Tempted to Replace Volunteers with Technology?
I was about to make a tragic mistake. I was leading the guest experience for my mega-church. We needed to re-tool how we were interacting with anyone that called into the main phone number every day of the week. I fought for the implementation of an automated system to replace our current receptionist so we could have her do other tasks.
Fortunately, my hard fought battle for the automated system was declined. At first, I felt defeated. My plan was detailed and well-thought out. However, I was missing the one element every person craves, especially when you are calling a church or company for helpful information: human interaction. As soon as you think about replacing people with technology, be careful. You are about to take away the one element we all want and desperately need.
In 2010, USA Today dubbed it the year we stopped talking with one another. The truth is, we changed our style of talking with one another with the help of technology. The conversation channel changed. I believe we’re creating a generation of young leaders facing a technology detachment paradigm. I hear many church leaders argue we are still interacting through technology, but research and observations would prove otherwise. We are facing an eerie lack of contact with humanity which hurts us emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically. In fact, we are becoming typists of our human experience.
Google “technology replacing human interaction.” You get over 16 million results. This subject has seen increased discussion volume for the past several years. In fact, several months ago I watched a news report about the invention of a robot that would be your friend. Yes, this robot would interact with you like a human.
Ten years ago we started to see self-service checkouts become popular. But recently I’ve heard many large stores remove these registers. What decision-makers thought would be best for their brand and stores resulted in hurting the shopping experience for many – including me. When my wife goes with me to Wal-Mart, which she prefers not to do, I would always head in the direction of the self-service registers. She always says something will go wrong. Guess what? She’s right 100% of the time. So now I always find a person to check me out even if that means waiting in line.
Why is technology advocated over human interaction?
- Provides a choice
- Reduces staff
- Gives the impression of speed
Why is human interaction advocated over technology?
- Provides staff another touch point with people
- Reduced confusion
- Infuses positive emotional meaning into a memorable experience
There can be great power when technology is coupled with human interaction. For example, look at how Apple stores check you out using mobile devices as registers. The technology used in the hand of a well-trained employee makes all the difference in the shopping experience.
Great customer service is when we protect the relationship and use tools like technology as a support to deliver a memorable experience.
God created humanity to need one another. I need you. You need me. I fight for one-on-one interaction and so should you. Technology could potentially destroy that if we are not protectors of the obvious.
I think we can strike a happy medium embracing helpful tools while refusing to abandon in-person interactions.
What should be considered when exploring the use of technology?
- Technology is not as powerful as a present person
- Technology should be used as a tool
- Technology can unpredictably breakdown
Here are four elements to keep in mind when making a decision about what, when, and how technology is implemented:
- Your church culture
- Your attendee demographic
- You as the leader
- Your volunteers
I like what Melissa Nilles, Arts and Entertainment Editor at The Bottom Line, wrote:
While technology has allowed us some means of social connection that would have never been possible before, and has allowed us to maintain long-distance friendships that would have otherwise probably fallen by the wayside, the fact remains that it is causing us to spread ourselves too thin, as well as slowly ruining the quality of social interaction that we all need as human beings. So what are we doing with 3000 friends on the Internet? Why are we texting all the time? Seems like a big waste of time to me. Let’s spend more time together with our friends. Let’s make the relationships that count last, and not rely on technology to do the job for us.
I go to a wonderful church outside of Atlanta, GA. I like how our preschool check-in process works. They use technology as a support tool for the human interaction. When we check our little boy in, we use technology but not without the presence of a trained volunteer that welcomes our family and offers help – even though we have been attending the church for almost three years. The leaders have trained the volunteers to be aware of interacting with people because that is what can make or break any experience.
Yes, interaction can make or break any experience. Don’t break your experience by making it all about technology.