The Human Touch vs. Self-Checkout

Filed in Blog, Customer Service, Personalizing Service by on August 26, 2014
The Human Touch vs. Self-Checkout

Walmart is replacing their self-service checkout this holiday season.  Instead, they are employing people to provide a personal touch and customer service at the point of purchase. I’m happy to hear that at least one retailer recognizes that self-service and reducing costs are not synonymous.

Shelly Banjo, a Wall Street Journal reporter, wrote an article about Walmart execs trying to stave off further quarterly declines.  The executives have been quoted that it is well known people are frustrated waiting in long lines to pay for their purchases.  They understand that self-checkout can be a slow process when customers can’t figure out the process or the equipment malfunctions.  Often there is no staff to help.  Walmart had experimented with a program called “Scan and Go,” allowing customers to scan items on their mobile devices as they walked through the store.  Then, with a scan of their phone, the items could be purchased at any kiosk, eliminating the cashier line altogether.  The result was a disaster.  The process was complicated and confusing and the pilot a failure.

How many times have I become irritated with a long wait and left my purchases to go to another store.  I am personally pleased that Walmart is taking this step to improve their customer service.   I have some suggestions for Walmart and other retailers.  The checkout counter should not only be the place for customers to pay for their purchases but the spot where frontline associates can make a connection and create a personal relationship.  The checkout counter should not be the end of the retail transaction but the beginning of the customer loyalty journey.

Some suggestions for transforming checkout into a “Welcome Counter” include:

  • Hire frontline associates who can personalize the encounter.   Just by noticing items purchased or what a person is wearing are important first steps. I appreciate when a representative says to me, “I like that yogurt flavor, too, or that’s a great tie you are wearing.”  Of course, it has to be genuine.
  • Cashiers who introduce themselves even if their name is on their badge, helps create a connection; “Hi! I’m Mary. I’m happy to help you.”
  • Thanking customers for their purchases and using their name. Many times customers pay with a credit card. The associate knows their name. Saying: “Thank you, Mr. Smith and have a great rest of the day,” can make customers feel special.

Walmart is on the right track. The purpose of having people at the checkout counter is to reduce the wait and have fewer complaints.  Human beings are great when they act human.  If the cashiers at the checkout counters behave robotically, the process may be more efficient and the lines a bit shorter, but the opportunity to generate repeat business will be lost.

Many customers love self-service counters. I use them when I have to, but often think that a big smile from a person would make my day. What do you think?

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