I love automation. I believe it improves manufacturing processes and quality of life. That being said, there are plenty of flawed automated systems out there. Kneaders is wonderful, and I didn’t write this article to slam them at all, but to make a point. So may I present, a bad experience with automation:
I pulled up to Kneaders, texted the number on their curbside pickup sign, and got an immediate response asking what name the order was under. When I responded with my name, another automated text asked me the make, model, and color of my vehicle. I provided that info and the next response was immediate: “Thanks! Your order will be out shortly.” Easy peasy. Gotta love automated systems. Why would you waste a human’s time texting me back asking these questions when you know the questions will be the same every time?
It was a few minutes before 9, and my pickup window was 9-9:15, so I just sat back in my truck, threw on a podcast, and waited for my order to be brought out to me. I consider myself a fairly patient person (and I was looking haggard as all get out having just rolled out of bed), so I gave them until 9:20 before I summoned all of my courage and walked into Kneaders to ask about my order. Sure enough, it was just sitting there behind the counter waiting for me to come and get it. When I asked the employee who was helping me if she knew it was a pickup order or had received any notification that I had arrived, she said no and apologized. But it wasn’t her fault. The automation had failed to notify her I was there, so how was she supposed to know? Apparently, I had had a conversation with a robot, and the robot did nothing but tell me what I wanted to hear. The automation failed to do its job.
Room for Improvement
For some, the response to this and other automated system failures has been a grumbled “a human would never have done this.” While that’s often true, I’d argue that often the point of automation is exactly that: to do something a human could never do (or doesn’t want to do!). Our bad experiences with automation are not reasons to write off automation as ineffective or even an evil job killer. Every failed operation by automation is an opportunity to improve that particular automated process. This Kneaders system would have worked perfectly with the addition of two small steps:
- After I responded with my relevant information, the system needed to notify the Kneaders staff of a curbside pickup arrival, and perhaps send a response to me with something like “Kneaders staff has been notified of your arrival”.
- The system should require human input from the Kneaders staff before the final “Thanks! Your order will be out shortly.” No, this doesn’t defeat the purpose of automation. Human input is very often a critical component of automated systems. In this case, the human input before this last step ensures that when the system tells me my order is on its way, it really is.
Was I really all that bitter about this experience? No, not really. These things happen. The french toast was still delicious, and there was no harm done. However, in an industry as flooded as fast food, the battle for customer retention isn’t usually between customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction. It’s between customer satisfaction and indifference. Small opportunities to tweak existing automated systems to improve the customer experience are everywhere. Improved automation could be just what you need to elevate your customer experience from indifference to satisfaction and beyond.