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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

Technology is important to all businesses, but the human element can not be ignored…

We all want the latest and greatest technology for our businesses. But there is one important factor that needs to be addressed, as is evidenced by a recent experience of mine.

After a long trip, I arrived at a hotel ready to check in. I was immediately told, “We are sorry. Our computers are down and we can’t assign you a room.”

Given I travel as much as I do, I was understanding. These things happen. They were polite and I could see they were frustrated. I hadn’t eaten all day and was hungry so I asked, “Is there somewhere in the hotel where I can get some food?” They pointed across the lobby to the restaurant that was open.

I walked in and the place was quiet. There was one table where people were finishing their meal, with the waiter clearing their plates. I sat at the bar waiting for someone to get me a menu so that I could place my order. The people at the table left and the waiter finished cleaning. I sat there for ten minutes when the waiter eventually barked from 20 feet away across the room, “No food. Computers down.”

I responded, “I don’t understand. You can’t cook anything because the computers are down?”

He barked back (I’m not exaggerating), “No food! Computers down!”

I can see how maybe this would cause a problem with the bill, but surely they could calculate the cost and I could pay with cash. Nope.

Here’s what bothered me most about this. It was not that I could not get food. Yes I was hungry, but I realize that problems do crop up. The issue is how companies handle these exceptions. I was not offered any compassion as clearly he felt like he was the one who was inconvenienced. He didn’t even offer me some nuts or water. Anything would have been appreciated. Instead he yelled at me from a distance.

If you are expecting technology to be the solution to all of your problems, think again. Technology can create its own problems.

The media seems to be concerned that smart computers and AI may take over the world.

I think the bigger concern is what happens to stupid people when computers stop working.

Does your company rely too much on technology? What happens when something goes wrong or it stops working altogether.

My experience was not an isolated incident. Just the other day, computers in all 1,849 Target stores across the US went down for two hours. Needless to say, this caused mayhem with stores closing and long lines when things returned to normal.

This raises a bigger customer service issue/opportunity. How do you treat customers when something doesn’t go as planned? From my perspective, this is an opportunity to win over a disgruntled customers.

Although I was not able to get food at the hotel (I walked to the only other restaurant in walking distance), I was able to eventually get into my hotel room. Although the computers were still not working, they were able to find an empty room and get me a key. They did this without being able to confirm I even had a reservation! And they were apologetic, giving me snacks and water for my inconvenience.

Is your company relying too much on technology? How would your employees handle a situation where the technology stopped working? How are your employees equipped to use customer service issues as an opportunity to create raving fans?

Technology is a great enabler to innovation – except when it isn’t.

This article originally appears on the Inc. website

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