Guest Blog: Service With a Smile
(From the archives: Guest post by Todd Trabue, son of KimberPartners Tom and Kim Trabue. Six years ago he expressed his opinion about e-services vs. personal service. That opinion still stands today, even though his latest “Like” is Amazon.com)
A smile can make a world of difference. Being one who doesn’t particularly enjoy “shopping,” I am strongly affected by the atmosphere in a store. It can make or break my buying experience. A helpful employee who flashes a smile and carries on pleasant conversation, or the amusing customer walking around muttering about what he needs, can make shopping bearable, if not enjoyable. Alternatively, the grumpy sales clerk in the last fifteen minutes of his shift and the mother with her three screaming babies can make any inconvenience worse. With E-Commerce and other electronic services, that atmosphere – the interaction with the rest of humanity – does not exist.
According to author and customer service trainer John Tschohl, “Technology alone won’t ensure success.” Yet comScore Networks research shows that online spending during 2005 was up 22 percent over 2004. The convenience of ordering items from a home computer is certainly noticeable and forces the typical ‘brick-and-mortar’ stores to re-evaluate their marketing strategies. For online purchases, all one needs is an internet connection and a credit card, no interaction. Should problems arise, there is no sales associate who can page his manager, or customer service representative who may be labeled as having “people skills.” There is no recourse for the computer almost-illiterate should anything go awry. Current E-services can lack the personal touch.
At retail stores or even service centers there are clerks, assistant managers, etc. It is with these people when making a purchase, customers build a working relationship. At restaurants there often is that one server that everyone is hoping to get, the one who can amuse children enough so that parents can order, or suggest just the right entrée to make the evening a success. And in the most stressful situation, there’s that one mechanic who with a handshake can set your mind at ease.
These relationships tell the buyers how their money is being spent, wisely or wasted, and lead them to where current and future transactions will take place.
It seems unthinkable for an electronic service to provide this type of relationship. When my money is on the line, I want to deal with someone I can trust. Humans aren’t perfect, but they can more easily fix an honest mistake than a computer program can fix a syntax error. Barring extreme difference in price or availability, I prefer a pleasant human to provide my services.
Electronic services often are cheaper, and sometimes faster and more convenient. As new technologies are developed to make programs more interactive, electronic services may also become more . . . personable. Science fiction movies show holograms directly interacting with humans in many aspects of life. Technology will improve to the point where computer programs can more accurately imitate human personality, yet with improved efficiency.
There is no doubt that E-Services will continue to grow – in quantity and in quality – but nothing can replace the pleasure of seeing the smile of my favorite waitress.
(Todd Trabue is a professional poker player and lives in St. Louis with his adopted dog Sophie. He enjoys the outdoors and serves as an Assistant Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 707.)
(This post was originally developed as an essay response to the prompt: “E-Services: Are they the future or do people still prefer personal service?” comScore Networks – www.comscore.com – reports similar e-commerce increases each quarter since this essay, but one has to wonder how that favorite waitress in Baton Rouge is doing today.)