When Did Robots Take Over Customer Service?

Despite the continued automation of both training and customer service, many companies still want that one-on-one training experience for their personnel.

By Scott T. Merrick Training Account Manager Signature Worldwide

On a recent trip to a well-known big-box retailer, I noticed with much pleasure a small child goading his mom into letting him scan their purchases through the self-service checkout. All I could think of was as a child I would have loved this, and now as an adult I was equally intrigued, so I went to one of the available self-serve kiosk and followed the instructions.

I must admit it was very simple, and I quickly took my bag and left. I also noticed there was no line at the self-serve checkout, but there were lines at the cashier-manned registers. So imagine my surprise a couple of weeks later when I checked into a hotel and found instead of a front-desk agent a self-service system at the hotel. So instead of checking in with an actual person, I was checking in with a modified ATM machine. This time, I did NOT like the machine.

A 2008 publication from NetWorld Alliance said, “When done right, self-service is the way to go. Not only will it please the customers of the hotels, it will even please the staff, as they will be able to do more important tasks such as greeting customers away from the front desk.”

So is this the future—a self-service kiosk to check into a hotel? As a trainer in the hotel industry, I am not sure how much I like this idea. If hotels start replacing front-desk agents with kiosks, what happens to my job? I won’t be training people, but instead someone will be downloading a new program. Uh, oh…

As I continued my research, I read that self-service kiosks may NOT be as popular as some may have felt. In the article, it announced that a well-known grocery store would be removing its self-serve kiosks from ALL of its grocery stores.

Now, I know a grocery store and a hotel are very different, but it makes me wonder if one-on-one training eventually will be a thing of the past. Will a computer actually take the place of the personal training experience, not to mention the customer service experience? Moreover, what about online training? E-learning continues to saturate the market, especially since computers are becoming smaller and the WiFi signals are becoming stronger. However, while some larger companies have found online training to be the quickest and cheapest way to train a large number of people, many companies still want that one-on-one training experience for their personnel—a customer experience the computer cannot extend.

Scott T. Merrick is a training account manager for Signature Worldwide, a Dublin, OH-based company offering sales and customer service training, marketing, and mystery shopping services for a variety of service-based industries. For additional information, call 800.398.0518 or visit www.signatureworldwide.com. You also can connect with Signature Worldwide on Twitter @SignatureWorld and on Facebook.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.