Earlier this year, Chili’s installed over 800 tableside computers throughout their restaurants in an effort to streamline guests’ dining experience. The computers are positioned as a supplement tool to enable a smooth transaction between servers and guests. Not surprisingly, the high tech approach to customer service is gaining momentum. Recently, competitor Applebee’s followed suit, installing nearly 2,000 similar tableside machines in their chain of restaurants. Thus far, the advantages of this inventive technology strategy are clear…the touchscreen devices expedite service, allowing customers to self-order drink refills and desserts, as well as pay tabs at their own pace.
It appears that the blending of high touch and high tech strategies might be the optimal way to engage modern consumers, with employees working alongside self-service technology devices. But what happens when technology gets in the way of customer service? Can customer-facing computers disrupt the social flow of service transactions, and if so, might this have a negative effect on consumers? A recent article in the Journal of Marketing investigates this phenomenon, taking a closer look at the benefits and pitfalls of technology-infused service encounters.