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  • Writer's pictureMichael Kennedy

AI Can't Cry

I just discovered this ad from 55 years ago and it made me think. First, I love the image. It grabbed my attention. Then I read the copy.

Have you ever wondered why the young men and women working at Chick-fil-A relentlessly use the expression, “my pleasure,” or why cashiers at the grocery store ask, “Did you find everything you were looking for?”

Is it always their pleasure? Are you going to hold up the line at the grocery store to say, “No, I didn’t find the Vernor’s Ginger Ale,” a beverage you know they may only stock in Detroit, Michigan.

Neither of these expressions are random. In the case of Chick-fil-A, “my pleasure” is an expression the founder overheard from a Ritz-Carlton hotel employee after being thanked by a guest. After the encounter, the founder instructed employees to use this as the sole phrase in substitution for any other way of saying, "you're welcome" at all Chick-fil-A locations. And to use the phrase with eye contact to create a stronger bond with the customer.

The philosophy here is the frequent use of certain phrases helps unify employees around a shared identity and contributes to a distinctive 'Ritz style' that the public can easily recognize.

In the case of the grocery store cashier, he or she might be penalized if they don’t ask, “did you find everything you were looking for?” But if they pause to reflect on your Vernor’s comment, then call for a manager to find out whether they carry it, and if so, have someone check in the back… while the line at their register grows, and becomes increasingly anxious, is it worth it?

Have the bosses who instruct these scripts lost faith in their cashiers to do their job? Can they not count on their cashiers to properly greet customers and develop some quick rapport? Instead of creating a memorable experience, the cashier is forced to choose a greeting with less personal engagement and could actually degrade the customer experience in the process.

As a customer, I want some sense of humanity in the exchange, not mindless robotic phrases or expressions. When I say thank you to a Chick-fil-A employee, I’d love to hear him or her say, “You know what? You’re welcome!”

When I arrive at the next grocery store cashier, I’d be thrilled to hear him or her say something like, “Thanks for being here…”

"Forget about being world-famous, it's hard enough just getting the automatic doors at the supermarket to acknowledge our existence.” ~ Doug Coupland

We can use general artificial intelligence (AI), to replace employees at the drive thru windows and registers. And we can use AI to say things like “My pleasure,” and “Did you find everything you were looking for?” But AI can’t replace kindness, attention, and humanity.

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