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  • 04.13.05

The Self-Service Economy

I suspect it won’t be long before I cross paths with hotel front-desk staffers as rarely as I do with bank tellers, gas station attendants, travel agents, photo clerks, and airline check-in agents — all the people who used to provide services that I now perform myself most of the time. Hilton, Sheraton, Embassy Suites, and Hyatt Regency are among the hotels currently adding or expanding kiosks where you can check yourself in.

I suspect it won’t be long before I cross paths with hotel front-desk staffers as rarely as I do with bank tellers, gas station attendants, travel agents, photo clerks, and airline check-in agents — all the people who used to provide services that I now perform myself most of the time. Hilton, Sheraton, Embassy Suites, and Hyatt Regency are among the hotels currently adding or expanding kiosks where you can check yourself in. Although I look forward to the convenience of not waiting in line for my room key, I wonder what I’ll be missing by trading customer service for self-service.

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More than once, I’ve arrived late at my hotel and feeling beaten down by the airlines only to meet a night clerk whose charm and attentiveness turned my mood around. You can’t put a price on that. And I can’t imagine a machine having the same effect.

I know these kiosks can be good for business, and not just by lowering costs. Last year FC’s Charles Fishman reported that people would order more from a McDonald’s machine than they would from a McEmployee behind the counter. But what are the limits of these do-it-yourself solutions? In which industries does human-interaction trump automation?

About the author

Chuck Salter is a senior editor at Fast Company and a longtime award-winning feature writer for the magazine. In addition to his print, online and video stories, he performs live reported narratives at various conferences, and he edited the Fast Company anthologies Breakthrough Leadership, Hacking Hollywood, and #Unplug.

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