    I’m not arguing to take out all human interaction, just the innefficient ones. When I’m done, I want to pay and leave, quickly. Thats relaxing. Waiting to be able to leave is just irritating.

  3. Ron – This post made me flash back to the first time I went to Philadelphia with my wife (she was born in Philly). She is fanatical about Wawa (wawa.com), a convenience store in the mid-Atlantic States. The whole flight there I heard “I want a Wawa turkey hoagie”.

    Now, I grew up working at a White Hen (now 7-11s) in Chicago, and nothing excited me about that place. You don’t find me walking around saying “Oh, the deli at White Hen!” Not going to happen.

    Anyway, we walk in and she walks right up to one of two kiosks in front of the deli. The screen asks you to push the screen to select type of sandwich, bread, toppings, etc. Then you hit complete, and you hear it print behind the deli counter. Then, just roam the aisles for drinks and chips/cookies. Next thing you know, your sandwich is ready for pickup.

    I was amazed. I was Wawa’d.

    Someone managed to take the process of ordering a deli sandwich, and utilizing technology removed the part I hate most – getting a number and waiting in line for a system that always seems to break down. The number of times I’ve pulled a number 5 only to look up and see they are on number 172. Yet, I’m the fool who pulled the number, only to realize this is an ‘every man for himself type of deli line’. All for a deli sandwich.

    So, next time you’re in Philly, go get a Wawa hoagie. And while you’re there, stop by the local watering hole and drink a Yuengling lager for me.

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