The Customer Service Survey

Technology for the Sake of Technology

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2016-12-16 11:25

For $1,500 you can apparently buy a "smart" toaster oven that uses sensors, AI, deep learning, and other buzzwords to automatically recognize what you're cooking and figure out how to optimally cook whatever you put in it, and send you a message on your cellphone when it's done.

Except, perhaps, not so much. According to a review in Fast Company of the June toaster oven, not only does the product not work as advertised, even if it did work it would be much more complicated and difficult to use than an ordinary "dumb" appliance. Where an ordinary toaster oven is fairly simple to use (set temperature, add food, set timer, remove food), using the smart version requires navigating multiple menus, answering questions about how you want your food cooked, and hoping that you and the oven guessed the right settings. Worse, the oven's software will update itself from time to time (to make it smarter of course), so once you've figured out the settings to toast your toast exactly the way you want it, you could find that the next morning it cooks differently because of an overnight update.

This is a classic example of applying technology solely for the sake of technology, and just like in most such instances the result is a much worse customer experience than what you got with the old, "dumb" product at a multiple of the price.

Improving the customer experience requires taking a customer-centric approach, rather than a technology-centric approach. Begin with the customer's journey. Identify the pain points and roadblocks. Find ways to improve the experience--which might or might not involve technology--that removes those problem areas.

Some will argue that this incremental approach won't lead to revolutionary change. As Henry Ford once (supposedly) said, if he'd asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. But the fact is that the overwhelming majority of improvements come through slow and steady refinements to the products and services that are already out there. Radical innovation, like what led to the first iPhone, is rare and often fails.

When you take the technology-centric approach, and try to apply new technology to an old problem just for the sake of applying new technology, more often than not the result is going to be an expensive failure. Rather than solving actual customer problems, you're more likely to invent new problems that don't really exist just so you can apply the technology to solve them.

As proof, all you need to do is read through the recipes on the website for the June toaster oven. Despite the product's hefty price tag and advanced features, five of the ten recipes instruct the user to do nothing more than set the oven temperature and cook for a certain number of minutes, functionality that's available in any ordinary $25 toaster oven for one sixtieth the price. Not even the June's manufacturer could find more than a handful of recipes that used (not necessarily required) all the product's advanced features.

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