Walk into a grocery store early on a Friday evening and you'll encounter chaos.
There are lines several people deep for each checkout lane. People waiting in line spill into the aisles, making it difficult to navigate around the store. The trip seems to take forever just to pick up a few items for dinner that night.
Checking out or checking in is often the worse part of the customer experience.
We wait to pay for our groceries, purchases at a retail store, or our bill at a restaurant. There's a line to check in for a flight, check in to a hotel, or buy a subway ticket.
All those lines and waiting feel miserable. The good news is companies are making huge strides to fix this terrible experience.
The bad news? Customer service professionals need to adapt.
Solving The Worst Part of Customer Experience
I'm anxious to try Amazon's new grocery store.
If you've not yet heard of it, the store is called Amazon Go. There's just one right now, located in Seattle, though more are expected soon. What makes it special is you walk in, select your items, and walk right out without ever standing in line for a cashier.
This short video provides a tantalizing preview.
Grocery shopping isn't the only place where the checkout is being eliminated or greatly improved. OpenTable is slowly rolling out its payments feature which allows you to make a restaurant reservation and then view and pay your check right from your smart phone. Imagine enjoying a great meal with friendly service and then leaving without having to wait for the check!
One of the major benefits of rideshare services like Lyft and Uber is the app-based checkout. As a frequent business traveler, one of the worst parts of a taxi ride is the time it takes to pay for the ride once you reach your destination. I used Lyft on a recent business trip and enjoyed the convenience of hopping out of the car as soon as we arrived. I could open the app on my phone and leave my driver a tip as I walked into the building I was visiting.
The opposite side of the coin, checking in, is also improving.
Airlines have allowed app-based check-ins for years. Now some airlines like Delta are eliminating the check-in process entirely and automatically generating boarding passes for confirmed passengers using the app.
Hotels are slowly rolling out this feature as well. This is especially handy when you check in to a busy hotel for a conference and you can skip a check-in line that can take 20 minutes or longer.
Movie theaters get this right too. Most theaters in my area have automated kiosks that allow you to buy tickets or you can buy your tickets ahead of time via an app so you can skip the long box office line.
Even mass transit systems are getting in on the game and starting to allow passengers to buy tickets via an app rather than wait in line at a kiosk or a ticket counter.
Humans Need to Step Up Their Game
All this automation creates both a challenge and an opportunity for humans in customer service.
The challenge is the check in or check out is the primary point of human interaction in many customer experiences. Eliminate that and you remove a big opportunity for people to shine.
The Starbucks app is a good example. You can order your drink and pay for it via the app which allows you to skip the line. I frequently see people pick up their drinks without so much as a nod or smile towards the human making them.
This experience seems to run counter to the Starbucks mission: "To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time."
This is also the opportunity.
Freed from the transactional nature of checking customers in or out, people have a chance to add more human value to experiences.
Lupe at my local Starbucks store greets customers by name, even if they are picking up a drink they ordered via the app. He can actually greet more people since he says hello to both people waiting in line and people coming in to pick up a drink they ordered via the app.
I've really enjoyed using Lyft because the app handles the transaction, freeing me up to have a pleasant conversation with my driver. My experiences have been incredibly positive and the ride always seems to go faster.
Tips to Help You Stay Connected
Building rapport is a foundational customer service skill. Automation is making rapport more important than ever before.
Here are just a few tips:
- Greet everyone enthusiastically. Yes, we all know this. No, we don't always do it.
- Try to personalize your interactions with customers.
- Use the five question technique to create thoughtful conversation starters.
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