On Fridays, I drive to Downtown Raleigh for my weekly Toastmasters meeting. I park in a garage a block away. I joined the club in April of 2022 and have been parking at the same garage since that time. I’m a master of the small talk hit it off with the parking attendant. Every week on the way out, I would have a conversation with her about something. It could be the weather, work, or entertainment, we’d talk. There was never anyone behind me waiting to leave, so we would engage in small talk.

Last Friday, there was no conversation. No exciting topic, no worthwhile story, no funny quips. There was nothing. You see, my parking lot attendant had been replaced. Not even the attendant booth was left standing. They were both replaced by an electronic ticket machine on the way in and a check-out machine on the way out. This, my friends, is called progress.

OK, I get it. When you are in business, you are always looking to maximize profit. In the past, companies usually hired more people to get more work done. Today, the way for a business to maximize profit is to reduce one of its biggest costs, and that’s payroll.

When you hire someone, you not only have to pay them a salary, but also benefits. Those include health benefits and, in some cases, retirement benefits. You have to pay employee taxes, vacation time, sick time, and holiday time. In the parking garage business, if the attendant was not in the booth to collect the money, that person’s parking stay was usually free. Now with basically an automated robot taking care of entry and exit, parking fees can be collected 24/7, thus adding revenue to the bottom line.

This is just one example. Here are some others.

  1. It’s hard to find a McDonald’s employee that wants to take your order nowadays. They’d like you to order from the kiosk or the app.
  2. Same at Taco Bell. They have tablet ordering stations. The only way they’ll take your order is through the drive-through.
  3. At Texas Road House, your checkout is handled by an automated tablet that even prints out a receipt.
  4. It is now getting harder and harder to speak to a human being when calling a company for help.
  5. The Atlanta Falcons hired their first robot security dog. His name is Benzie.

I was stopped at a traffic light, looked up at the sky, and saw a pretty substantial-sized drone just hovering in place. Suddenly, what looked like a package was being lowered by a cable. What came to mind was that Amazon might be testing a new delivery operation. Just think if a fleet of drones could handle a huge portion of deliveries. Not only would this eliminate delivery drivers and their associated costs, but cars and trucks, expensive fuel, insurance, maintenance, and the list goes on.

One might say, this is smart business. But is it? Take a look at Chick-fil-A. This franchise prides itself on attentive team members. And when the drive-through lines started growing, they didn’t add outdoor menu stations, they added more employees to personally take a customer’s order. One Chick-fil-A on average makes $4.5 million versus $2.9 for a McDonalds location. Let that sink in.

Human connection is extremely important, yet businesses are opting for automation. Is this smart? This discussion will continue, as will the increase in robots being added to the employment roles. One thing I do know, I miss my small talk sessions on Friday mornings.

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