…a tongue-and-cheek look at what customer service might be

Year after year we hope service and the customer experience gets better. But great service comes at a cost, a high labor cost that many businesses are not willing or able to pay. So what are their options? Technology, that’s it. Or is it?

2017 Might NOT Be The Best For Service

Chat Bots

Ever see those little boxes that pop up on the bottom right of your screen saying “Hi, I’m Susan and I’m here to help you”? Come on, do you really think Susan is there to answer your questions? Well, when these “bots” first started to appear, I must admit I did! I felt so foolish when I realized it was just another way to interact with the online customer.

“Chat bots”, short for chat robot, is a computer program that simulates human conversation, or chat, through artificial intelligence.*

I thought email was the preferred method to contact a business’s service or help desk. Now I need to deal with a talking computer? I guess I’m still old fashioned.

Virtual Reality and Holograms

This cutting edge technology can allow a customer to stand still while they virtually “try on” various articles of clothing. Just click a button and the next shirt or dress is superimposed over your body without you ever having to move.

The thought behind this is fine and I guess it’s some cool technology. But I will miss all the fun of carrying hanger after hanger into the dressing room and fighting with that one small clothes hook on the stall wall.

Self Service

As I mentioned in a previous article entitled “The Shocking Truth About Self Service”, if we are to believe that installing self-serve check-out counters are in the customer’s best interest, why not install more and really do away with the live cashier altogether? But that’s already happening.

Here’s an example:

Stop by your local Home Depot on any weekday and see how many self check-out lanes/terminals there are versus those with a living breathing human. What do you see? Two lanes with a person and 2 lanes each with 4 self-checkout terminals.

Sure, on the self-serve line you will see the occasional 30+ year old man that came in just to buy a few screws and picture hangers, he goes through quickly. But what about the woman trying to buy 4 bags of garden soil? She can’t get anywhere near the human counter because all the contractor dudes are there with their 2×4’s and sheetrock. So she struggles with her bags at the self-serve checkout while the people behind her grow impatient.

That’s not service!

Machine Learning

Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides computers with the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed.**

An example, according to whatis.techtarget.com, Facebook’s News Feed uses machine learning to personalize each member’s feed. If a member frequently stops scrolling in order to read or “like” a particular friend’s posts, the News Feed will start to show more of that friend’s activity earlier in the feed.

Behind the scenes, the software is simply using statistical analysis and predictive analytics to identify patterns in the user’s data and use to patterns to populate the News Feed. Should the member no longer stop to read, like or comment on the friend’s posts, that new data will be included in the data set and the News Feed will adjust it accordingly.

Talk about BIG Brother snooping over your shoulder. Not me, I like my privacy and don’t need a computer program monitoring my every online move. Seems kinda creepy, no?

Anticipatory Shipping

Want to talk about BIG Brother?

As Lance Ulanoff writes in his article on Mashable,*** Anticipatory shipping may be closest that retail can come to a crystal ball. Amazon, which now has a patent for the algorithm-based system, could conceivably use the system to ship products before you even place an order.

Amazon filed for the patent, officially known as “method and system for anticipatory package shipping,” in 2012, and it was awarded on Christmas Eve of the following year. The patent summary describes a method for shipping a package of one or more items “to the destination geographical area without completely specifying the delivery address at time of shipment,” with the final destination defined en route.

Mr. Ulanoff continues; While Amazon would not comment on the patent, the benefits of such a system for the No. 1 retailer in the world are obvious. Predicting customers’ orders could increase sales and potentially reduce shipping, inventory and supply chain costs.

This is getting a little ridiculous now. Who needs to go to the fortune teller anymore? Just go see Mr. Bezos!

Personalized Advertising

The next wave of technology and featured in big screen movies; think Tom Cruise’s Minority Report, use “personal advertising” by tailoring the street corner advertisement for products you have previously purchased or shown an interest in.

Every time you buy something online or in-store the transaction is tracked, evaluated and analyzed against a potential future purchase. Products are shown on strategically placed television monitors along your route to entice you to buy and for all to see.

How do they know it’s you walking down the street versus someone else? You’re tracked by your cell phone or facial recognition software, that’s how!

But what about the person that doesn’t want their past purchase of incontinence pads or hemorrhoid cream broadcast to the masses? How do you opt-out of these things?

The Bottom Line

With all the advancements in technology and operational capabilities, one thing is still missing – SERVICE.

And what about the overall customer experience? Has this become subservient to the “benefits of automation and technology”?

Our shopping will change from a personal experience (one live human helping another) to a technological experience where a computer will be my assistant.

The customer will be responsible for most of the “sales process” and manipulated in subtle ways away from their intended choice and preference towards what benefits the business.

Gone will be the friendly banter between a sales clerk and customer. Gone will be the gum chewing teenager who doesn’t know if that item comes in another color. Gone will be the commission-hungry salesman trying to talk you into that ill-fitting suit.

Hey, wait a minute…maybe technology is not a bad thing after all…

➤Leave a comment below and add to the discussion, thanks.

*Source: http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/C/chat_bot.html

**Source: http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/machine-learning

*** Source: http://mashable.com/2014/01/21/amazon-anticipatory-shipping-patent/#4xC2b1tqTiq5