The rebirth of customer service

The rebirth of customer service

There’s an old magic trick that I am sure everyone is familiar with. The magician approaches a fully laid dining table with full place settings including wine, wine glasses, condiments and a small vase with a flower in it. He takes hold of the table cloth. As quick as a flash he tugs at the cloth removing it from under the crockery and glassware without any of it moving save a slight rattle. Well, I have a tip for everyone. Don’t attempt this trick – especially if your delivering a business briefing over breakfast at the Ritz hotel in London to the a select group of captains of industry. Believe me – I speak from personal experience – it’s not big and it’s not clever.

There was something very memorable about that breakfast briefing in 1998. It was the look of absolute horror on the face of the CEO of one of the biggest retail groups in the UK – not at the silly icebreaker with the table cloth – it was the prediction that consumers would, within 10 years, be doing their grocery shopping on-line.

Purchasing Insight logo“We only just trained them to do their own picking and to wait in line to pay” he said. “Why would we want to go backwards to the days when we deliver to them?”

It’s interesting how things come around full circle. In the 18th and 19th century, what we would now call the media was generated not just by newspapers but by a multitude of pamphleteers – individuals and special interest groups who wanted to get their message across. It was interactive and social. People were not just consuming the media, they were creating it. Remind you of anything?

And on the topic of things coming around full circle, I was really interested to read a piece in the Dallas Morning News about a new retail concept – they call it “customer service”. Beginning this month apparently, the Boise-based Albertsons LLC is removing the self-checkout lanes in all of its 217 stores in seven states, including Texas. Instead, it has decided to consider the metro or Euro style of checkout lanes, with one customer line for multiple staffed express lanes vs. self checkouts.

Spokeswoman Christine Wilcox said: “Our customers are our highest priority, and we want to provide them with an excellent experience from the time they park their car to when they leave.”

I for one am delighted at this news. I may be a compete geek. I like automation. I like efficiency and I like low cost. But I also value expert and friendly service – both in a professional buying capacity and as a consumer – from a human being.