What a week it’s been for customer service!

First, we saw the arrival of customer service robots in retail with Lowe’s Hardware creating quite a buzz as they rolled out in-store ‘assistants’ to help customers – see video below:

And then there was the face of customer service: #AlexFromTarget!

If you haven’t heard about #AlexFromTarget, here goes: Alex, an employee working the checkout line at US Retailer Target, took Twitter by storm over the weekend after a customer tweeted a picture of him bagging items.

With one simple Tweet, Target’s brand was being talked about by millions on social media. Traditional media followed with The Huffington Post even proclaiming that he had singlehandedly made the Target brand cool. All thanks to Alex, who was simply doing his job providing a great in-person customer experience (while perhaps just slightly resembling a well-known Canadian pop star).

Target responded well, saluting team member Alex’s new found fame on their Twitter account, while protecting his privacy with the following statement:

“Usually our new weekly ad is what gets people tweeting on Sundays. So imagine our surprise…when one of our Target team members managed to flood the internet with images of red and khaki without even trying. We are proud to have a great team, including #AlexFromTarget, and are in contact with his store and family. We will keep you posted if he is available for comment, but for now, we would ask you to respect his privacy.”

Robots or People?

So, what’s a CX leader to do? Go for the innovative technology with options like cutting-edge robots and artificial intelligence? Or stick with the tried and true methods of human-assisted service with a smile?

It’s really about giving options for customers – and always providing easy access to a real person.

Technology can no doubt transform the customer experience. Just look at how innovation is impacting customer self-service. From advanced IVR solutions with speech-enabled apps to robots roaming store floors helping customers to artificial intelligence and cognitive computing, companies have an expanded range of self-service options to offer customers today. And when done right, self-service is a winner with today’s savvy consumers. In fact, 61% of global consumers are open to shopping at a fully automated self-service store with vending machines and kiosks offering a virtual customer service.

At the same time, there’s nothing quite like the human touch. Whether it’s a memorable in-store experience or a call center agent that goes above and beyond to help, fast access to the right employee at the right time makes or breaks the customer experience. And no matter the industry, it is a critical complement to any effective self-service strategy – including robots.

Finding the Right Balance

Enter the Indianapolis Airport, in the US. They just may have solved it! See USA Today’s article with video, Friendly Robot Answers Flyers’ Questions at Indianapolis Airport. The airport has creatively outfitted roaming customer service robots with support from live agents that communicate directly with travelers via a mounted iPad. These human-enabled robots tell travelers how to quickly get to their flight’s gate and even where to find a decent margherita – now, that’s great customer service!

Whether you like it or not, robots for customer service are probably here to stay. Like good self-service, if done right, I expect customers worldwide to embrace this new form of help. But don’t forget, there’s no touch like the human touch. With all the excitement around futuristic customer service lately, wasn’t it nice that a teenage kid from North Texas reminded us of the power of the in-person customer experience, and how one single interaction – with a little help from social media – can literally transform your brand!