No question. People really don't realize how much the personal contact matters. But I do want to say that the article was inspired by conversations with stores that do impeccable customer service. The owners of most of the tech independents are in the store, knowledgeable, talking to customers all the time. And still people shop there, then go off to buy online for the discount!
As to the chains, it's a tough situation for them. Sales decline, so it's harder for them to stay interested in an area, so they hire people with less and less skill. And of course, it's always harder to scale something to that size and keep the quality up. The people in the original Borders stores were just like the people at the independents. And the founders of B&N still have enormous passion for the business and the customer. But building a truly customer-centric culture at a company is hard.
I struggle with that at O'Reilly, reminding people all the time that engagement matters. I figure if I have the time to respond to random emails and proposals, have an occasional blog, and answer talkbacks on articles, other people ought to have time too. But it's hard to make it part of everyone's regular practice.