Self Service Should Never Mean Solo Service

February 2, 2015

Technology is an integral part of frontline customer service. From information kiosks to digital signage, from mobile point of sale devices to the customer’s own smartphones; technology is part and parcel of even the most basic face-to-face interactions on the service floor.

Self-Service Metaphor | Leave Me Alone Sign

While much is made of online shopping replacing retail shopping, less is discussed about how online shopping is shaping customer’s expectations in stores. Amazon, Zappo’s, and the like are catering to a wide swath of the population that likes to be able to shop without ever having to deal with another human being. They prefer, and even expect, technology to serve them what they want, when they want it.

Innovations like this one are popping up in a variety of industries and serving a wide array of needs. In some cases, I would argue that self service is the best service.

The increase in retail self-service options certainly has to do with management of labor costs, but it is most importantly a response to consumer demand. A study out of the UK found that 2/3 wanted more self checkout lanes, and Mike Guhl, vice president of store and credit systems at Home Depot, said the following in a piece by NBC News:

There’s probably one-third who love self-checkout and want to use it all the time. They don’t want to interact with people, they just want to get in and out. Then one-third hate it and won’t use it ever. Then another third will go wherever the line is shorter.

So, while it’s obvious that not all customers desire self service, many do — and here’s the rub — they do, until they don’t.

Woman Holding Help Sign | Self Service Shold Never Mean Solo Service

In a retail environment particularly, it is crucial to make sure that there is always adequate human support to backup any self-service process. Even those who want self-service, often change their tune quickly when the technology does not perform as expected.

Then they not only desire human help, they expect it.

When it comes to self service, human support is like an insurance policy — there for when things go wrong but out of mind when things go right. The best retailers make sure that self-service kiosks always have adequate support staff ready and able to assist.

As organizations find larger shares of business coming from autonomous, digitally-serviced customers, they would do well to remember that self service should never mean solo service.

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