Technology Should NOT be a Substitute for Meaningful Human Interaction

This weekend, while returning from onsite client meetings, I had a grueling travel experience that reminded me of the guy in this classic cartoon.

It started out with the usual stormy weather concerns, but round after round of delays kept bumping us late into the evening. Things quickly went downhill from there.

Apparently, since airlines are part of the union system, crews are not available after a certain time to load and unload cargo and luggage. Eventually, we were able to board the plane. And, I’m grateful that the airline worked hard to get us on our flight instead of making us stay in a hotel and burn another day.

However, they failed to make adequate logistical and personnel arrangements which forced us to sit on the tarmac for well over an hour for the crew to show up and load our luggage. The wait was so lengthy that the pilot (who was noticeably and understandably frustrated) said, “Folks, I don’t really know why this is happening and I’m sorry that you are having to wait. It looks like there’s only one crew to load luggage and we are in line for them to get to us.” In fairness, he did offer free drinks and snacks for those who cared. But, I just wanted to be home and in my own bed.

Strike One.

When we finally arrived at 1:09 a.m. in the morning, we ran into the same problem. This time with the absence of a crew on the other end to unload our luggage. Though the unload was faster, the wait still felt like an eternity. I was completely spent and finally got home at nearly 2:00 a.m.

Strike Two.

But, the plot thickens. I decided to call the airline and offer some helpful feedback via phone and I was able to reach someone. Unfortunately, they were not willing to talk with me about what happened or able to process my input. Instead, they directed me to their Web site and insisted that I had to fill out a complaint form. The more I drilled down, the more it became clear that they don’t even have an option or systems for receiving verbal input.

Strike Three.

This is how it should be done. Southwest Airlines smartly gives people multiple options for connecting with them. I’m sure the phone option is very expensive for them to sustain. But, they wisely understand that online communication is simply not sufficient in all cases.

They get humans.

At least in part, great branding is about building relational equity and making deposits in the emotional bank accounts of people you are serving and trying to reach.

In your ministry, you will be tempted to let technology replace human interaction. After all, there are certain aspects of technology that can assist you and make connectivity more convenient.

But remember this, your ultimate goal is to actually connect with people and to relate to them in deep, personal and meaningful ways. Not just to add them to your list or put another name on your roster.

It’s your choice.

As you consider your ministry or church brand, are you willing to invest the time that is necessary to make those connections personal? It may require you to radically change your systems, move some people around, or even let a few go who are eroding your brand. These decisions, like every other decision, are brand decisions.


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2 thoughts on “Technology Should NOT be a Substitute for Meaningful Human Interaction

  1. Greetings, I commented on Twitter, but am doing so here after being poked by the author:

    This doesn't speak like a tech issue, it sounds more like a problem with the feedback loop of the airlines used, as well as process-communication missteps there. Also, the authors notes expectations which weren't met, also not a technological issue.

    For example, in Strikes 1 and 2, the fact that the pilots were not able to ascertain what was going on, in a reasonable amount of time, sounds like some breakdown with the lines of communication. Clearly in Strike 1, there is a resource allocation issue, and this being present here might indicate why communications were an issue.

    In Strike 3, the person's expectation of having a place to verbally vent frustrations isn't grounded in the reality of the design of the system used to give feedback. Granted, it would be nice if the system ended in a voice call, but that is probably an area where that airline/FAA probably had to do soe measure of cutting back because of how expensive it is to run call centers. Here, if the system were designed to make the person who gave feedback feel like they were listened to, not just submitting a trouble ticket, then it might have come off better. And surely, having a verbal end to things would have met expectations as well.

    That all said, the tech is clearly not the issue here. And actually, there is little in terms of implicit relationships to be garnered from these interactions. There are expectations and transactions, and they can sometimes feel similar to a relationship, but we have to make sure that our expectations are grounded in the reality of the environment.

    As for tech not being a substitute for relationships, sometimes. There are some instances where it has to be (re:pen pals) and others where it will be only for a time. However, this is only a generational outlook for web tech, things will change in a decade in a half towards these expectations as well.

    • ARJWright,

      Thanks for your comments! I believe you are 100% right. However, systems this sophisticated are heavily dependent on technology so I was giving them the benefit of the doubt that they were experiencing "technical difficulties." But, that is probably too nice on my part! ;)

      I appreciate you stopping by and it's good to connect with you here and on Twitter. Peace!