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News Roundup: Smart Businesses are Investing in Customer Service

October 11, 2019 Updated: September 8, 2020

Special Edition: Customer Service Week – October 7-11

Every year during Customer Service Week, we celebrate the value of the customer service provided by millions of workers in grocery stores, pharmacies, retail outlets, and a wide range of other businesses.

As the nation’s union for retail workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers International union knows that even with all the new technology in stores, a business can’t succeed without good customer service.

In honor of customer service week, we’re taking a look back at some of the stories we’ve covered about the impacts of automation and artificial intelligence on the future of work.

Good Customer Service is Essential During Shifts in Retail Technology

Order online and your groceries are ready when you get to the store. You might think this is a relatively new innovation, but it’s not new at all.

Looking back at the history of grocery chains in America, we can see how innovation and automation has helped or hindered the retail experience from 1916 to today. From the first attempt to fully automate a grocery store (1937!) to today’s “unexpected item in the bagging area,” we ask whether things have gotten better or worse for American shoppers. (

Classic: Retailers Pushing Self-Checkout Ignore Customer Service

In retrospect, 2016 was a breakout year for self-checkout with sales of self-checkout terminals soaring 67 percent. Since then, the technology has lost some of its luster as we learn about the problems it can create. (Charlotte Observer)

One retail executive cautioned businesses to remember “consumers want to be treated like individuals” (Forbes)

“I’m definitely going to miss the interaction with the cashiers. They’re all great people,” said one customer at a store switching completely to self-checkout. (Fox News)

One Chicago shopper “prefers traditional registers because using them feels as if she’s supporting jobs” and another noted “he’d heard about similar technology at other retailers but never felt motivated to try it out,” preferring to stick with what he knows. (Chicago Tribune)

Classic: Consumers and Experts Remind Businesses Service is King

Grocery customers “love the experience of shopping at their local store where they know people and people know them,” according to a recent consumer survey. The report added that this sentiment is even stronger among Millennials, who are more likely than any other generation (36 percent) to say they appreciate the communal aspect of grocery shopping. (NBC News)

Successful grocers are winning with “a return to simple customer values, placing a premium on customer experience and looking at new ways to provide value to and be part of their customers’ lives,” one industry strategist noted. (Retail Customer Experience)

Stores like Amazon Go continue to face backlash. One customer at an Amazon Go in Seattle said, “I was told I had to install an app on my phone in order to buy anything. There were no cash registers. No physical money changed hands. I walked out not purchasing anything. This practice, though technologically advanced, struck me as a metaphor for the entire Amazon empire — controlling and domineering.” (Covington Maple Valley Reporter)

Classic: Harvard Report: Customer Service Key for Retailers to Survive in Digital Age

“Retailers that want to thrive in today’s and tomorrow’s ever-more-competitive markets have to offer a better customer experience,” according to the report. Investing in workers and customer service builds deeper consumer loyalty and actually reduces costs in the stores due to lower turnover and shrinkage.

Just pouring more money into automation and other technology while ignoring what customers actually want will only worsen the “operational problems” and “poor customer experience” so many stores are already confronting.

Number of the Week: 70 Percent

That’s the percentage of U.S. Consumers that say they have spent more money to do business with a company that delivers great service, according to American Express. More proof that not only do customers value service, but they put their money where their mouth is.

Any upcoming stories about the impact of automation on the retail industry and the economy?

If you’re interested in speaking with UFCW, email awhite@www.ufcw.org for a quote, statistics, or interviews with workers in retail and other sectors of the economy.

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