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Is this the Future of Customer Service?


Renting my Car in Phoenix from Someone in Omaha

I just experienced the future of virtual customer support in retail stores. I landed in Phoenix and saw a massive line at Hertz. I thought I would be there for at least 2 hours. Then BAM! The line started moving a lot faster, after 4 machines fired up with real (but virtual) customer support reps from Omaha, I was in my Hertz rental car just 25 minutes later. The company behind the technology is ClairVista.

Ghost Town turns into Rihanna Concert

Back in Highschool when I worked in the TV department at Sears, I would remember hours where not a single person would walk in. (I killed time by playing snake on my Nokia phone) Then around the 6pm rush-hour 10 people would show up. I would be out numbered and lose customers. I wish I had some virtual assistance that could answer questions and then help me close more deals!

Is this the future?

What do you think of a future with virtual reps in physical stores? There were a few people in front of me in the Hertz line that said no to using the virtual machines and let me cut in front of them.

What do you think of a future with virtual reps in physical stores? Would you talk to one at a Best Buy or Macy’s? Let me know in the comments below!

PS Pro Travel Tip: Go with the no-named local car rental company over Hertz. They are cheaper and have flexible with drop off times.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Lisa May 20, 2013, 3:43 PM

    I saw this at Hertz this weekend! I was wondering that it was.

    My line was short so I didn’t get to experience the virtual reps. I’m not sure if I would like these at Best Buy, they have a huge store and my needs are pretty specific (like put this screen protector on my iPhone).

    I can see this working well for Hetrz and other super specific task companies. Not sure about companies with thousands of products

    • Rishi Shah May 20, 2013, 3:48 PM

      Good thinking Lisa.

      For Best Buy it would make more sense to have these type of machines in their returns department.

      Or they could have one of these in every section and have sensors. So if someone entered that specific section, it can turn on and say “Hello” automatically.

      • Matty Mack May 23, 2013, 5:46 PM

        Boom, touch screen that directs you to an “expert” for any department located in the store, problem solved. Then if I’ve got a question about a camera and about a video game console I speak to the camera guru, end conversation, hit the gaming button, chat with that fella or fellette, and I’ve gotten answers to my two questions without even having to traverse to different departments and subsequently locate the virtual service rep. Right? I actually think it might be more useful to a consumer when there are thousands of products (maybe they can order be something that isn’t in stock or whatever, it’s a lot more difficult to make a decision, so “expert” advice and such is more useful). When it’s super straightforward like with Hertz (need car, get car, choose options on car, whatever) it’s obviously easier to develop but they’re not necessarily providing me with any true insight into the process or the product, they’re simply speeding up the process (which is, of course, still pretty great if you ask me [which you didn’t]).

        • Rishi Shah May 30, 2013, 7:44 PM

          Matty Mack – yeah I agree with you. It would also be awesome to be routed to an expert in any category.

          I guess in Hertz’s case it really is just about speeding up the process. But for Best Buy, I would like to talk to an expert. Kinda like Amazon Reviews but with a real person who actually knows what they are talking about.

  • Benji May 30, 2013, 8:08 PM

    So I think a lot of times people would prefer the voice of someone for 2 reasons.
    1) You can’t yell at support docs.
    2) It’s much easier to just ask an expert something than to research it yourself.
    My opinion is that it’s faster for some people just to call and ask.
    And some are not as well versed in finding the answers they’re looking for on Google. They try, fail, and become upset. Then must vent to someone in support.
    Overall, I like the idea because being able to see someone’s face can greatly reduce friction, and increase communication. If they know you’re upset by your face, they may be a little extra patient with you.
    But, with face to face communication also comes potential intimidation. A strategy of the support team (in the future) could be to have very dominant / borderline threatening faces aboard. This will keep convos short, and free up some lines. (just some food for thought!)

    • Rishi Shah May 31, 2013, 10:54 AM

      I think you are on to something – sometimes people just want to be heard. However, I think in most cases people just want their problem fixed.

      Studies show that people actually prefer using automated machines over talking to a real person. This way the can avoid all the awkwardness that comes with talking to people.

  • Jennifer Daniels May 30, 2013, 8:52 PM

    Definitely would rather talk to a virtual customer agent at Best Buy. The ones I have talked to have been very unhelpful. Macy’s on the other hand I would rather the real person.

  • Tom May 31, 2013, 10:51 AM

    The short answer is YES, This is our future. When I was a kid of fourteen, I pumped gas at a privately owned Shell Station. If we checked the customers oil, tire pressure, and washed their windows,they may consider returning. but only on double Green Stamp day or when we gave away a free gift.

    Here is the point. We as a society have evolved. We no longer receive the perks and benefits once enjoyed. The fact is, no one has to provide the extras because you do not have a choice. You will need to purchase gasoline sooner or later. You can purchase it with a card,but no attendant will assist you. There are those that will say “I won’t talk to a machine” Truth is….They will!

    If they found themselves in the desert at 3 AM without fuel or transportation,I would venture to say that they would utilize the service of a machine and be grateful for it as well.

    Remember the last few holdouts who said “I still deal personally with a handshake” or “I don’t deal with computers” ” I’m a people person” Often these remarks are spoken very proudly and smugly, as though the rest of society did not grasp the importance of this concept. It does not matter why you attempt to stifle the Technology Revolution. You may not be able to comprehend, or you may be too lazy. Perhaps your so old fashioned and narrow minded that you perceive these changes to be temporary fads. Doesn’t matter. The changes will happen,and those who refuse to adapt will dry up as many already have.

    Think about this oxymoron. More and more personal information is out there and available on individuals today then ever before,but personal and physical interaction is at an all time low. So climb aboard the Cruise ship with your speed pass and push the Kool Aid button. Now drink it like everyone else……or stay on the well built Raft with the cocktail waitress. Just remember that the Raft is sinking and the time of flotation is uncertain !!

    • Rishi Shah May 31, 2013, 10:57 AM

      Tom, you speak the absolute truth my friend.

      The fact of the matter is you just simply have to adapt to the technology wave or DIE!

    • Rishi Shah May 31, 2013, 11:00 AM

      Just another comment on your thoughts Tom:
      look what happened to the airline industry. The large majority of people don’t really care what airline they fly or what type of service they receive. They just wanted the cheapest flight possible.

  • Raj May 31, 2013, 10:52 AM


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