How Jack in the Box reminds me of the Jetsons, airport security, and video games

I stopped in at a Jack in the Box today and noticed no employees at the register.  Customers were ordering through a kiosk.  This beautiful touch-screen marvel spoke in English and Spanish and upsold you at every turn– would you like bacon on that?  How about upgrading to a large?  Just a little more for seasoned fries! 

A couple hours ago, I had a similar experience checking in at the airport– except I had to swipe my credit card first and then they asked if I wanted to upgrade to first class.  Same thing at the supermarket, where they eliminate clerks (who aren’t going to reliably and aggressively upsell every customer in that cheery voice), but also will tell you that there’s an unexpected item in the bagging area.

  If you’re at least in your 30s or have watched older cartoons, you might remember the Jetsons.  They had a touch screen display where the family could order dinner items, too. To make the analogy complete, Jack in the Box would merely have to automate the back of the store, too– to have a factory method as efficient as Toyota making Camrys with robotic precision.

Trouble is, as great as this utopia sounds (if you’re a fan of Deming or other efficiency gurus), in practice, it’s not so simple. The fellow ordering above tried to order a value meal no less than 4 times– not being able to navigate the menus and submenus and finally giving up.  It’s not easy for everyone, even with picture menus.  Sometimes you just need a human involved.

But in the long run, I believe that social game dynamics will simplify a complex process, whether it’s buying a hamburger, checking in at an airport, getting your annual physical at the hospital, or configuring your local search campaigns. Games and points will make complex processes easier, especially those that don’t appear to have video game dynamics at first thought.

Watch the gaming models permeate nonprofit fundraising, factory methods– or maybe even serious stuff such as CPR training.  Do you remember when McDonalds first implemented those timers next to each cash register, so that everyone could plainly see how many seconds the average order was per cashier?  You’ve taken a mundane, hourly job and turned it into a video game because now there’s a score.  No other process improvements or bonuses for better service– there’s just an added element of measurement. And that’s enough.  Imagine adding a timer next to airport check-in counters. Think it would work?

Any system or set of processes is really nothing more than a video game– as it contains a series of rules with rewards and punishment, with accompanying stimulation. A Las Vegas slot machine is nothing more than a malfunctioning ATM.  That blue collar timecard punch clock is the most boring video game ever— as it doesn’t blink, make satisfying sounds, or dump coins into the collection tray in exchange for good work.  

Is there something in your business or your life that can be made more pleasurable or efficient by re-evaluating it from the lens of game dynamics?



3 thoughts on “How Jack in the Box reminds me of the Jetsons, airport security, and video games

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  2. Mark

    Ahhh, very much my style of posting… Love it. And ‘sif you need to be in your 30s to be enjoying the Jetsons!? I encountered a similar sort of thing with airlines as well, Virgin Blue run those touch screen “automatic check-ins” and I think from memory I accidentally declared dangerous goods and then had to wait in-line another 30 mins for the manual check-in. America is way ahead with the touch-screen fast food ordering… But we have them in Aussie supermarkets now and they definitely make the shopping experience more enjoyable.

    I agree with the aspect of social game dynamics, they do make things more fun, but they’re also going to make reality seem all the more augmented…oh yeah, and this: “getting your annual physical”… fun? haha…uhhh… 🙂

  3. Dennis Yu Post author

    Hi Mark,

    Hope to see you in Sydney in a couple months– despite technology, an in-person meeting with you is far better than the best virtual beers we can have together!

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