The short answer is no. Yes, self-serve can make a customer experience faster and potentially more efficient, but does nothing to create and build customer relationships. Without a human relationship, your business is vulnerable to competition globally, electronically and from a competitor who sets up shop next door.
Nearly half of retail workers are at risk of losing their jobs to robots and other automation technology. This is according to a 56-page report by the investment advisory firm, Cornerstone Capital Group. Roughly 6 million to 7.5 million retail jobs “likely will be automated out of existence in the coming years, leaving a large portion of the retail workforce at risk of becoming ‘stranded workers’.” I searched for the definition of “stranded” in this context but came up short. “Stranded” is a fancy way of stating the obvious – out of a job.
From what I see, I believe the pace at which the retail and hospitality sectors will become automated is much sooner than, “in the coming years.” Attend any retail trade show and one technology company after another is selling self-serve as the solution to reducing costs. Automation reduces costs by replacing humans, but will also reduce revenues and profitability over time. Companies must look at the whole picture.
I agree that if a customer sales or service associate is not trained to engage the customer with the goal to create and build a customer relationship, a robot might as well replace them. It’s the old adage: what comes first, the chicken or the egg? If associates don’t engage, they are a waste of capital; when they do engage, they are worth gold. A friend of mine owns a large restaurant chain. He recently told his employees that unless they engaged the customer in a meaningful dialog, helped customers with food recommendations and were attentive to their needs, they would be replaced with an IPad. That got their attention! What is the moral of this story? Owners and managers must train employees on how to create and build loyalty with customers.
Macy’s has once again come up with another brilliant? idea. They are rolling out self-serve shoe departments. According to a recent article, “the struggling department store is looking for ways to cut costs while maintaining customer service levels.” In my opinion, that statement is an oxymoron. If any department needs qualified personnel, it is in shoes. An experienced sales person helps with size and fit and style. So many suggestions could be made to assist the customer. I think Macy’s just got sold a bill of goods.
If 7 million people in retail became “stranded,” it cannot be a good thing for anyone. Certainly no guarantee that prices will be reduced but on the other hand, a certainty that service will be non-existent. Eliminating retail associates will result in a concierge economy where the very wealthy will receive top notch and personalized service and the rest of us will be forced to self-serve. Our corporate offices are located in New Jersey. Gas stations in New Jersey are required by law to have attendants. What a pleasure! Besides pumping gas, they frequently offer to clean windshields, check the air in your tires and oil levels. Many give you that big smile and say, “Mr. Shapiro, have a wonderful day as they hand back your credit card”. My wife and I live in New York where the stations are self-serve. I have a choice where I fill up my tank. It’s always in New Jersey and always at the same station, where like the theme song for Cheers, “Everyone knows my name and they are also glad you came”.
Self-serve will never create loyalty, but hiring the right people, training them to engage customers, leaving them with the message that yes, we want to see you again, will give your business a competitive edge. The result: loyal customers.
What’s your opinion? Is self-serve the way to go? Bots versus humans, AI versus humans? I say human-to-human to drive customer loyalty!