Is Surveillance Technology Emerging as a New Customer Service Trend?
It Might Already be
The Dom Pizza Checker has been a hot topic in the news lately, sparked by innovative AI strategies raising the question between CS performance optimization and corporate ethics. As you may or may not have seen in my article last week, 4 Companies Using Machine Learning to Keep a Close Eye On Employees, Domino’s recently introduced the Dom Pizza Checker to its Australia and New Zealand locations - a new tool that utilizes in-store cameras to use advanced machine learning, artificial intelligence and sensor technology to identify pizza type and topping distribution.
Outback Steakhouse is experimenting with a similar machine-learning platform. The program uses surveillance cameras and AI to track how quickly food arrives at tables or how often servers check on customers. The software, Presto Vision alerts managers of “noteworthy events,” like when wait times run long, and can even notify servers if a customer’s drink is running low.
The idea of rigorously evaluating agent performance and interaction quality makes sense in theory — and it has support from some key business leaders.
According to NBC, Rajat Suri, the co-founder of Lyft and founder and CEO of Presto said he was “personally obsessed with connecting tech with primitive physical experiences”... interesting word choice. Rajat compares it to coaching a football game without being able to see the actual game… interesting analogy.
It is also, understandably, ruffling some feathers.
As seen in CCW Digital writer’s article, Kindra Cooper, a few days ago a Portland-area Outback Steakhouse canceled the new artificial intelligence surveillance test. And it’s not hard to see why. Facebook commenters and Twitter users criticized the idea of a program like Presto Vision, claiming it could increase the stress levels of employees, or allow for diners’ data to be misused by parent companies or third parties.
Walmart last year also began experimenting with a software that allows the retail giant to study interactions between consumers and employees. The retail giant patented a system that allows it to track employee “performance metrics” and ensure that employees are performing their jobs efficiently and correctly by listening to their dialogue and tone and evaluate customer reactions. Similarly to Presto’s surveillance software, sensors can capture sounds from guests talking while in line and determine whether employees are greeting guests with trained greeting procedures.
What Rajat, Walmart, and Domino’s seem to be missing is the psychological component of personalized customer service, for both employee and consumer. Machine-learning, voice tech, and surveillance software like the Dom Pizza Checker, Walmart’s patented listening system, and Presto Vision might work in manufacturing or Amazon warehouses where agents are performing specific, rigorously defined tasks in accordance with a clear schedule. The technology may not, however, account for the nuances and human factors associated with many customer-facing experiences … at least not yet.
When it comes to preparing, serving, and consuming a meal or buying a desired brand’s article of clothing, both employee and customer want the right mixture of personalization, hospitality/comfortability, and properly timed service. What customers don’t want is the psychological sense of feeling like a company’s burdensome, yet necessary asset. They do not want to be an an asset whose interactions are being evaluated from the minute they step foot in the lobby to the minute they take that last bite, immediately accompanied by a digital bill rushing you out the door or the minute you swipe your card, promptly ushered by an agent’s automated script.
Balancing personalization and tech trends
A few of my friends and I used to love going to a small Japanese restaurant called Yamato Steakhouse in Smithfield, Rhode Island. Business was usually slow (which we enjoyed, being the only people in there). As a result of low restaurant traffic, they were often times overstaffed with servers. While the hibachi was fire, we didn’t enjoy the customer service. Believe it or not, there was too much of it! If you ever go to Yamato Steakhouse in Smithfield, Rhode Island, you’ll see that every time you take a sip of your water and place it down, you will feel eyes on you (just like I’m sure Portland Outback customers or Walmart employees did). Within a few seconds, that sip will be refilled. Your conversation will be interrupted. And a rehearsed “Can I get you anything else?” will follow. People don’t usually complain for being attended to. But when that happens every few minutes throughout the course of an hour, it ends up hurting the customer experience.
Many of us, meanwhile, lament about the cliche retail experience in which salespeople literally harass us from the second we step in the store. “Can I help you?” “Are you looking for anything in particular?” “Did you know we’re running a promotion on socks?” Some customers surely appreciate the overzealous intention, but others want to shop in peace. If we use AI and surveillance to monitor employee behavior, we couldn’t account for this nuance. We would have to create a one-size-fits-all “script,” which eliminates personalization and context.
When it comes to dining or shopping services, efficiency and assistance are key for quality customer service. However, whether it’s machine learning surveillance or six Yamato ladies staring at you taking a sip of water, there is an art to balancing efficiency into the experience design. There is, without a doubt, a place for operational efficient technology like the Presto Vision, Dom Checker, or Walmart voice tech in certain industries. And it will be interesting to see when they will begin to play a bigger role in the restaurant or retail industry, as consumer tolerance for corporate intrusive technology-driven services will increase as it slowly creeps into consumers’ daily lives. But the objective, in any given customer service industry with both employees and customers, is finding the connection and balance between technology driven efficiency and personalization to create the best customer experience possible.
Interested in learning more? Tune in to our live event, The Contact Center of 2025, on December 3rd and 4th to get ahead of competitors and introduce yourself to analysts’ predictions and upcoming cutting-edge technology trends at our complimentary online summit. Everyone knows the right questions to ask in customer centricity, but fewer analysts know the answers than CCW’s world-class experts and contributors.