We’re watching the equivalent of the Industrial Revolution play out in real time in our lives, changing everything albeit at an uneven pace. It comes as no news that the Technology Revolution is upon us. It is upending our retail landscape and while we may look back with fond nostalgia at school day afternoons spent at the mall with friends, there’s no going back to that wandering time.
While consultants advise retailers to “invest in the personal service and knowledgeable guidance that can only be offered person-to-person,” this is the moral equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns. Leaders must not fiddle. Retail Rome is burning. Personal service as a point-of-difference has gone the way of the stage coach. Why? Because technology enables a better form of consumer service than people on their own can muster.
Want proof? I have it. Wayfair.
We recently moved and my daughter’s bed was damaged in the process. She needed a new one and was torn between the profound coolness foist upon her by having a mattress on the floor (“I kind of like it this way”) and the bed-making ease of a platform bed. We ordered it from Wayfair with the option of having a fellow from Handy.com come to assemble it. Two days later it arrived, then a day after that, the Handy.com man. After working on it for an hour, he told me the platform was defective, the holes had not been drilled and he couldn’t do it. He advised me to contact Wayfair.
You may imagine my disheartened dismay. Moving is no day at the beach, so let’s just admit my nerves were already frayed. Visions of fresh hell danced in my head: Repacking the various component parts of the bed and returning them to Wayfair, all the while haggling over shipping costs and having to pay not just for this handyman but the next one who would arrive when the next attempt at a bed arrived. My imaginings were based squarely on real world experience with real world retail: Calling Bloomies to deal with the wrong sofa delivered, calling a now defunct furniture store to deal with a dropped and scratched coffee table, calling the delivery service to figure out why a bed had not been delivered during the four hours they demanded my attendance at home. Policies. Procedures. Small print. Augh.
But no. That’s not what happened.
The handyman proved his mettle. He contacted Wayfair before I found the courage and whoosh! In my inbox came a note from “Mark” explaining the following: He’d heard about and was extremely sorry for my experience. He had already ordered a new platform to arrive in three days. He had deducted 20 percent from the cost to help offset the inconvenience. He had refunded the cost of the handyman and arranged for the new one to arrive, after the next bed, paying for that one, as well. And, I could donate or destroy the defective bed: No need to return.
I never met Mark or talked with him. He may, in fact, be an AI ‘bot, programmed to deal with predictable issues. I don’t particularly care. He over-achieved in every particular, knitting up the raveled sleeve of care rather better than a good night’s sleep might.