Shapiro: Retail innovation spurs demise of one-on-one customer service

Call me a dinosaur — I realize the world is changing, but there are some things I don’t like.

Personal customer service is disappearing.

Gary Shapiro

The Wal-Mart greeter is a thing of the past. Self-service kiosks are replacing human cashiers at grocery and hardware stores.

Help me understand it. Am I being paid to do their jobs? Am I going to receive a discount on my total tab for checking and bagging my produce?

Frankly, the trend disgusts me; since I’m a huge fan of actual human being generated customer service. It’s what I’ve done for almost 50 years as a real estate broker.

One of my favorite sayings is, “There’s always a reason who you meet people. Either you need them to change your life or you’re the one who will change theirs.”

Think about it. One-on-one contact is critical. Without it, we actually don’t do well.

In anticipation of an annual physical with a doctor at the Mayo Clinic, patients are asked to complete a routine questionnaire.

Many of the questions deal with the aspects and frequency of human contact through clubs, interest groups, houses of worship, etc. It’s clear from the questions that human interaction is an important component of good health.

Gary Shapiro, Scottsdale community advocate

Reclusive people, maybe even those who spend too much time on their laptops, are less healthy.

Rose, who cuts my hair, told me a long time ago that some of her clients don’t have an opportunity to be with anyone, except for their periodic appointment to get their haircut. That’s why it’s so important for her to interact with them and to share the human touch of someone giving them a shampoo.

I routinely frequent an assortment of stores and restaurants. The experience takes me longer than some other consumers as I like to work the room.

I love running into Judy, Patty, Rhiannon, Adam and Michael at Fry’s. I take the extra time to say hello to Anne, Barbara and Francesco at Costco. I try to avoid the self-checkout lines because I fear for the loss of their jobs, even if it takes me more time.

Gary Shapiro, Scottsdale community advocate

Remember the theme song for the Cheers sitcom on TV? It goes something like, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.”

That’s the way I feel when I have lunch at Canton Dragon on 90th Street. I walk in and my iced tea is being delivered to my table as if it was Norm’s beer sliding down the bar.

It just doesn’t get any better.

Recently, I had an opportunity to talk to Lawrence Yun, the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. We were looking into a crystal ball thinking about the future challenges of representing clients in a techno-crazy world.

Mr. Yun was clear there would always be an important place for REALTORS, like me, who deliver personal service and attention in what is considered the most significant transaction in a client’s life.

Clearly, the internet falls short.

It’s been 16 years since the world lost my friend Sam Sealfon. He, among others, taught me some important life lessons on how to treat people.

Before his retirement to Scottsdale, Sam was the owner of Sealfon’s of Ridgewood in New Jersey. It was a successful department store in the historic sense of retailing in the 1960s and 1970s.

Typical of the times, when you went into a store, heaven forbid you needed to use a bathroom. They were few and far between, not easily accessible, and reserved for customers.

Sam had a different idea. He remodeled his store and put all of the bathrooms up front and accessible. He ran ads in the local newspaper welcoming all downtown shoppers to use the restrooms at Sealfon’s whenever they were in the neighborhood.

Gary Shapiro, Scottsdale community advocate

He knew it was a strategic move to get people into his store and make them feel welcome. Sales increased, as you would expect.

Recently, I visited a branch of a bank to conduct a simple transaction. The teller informed me I could have used the ATM rather than take his time.

I was flabbergasted by his response. Rather than tell him how I really felt about his comment, I paused and reflected before sharing my reaction.

I told him if I had used the ATM, I would have been deprived of the opportunity to see his smiling face.

I’ve never been in an unemployment line, nor do I expect to be. However, I’m pretty confident he will be.

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