Recent research has shown that shoppers are actively avoiding the new wave of self-serve checkouts and online automation in favour of staffed stores. The report says that consumers do value experience and human interaction over the distance that self-serve puts between them and the product. The drive for more traditional customer service means more retailers are considering “moving back to a more convenience based model.” The premise was always that ‘convenience’ was defined by speed and ease of delivery where as in reality, its actually about ease of access and information about that product, not how quickly it can be bought.
The solution is simple… people. The highest rated customer experience is still face to face retail, though mobile purchasing does come a close second but on the premise that technology is there to help a customer or help the buying process, not make the retailer a slave to it.
I recently read an article about Swiss International Airlines, who to this day still have high street stores across Europe. The Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich, is one of the most expensive retail streets in the world and home to one of these seemingly now unique ticket offices. Customers are greeted by friendly staff and offered an espresso or even glass of Champagne before their travels are planned and booked for them by knowledgeable Swiss staff.
40 years ago flying was a luxury. Back then a ticket bought you comfort and there was always an added personal touch to buying a ticket, an ethos that Swiss are emulating. Booking online is admittedly easier but in reality is such a mundane task, often painful rather than enjoyable. We so often feel like we are booking a slot in a cattle truck rather than a plane and often treated as such during the flight.
Swiss’ branch in Zurich airport takes you back in time to a truly golden age of travel. The sky is literally the limit with Swiss, Markus Binkertt Chief Commercial Officer, recalls one customer who was emigrating to the US and wanted to take his ageing dog with him in the cabin rather than put him in the hold. Swiss’s answer, allow him to book the whole of First Class. Yes I know this level of spend isn’t accessible to us all but from the most expensive to the cheapest flights Swiss’s ticket offices give you something you don’t get online, a sense of occasion, warmth and excitement. The concept of the ticket office may seem like a relic to many but there is something remarkable edgy about what Swiss are doing.
Other retailers are however taking note just look at the success of the Apple stores and it is rumoured that online stalwart Amazon is now experimenting with concept high street stores. The truth is that automation can do a lot of great things but it can’t do the human things like ‘do a deal’, ‘tailor a service’, ‘make a judgement’ and importantly add the ‘personal’ touch.
We always tell clients not to underestimate the value that personal touch and genuine hospitality brings to the perception of their brand and naturally their business ethic. The world may be changing fast in the way in which we all communicate and relate to each other, but the customer is ultimately telling us where and how they want to ‘buy’ and we should all be listening closely to what they are saying.
Photo by Mike Petrucci