TIME magazine is running a feature on "10 Ideas That Are Changing The World". Alongside some pretty big concepts around sustainability, "reverse radicalism", geoengineering, and the impact of ageing populations, they highlight the unstoppable rise of self-serve technology citing such joys as supermarket self-scanning and self-checkout, movie ticket kiosks, airport self-check-in and even ER check-in kiosks at hospitals (I kid you not). "Only now" they say, "are technology and public sentiment aligning to truly shift the responsibility of collecting goods and services to the consumer".
Ubiquitous self-service does two things:- it drives big savings for the companies which introduce it and it shifts the responsibility and work onto the consumer. Few initiatives deliver real macro savings in productivity. The efficency gain is far from always on the side of the consumer (how many times have you been frustrated by the inflexibility of machine-driven service?). "Business will get smarter about when to serve you" says Bill Nuti, CEO of NCR, one of the biggest providers of self-service systems. Maybe it will. It needs to. The point at which you interact with your customers and the experience they have is the most important form of marketing there is. There may well come a point at which increasing automation will invert into a corresponding increase in customer desire for the benefits of human service. Businesses which structure themselves around human interaction could find they have a real purple cow on their hands.