Does technology replace the customer experience?

From Iconoculture:

UK: “Facebook” pub serves punters with table-side technology
The Thirsty Bear pub in South London is using tablet technology to help punters order food, drink and update their social network status without leaving their table. Table-side iPads and serve-yourself beer taps enable customers to order food and drink for self- or waiter-service. To start an electronic tab, punters simply leave a credit card behind the bar in order to add to their bill. Finger clicking is no longer required to grab waiters’ attention. Connected consumers can simply text staff direct via an instant messenger app to alert them that they require table service.

This is a fascinating idea. But how long can it last?

Novelty drives first-time visits, and this is certainly novel.  But will it generate repeat customers? Typical drivers of repeat customers are convenience + price, identity, or an emotional connection.

  • Convenience is certainly enabled by the tap in booth.  But what happens if I don’t want one of the two types of beer that are hooked up at my spot? Also, convenience in and of itself is not typically enough, and needs to be paired with another driver.
  • Price is unlikely to be low.  Lots of tech to keep up, plus having beer lines to each booth must be a maintenance nightmare!
  • Identity is the strongest possibility.  If they can play to those with an identity of connectedness, they have a shot.
  • Emotional connection.  Very little chance here, as it sounds like this is a minimalist staff environment.

I don’t see this pub lasting.  The novelty is great, and I am sure they will have massive amounts of visitors their first few months.  But the high costs required combined with the lack of emotional connection will make it difficult to attract the regulars that pubs typically require.

4 replies
  1. Avatar
    Dena says:

    I am a big fan of both technology and convenience (even at the expense sometimes of choice). Make it fast and easy and I’m in! And, I’m not alone. I think there are certain areas of the world where this type of service could be hugely popular.

    Reply
    • Jim Tincher
      Jim Tincher says:

      Dena,

      I think it will be novel. But, as I mentioned with Christopher, a lot of it probably depends on the ability to still connect. Witness your favorite Dungeons and Dragons type of novel (okay, maybe this example doesn’t appeal to everybody, but stay with me!). They always have that interaction with the barkeep or the server. And that’s because this is an expected part of the pub experience.

      But maybe this generation is different. Certainly growing up with technology changes expectations. It could be that the under-30 crowd will love this idea. Let’s hope we get the chance to view it state-side!

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Christopher Frawley says:

    If done right, technology should be a seamless part of the customer experience. The degree to which it’s employed should be immaterial. In this example, it’s not clear how customers move between self and assisted service when they need to. A good customer experience can be entirely self-service only if there is an elegant way for the customer to have all their needs met with a minimum of effort. If there are any outlying use cases, they should be handled with an automated interface / process or with a transfer to a person who can pick up the process where the technology stops (without having the customer repeat any steps).

    I do think you can connect with customers even in an all self service environment as long as everything that surrounds the process is supportive, seamless, and offers a way to make human connection if desired. I agree in this case that it would appear that a human connection to staff at a pub is very key component. Unless the hand offs between the tech and staff are excellent, I’m inclined to agree with your prediction. Thanks for sharing the concept and your thoughts.

    Reply
    • Jim Tincher
      Jim Tincher says:

      Christopher,

      Yes, my title was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. You’re right in that we don’t have enough detail to know exactly how it works.

      I think we’re in agreement that the need for self-service goes back to the type of experience. Self-service movie kiosks make sense, as the ordering of the ticket is an unfortunate part of the experience. When was the last time you regaled your friends with stories of the person behind the ticket counter? But connecting with the pub staff is a key part of the experience going back hundreds of years. My wife, though, agrees with you that the right kind of supportive technology may be the way of the future.

      Your second paragraph is the key – does the technology support the interaction, and still offer the human connection? If so, then this may actually fly. I can’t wait until the concept comes to Minneapolis, and I can give it a try!

      Reply

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