The first time I read the term “Cocooning” was in the 1991 The Popcorn Report by futurist Faith Popcorn. The definition… COCOONING: Consumers are running for protection from the unpredictable realities of the outside world. We were staying home, curled up with books, watched movies and hunkered down. In the 30 years that have passed, that definition seems quaint.
Page forward to today and I invite you to visit Terminal C at Newark Airport, where they have replaced most of the sitting areas with bars and restaurants, even at your gate. That’s right, you will find a thousand or more tablets displayed throughout Terminal C at most of the seats at each gate. From your tablet, you can order food or drinks and about 10 minutes later, someone will deliver it to your seat… at the gate. Oh, they still have what would be considered restaurants, but only because there is a façade and tables made to look like actual restaurants. The only difference here is where you are sitting – there is no one there to take your order or to answer questions; just your tablet. The same tablets found at the gate.
The people who deliver the food barely speak as they drop off your order, grunt something or other and move back to the kitchen to pick up the next order. I suppose in the coming years even those people will be replaced, perhaps by a Roomba Server. Perhaps they will be able to say hello.
My friendly banker at Bank of America is also gone. Not that we’ve done much banking with her, but they moved her to another branch, about 45 minutes away (yet she lives 5 minutes from this branch). I do most of my banking online anyway and use the ATM machine when I travel. But sitting at the bank the other day, watching the people walking into the branch, they wanted to speak with a person they’ve known for a while, not an ATM, not a voice on the phone, but someone they knew at the bank. The new branch manager didn’t know much, so she had to call someone on the phone to walk her through what seemed to me like a straight up process. We need better people who are better trained. We need relationships with our customers.
I don’t know if Faith Popcorn has updated her observation about Cocooning; I haven’t seen a new book from her in quite some time. But given how engaged we’ve all become with our technology, especially our phones, I’m thinking that we’ve moved beyond Cocooning and jumped right into Burrowing. You however, are not order takers. You’re not an ATM or a Roomba or a smartphone. You have a product that requires expertise and a depth of knowledge that your customers are not going to find online. Sure, some percentage of consumers want to buy stuff online but they won’t have your expertise or your team’s human interactions.
I’m all for investing in technology but think we should all invest far more in working with the right people. Four of us attended the AGS Conclave last week and saw those seeking to advance their knowledge of gemstones and how to interact with consumers; who are excited about our industry and represent what we have that those tablets cannot… People, and the human connections they bring.