Surely you have experienced the changes taking place in retail businesses.  From self-checkout at grocery stores to kiosk ordering everywhere from restaurants to hotels, the pace of implementation is amazing.  But it leads to this question – do these investments improve customer service, or are they efficiency efforts aimed at reducing costs at the expense of customer service? 

These changes clearly result in the need for fewer employees.  Given the difficulty companies are having finding employees, much of this makes sense.  It leads to another question – how much of the customer’s expectation for service is based on employees providing that service vs. a machine?  How much kiosk service is acceptable? 

Take self-checkout at the grocery store.  There are times when you may have a few items and it is easy to self-checkout, or you may have a lot of items that require codes be entered (fresh fruits and vegetables) and that can be done quicker by a cashier.  If given the option of using a cashier or self-checkout, then having a choice may be considered good customer service – especially if your definition of good customer service is a quick and easy checkout process. 

However, we are beginning to see some retailers that are all self-service, and it’s easy to get frustrated. Some places for haircuts require online check in before showing up for example.   Our research has shown in recent years the top customer buying criteria across industries is “fast and easy.”  Some self-service methods are easy; others are decidedly not easy.

Setting expectations is an important element to achieving good customer service. Frequently companies are trying to redefine how they deliver service while still charging high rates. An example of this can be found in the hotel industry. 

The hotel, knowing the room was going to be soon sold, still turns the thermostat up to save money.  There’s nothing quite like showing your customers that saving money is more important than customer comfort – especially in the comfort industry.  Also rarely are there enough agents at the reception desk.  Rumor has it kiosk and more efficient online check in may be all that is available soon.  What gets lost then?  No welcome with hotel information, directions, etc.   

Establishing and meeting customer expectations goes a long way to retention and word of mouth sales regardless of industry.  Manufacturing and distribution have the same challenges.  Only your customers know their expectations.  Ask them, don’t assume, and don’t make operational decisions without their input. 

The winners of tomorrow will be those who consider customer values before making big investments in company friendly operations. 

September, 2023

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