Do-it-yourself customer service? Yay or nay

Posted On October 16, 2014

Back in the day, if a customer had a question, she went to the office or store and spoke to the manager.  Perhaps she called on the phone. Either way it was a one-to-one conversation. The same was true with making a purchase. A person selected what they wanted, brought it to the checkout and paid a real, live person (and usually with cold, hard cash).

Today, customers can engage in entire transactions – from purchase to return to replacement – without ever speaking to a single person.  And while I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been frustrated by the demand to “please listen closely as our menu options have changed” when all they knew full well their question couldn’t be answered by the automated options, there are an increasing number of people who are happy to avoid the human element.

So what does this mean for businesses? It is hard to know how to find the balance. Even businesses that are known for their white glove touch service—such as high end restaurants—need to appeal to both the Boomer who enjoys having a personal connection with the manager and Gen Xer who wants to secure his reservation on his own time using Open Table. Both customers see value in completely opposing approaches to the same end goal.

Go from the steakhouse to the grocery store and you have the same conversation.  Self checkout lanes are becoming increasingly popular, but their use is largely divided on generational lines. What is good for business? What turns your service into something that can be experienced anywhere you can swipe a debit card? Where is that line?

Depending on the moment, I may prioritize convenience over connection, but then sometimes the best conversations come when and with whom you aren’t expecting anything interesting to happen. As usual, one size doesn’t fit all, so the best solution comes when you can provide options that appeal to different people…or even different moods.

Categories: Product Design, Work, Workplace