Retail shopping experience continues to evolve with human-less self-serve and customer service. Buying stuff through websites involves little human interaction and we have largely adopted this shopping experience. Should this be the same for customer service and buying something from a brick and mortar store? Self-serve checkouts and “Grab and Go” grocery services are getting popular, and may replace actual cashiers. Amazon Go, a revolutionary self-serve, checkout-free grocery store, changes the way we shop for products and services. Employees can essentially be replaced by smart technology that can track and record your purchases through a cellphone app. With advances in AI and automation, we may even see more robots replacing humans in concierge, delivery and customer service.
Self-service at checkout
Pretty common to find self-service checkouts at your chain supermarkets. When it works, it is great and hassle-free. Most customers are largely happy to scan their own purchases, pack their own bag(s) and make their way home. Not sure about you, but I find the machines finicky at times or they need to be refined. I feel like I am always under scrutiny if something goes wrong with essentially human-less retail experience. Once in awhile, there is a glitch and I am humiliated by a loud computer voice: “I am sorry you have an unexpected item in the bagging area. Please remove it.” Goodness, I don’t know how that piece of garlic missed your sensor. don’t blame me! You have to wonder about the one person assigned to the self-service area watching the customers like hawks. I don’t envy their thankless job.
Amazon Go is a new kind of retail store in Seattle with advanced shopping technology so you never have to wait in line. Use your Amazon Go app with your phone when you enter the store and take advantage of their “Just Walk Out Shopping experience”. Pretty amazing! Just take the products you want, and go! No lines, no checkout or chatty cashier to deal with! Not sure about you, but I get tired of exchanging awkward, insincere pleasantries with the cashier anyway. That brings up the point of a system of cameras, scanners and infrared sensors tracking you and your movements. Big brother is watching! Forget about attempting to steal or pocket an item. what about the cases where some products were not charged on your bill? Blame it on the “smart” technology or technical glitch. However, if you were shoplifting, remember they may have you on tape. Just comes to sense of morals- Whether it was intentional or not, I have a feeling that box of Tampax will be on the house. Tencent recently opened an unmanned pop-up store in Shanghai with a similar concept.
The rise of online shopping and “grab and go”
App-based digital payments are the way of the future whether you buy something on an eCommerce website or buy a coffee from your Starbucks mobile app. No more nefarious customer stealing or shoplifting, but you have to wonder how sound and “smart” is the technology. You buy most things online nowadays with little or no human intervention. Bound to be glitches or human error. When something does go wrong, you still have to phone a 1-888 number. Hopefully, you will talk to a “real” person on the line and not a robot. You can use a ride-sharing app to schedule a ride to the airport, or order a pizza to be delivered to your house.
Okay, you may have to tip and exchange pleasantries with the driver. Several shopping chains like Real Canadian Superstore, Wal-mart and Save-On Foods, have “Click and Collect” checkout-free shopping experience. Again, little human interaction. There is still a ‘human error’ factor in the equation, but from a customer’s standpoint, it is “grab and go” or “point and click”. This is mostly about saving money and time for the customer.
Web self-service and live chats
Who needs human touch with traditional customer service by telephone, when we have live chats and web customer self-service? The main advantage is once it has been created, it can replace a number of customer service agents and support staff. Okay, it is not the same as talking to a real person, but this is the disturbing trend. Many companies are using employee self-service web portals so there is little contact with human resource personnel. The problem is it may take more time to get the proper context and find the right answers. Granted most things can be answered through FAQ’s on the website or through a live chat with an agent. Cellphone, utility providers and automobile dealers are some of the few businesses using this technology. Does it allow to skip the queue and save time? No, not really, but it does allow you to multi-task while you work away at your computer.
Robot concierge and customer service
Hotels around the U.S. are introducing robots to handle repetitive tasks like room service deliveries, entertaining guests, and even giving directions. Seriously. Savioke’s Relay robot was debuted in 2014 at a California hotel. The 3- foot tall autonomous robot, nicknamed Botlr, weighs 90 pounds and makes deliveries. How do you give tips? Does it “flip you the bird” if you short-change it? I can imagine it using several sensors, 3D cameras and Wi-Fi to operate the elevators and navigate the halls. I can see robots enhancing the guest experience and increasing efficiency for some things. There is always going to be demanding and annoying guests that will request the same things. If they get out of line, shoot them with a stun gun.
As companies downsize and find ways to save money, self-service and human-less customer service seems inevitable. Little or no human contact is the norm when shopping for products or services. Online shopping and automation continues this trend. It is happening now with human-less, checkout-free shopping at Amazon Go. This is a bit of a hard pill to swallow, but it is plausible that your next job could be filled by a robot.