Technology vs. Service

Lately, This iPhone issue with the antenna has me thinking more about technology and its impact on customer service. I have been evaluating my shopping and dining experiences where new technology has been introduced to enhance the transaction customers experience. Most times the technology is a blessing and I welcome it if it speeds up and adds to my impression of the brand. Unfortunately, not all technology upgrades represent the best interest of the customer or the desired loyalty building final transition experience. Here are three examples within the last year where the portable hand held credit card swipes that derailed expectations and shopping experience.            


My burrito has no rice:       

I have been eating at a Chipotle north of Cincinnati every Sunday when I drop-off my daughter for tumbling class. There’s nothing better than getting a burrito done “my way”, then sitting in my car and listening to the ballgame before heading in to the class to watch my daughter. I find as a fast food experience, it’s a simpler way to order: I stand in the single line that wraps around the seating area which usually moves quite fast. The menu board is easy to understand and teaches everyone the proper way to get what you want; the same type of cafeteria line system we have all learned in elementary school.             

For me, Chipotle as an experience, is hip and young and makes some my age feel like we are part of some ‘alternative’ club. I believe it’s their tone of voice in the messaging, the music selection, and most importantly the others in-line with me looking for that Mexican nirvana that helps make it feel special. It’s universally democratic, a fair system where everyone, being part of the club, is equal. I had never had a bad experience there, neither from the staff or the other guests.             

In Cincinnati, we have a fantastic square in the heart of downtown that has an amazing fountain, thus the name Fountain Square. A few years ago, the whole square was renovated to become more pedestrian; the fountain was re-centered, seating, landscaping, perfomance stage and a sound system was added. The ‘sky-way’ bridges were removed and retail and restaurants where brought back down the street level. The street level increased people traffic exponentially which increases the energy and pulse of the city. (In fact, BHDP played a role in helping make it all come together and its been a huge success.)             

About a year and a half ago, with much anticipation, Chipotle opened on Fountain Square. The perfect addition to the reinvented downtown community. It took me a while to find the time to make it there during my lunch hour but eventually I did, but it was not what I expected. Two new technology-based systems had been introduced that upset the balance to the universe and more importantly what I had come to put my faith in around the Chipotle experience.             

First, as the line moved inside, I noticed that the architecture at the counter up ahead was different. To my surprise, there is now a pick up window to the left of the counter that had a separate line and I suddenly began to notice that the people that I thought where slipping past the back of the line to see their friends were actually using this preordered pick-up window. I began to also now notice the small signs that spoke to ordering online to bypass the (universal) line. Where had democracy gone? Are we not all equals? Are we not good enough for this aristocracy of internet savvy patrons? My new world order, the globalist commitment, had been shattered. Now a few of these elitists even had the nerve to sit at a vacated table while I stayed true to the system.             

Taking the order in front of meSecond came the crushing blow, as I neared the turn towards the counter, a young woman dressed in her Chipotle black, asks the person in front of me for his order. She was holding a small handheld tablet and begin to take his order. He then takes out a credit card, she swipes it and hands him a receipt. I thought to myself, “now this must be for the masses, and surely it will speed up our time as well”. Now it was my turn, she asked for my order and I begin to recite “burrito, steak, no rice, both beans and a few peppers, corn and tomato”. She replied, “Fajita burrito?””Yes, I guess” I responded, “but I only want a few peppers and no onions”, to which she said “I don’t need to know what you want on it, you will still order at the counter”. My confusion began; my order won’t be waiting for me and I still have to do the same thing as before? “Credit card?’ she interjected into my thought process, again “credit card?” she asked. I pulled the twenty out of my wallet, ” I don’t want to use credit, I want to pay cash” to which she replied ” credit cards only, you’ll need to pay the cashier,” and then she moved the person after me. My  blood began to boil as I contemplated releasing my inner New Yorker. I took a deep breath, relaxed my shoulders and moved forward.             

I began to look at the bigger picture, this is busy location where they must have issues at the register processing so many orders. However, it took only 2 minutes to undo the sanctity of my relationship with Chipotle. I have not gone back to this location, but continue to make my pilgrimage every Sunday to “my” Chipotle. One final note: my burrito from the square had rice because in my dismay, I forgot say “no rice” (the second time).             

Why can’t I trust Steven?       

 I was in Boston last week visiting a few clients.  The weather was great and I left in plenty of time for Logan airport to drop off the rental car and pick up my ticket at the Delta kiosk (now there is an easy and user friendly device…so long as they stop changing it). What I found interesting was when I went to the Legal Test Kitchen restaurant near Gate A5. The food was great, especially the clam chowder, but even better was my waiter Steven. The best restaurant service experience for me is one you don’t notice when they are doing their job. Things just happen without you asking, they anticipate your needs. They can engage in friendly conversation, all the while silently using legerdemain to keep the meal moving forward. Steven was great at it.            

So why when the meal was over did he place his hand held credit card swipe in front of me on the table. “What am I supposed to do with this?” I asked. “Please just swipe your credit card and follow the prompts. Bewildered, I followed his directions and swiped my card. It asked me if the total was right, a percentage tip, and then to finally accept the transaction. It printed out the receipts, I signed one and put the other back in my wallet with my Visa. I quickly took out my camera and snap a picture to remember this strange transaction. “I would have trusted you to swipe my card” I commented as I handed Steve back the device and the receipt. “It’s just our policy” he replied. We thanked each other and I went to my gate.            

 Now in Brazil, I recently was at a night club where I was handed what looked like a gift card that the waiter wrote down my card number for every appetizer and the entrée that I personally ordered. The line on the way out was for paying the cashier the amount on my card. I was told by my Brazil friends that the waiters don’t handle any money because they cannot be trusted. Maybe this works in Brazil, but why did I have to ring myself out in Boston. Shouldn’t I decide if I trust Steven and doesn’t it send the wrong message if a retailer lets you know, through an inconvenience to you, that they don’t trust their employee. The employee is a major part of the experience, if I can’t trust them, why would I trust the retailer?             

 Kneel before technology:       

 Last year I went with my son to purchase a MacBook at the Apple store in the Kenwood Mall in Cincinnati. The store had just changed out the fixturing to be all the same 6′ x 9′ clear maple tables. I could go on at length about the chaos of finding the right color shirted team member in this “every one for themselves cue-less system,” but instead I will stick to the same devise I wrote about the previous stories.             

So after 45 minutes in the store, we were finally ready for the transaction. We were rung up by the team member on the selling floor on the handheld device and as he swiped my card I wondered where the receipt would come from. He then reached under the edge of the new 6 foot by 9 foot light maple table and tore it off without looking. I thought “cool, what may seem like chaos is actually a well choreographed machine”…but then when he returned from the back to with the laptop he proceeded to reach under the adjacent side for a shopping bag. Finding nothing he fell to his knees to peer under and confirmed that there were no more bags. I then noticed as I waited one brightly colored “t-shirted” employees sitting or kneeling on the floor and reaching under the table. “Not so cool anymore.”             

Final Note:    

So, in all three  instances, my perception or expectations of the brand were not met, but only in one case did I stop going to that store. I have heard many stories from my designer friends of experiences that have significantly altered the how or if they still shop a brand when faced with enhancements to the shopping experience that did not go as planned. Should retailers do better real world testing?  And are there better examples to follow that these retailers could learn from?