August 14, 2008 10:15 am

If you’re like InventHelp’s Invention Girl, getting routed through 10 different phone menus by an annoying, robotic voice just to get to customer service makes you want to tear your hair out. Companies want these automatons to handle everything from catalog orders to complex billing questions.

Now, it looks like this concept is slithering its way into retail stores as well. Forget helpful, human service – the future of customer service may be in videoconference kiosks.

As the economy takes a downturn, stores are scrambling for ways to cuts costs. Hiring knowledgeable employees can be difficult, so retailers are hoping that these video kiosks will provide better customer support at a lower cost.

Two examples of companies that provide video support include Live Agent and Live Expert. “Everybody who goes into a retail store today and walks away frustrated that they could not get their questions answered can get the help they need,” said Chris Woods, chief technology officer of ClairVista (Live Expert’s maker), in an interview with MSNBC.

If retail companies plan to move in this direction, they owe it to their customer base to hire compassionate, intelligent operators with a good grasp of English. But, a live support staff is always going to have an advantage of a cold monitor and keyboard. Plenty of customers out there are uncomfortable with seeking help via technology and retailers could suffer financial consequences by neglecting them.

Rather than thinking about what’s best for the company, the company should think about what’s best for the customer.

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