Technology and Human Interaction: It’s a Balancing Act

Yesterday, I went into a local Starbucks.  It was after lunch and the store was not busy.  I was the only person in line.  I ordered my drink (a simple iced tea) and waited.  And waited. And waited.  Fortunately, I was not in a hurry.  I counted five workers behind the counter.  Two were engaged in banter with each other on their headsets.  They appeared to be having fun.  One was feverishly typing on her phone.  I couldn’t figure out what the other two were doing.  After I stood there for what seemed to be an eternity (it was probably 3 minutes), one of the Starbucks employees asked me what I ordered.  I told her and she quickly made my drink.   She handed me my drink and apologized for the delay.   

I frequently use the app when I order from Starbucks; I chose to not use it yesterday because I was meeting someone in the store for a meeting.  This experience made me think:

  1. Starbucks wants me to avoid human contact and exclusively use the app. 
  2. Starbucks’ employees are not properly trained.
  3. A combination of A & B.

A business like Starbucks that gets a premium for the “experience” it offers customers is in a challenging position.  Technology can make interactions more efficient but it can also take away the personal experience.  Limited resources make it difficult to both invest in technology and train people, especially on soft skills that a bean counter cannot measure.   An old business axiom says you can only choose to offer two out of three attributes: fast, cheap, or good.  That axiom remains the same, regardless of what technology brings to the table.    

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