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Technology and Customer Service: Die Self Service Till, Die

By 2nd September 2019 September 6th, 2019 No Comments

The time has well and truly arrived when the machines are in charge. But what if your machines are potentially losing you customers?

As someone who still holds value in person centred customer service, and the ability to engage with another human being, the term ‘Self Service/Express Till’ fills me with dread. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no technophobe and I’m all for progress however if you are going to integrate a time saving mechanism into your business please make sure it works. It’s bad enough that service standards are ever slipping but when you integrate something that benefits the business before the customer make sure it’s efficient.

My Self Service Till Nightmare

This weekend I was in the local supermarket. I got a basket full of goods and first looked to see if any of the few open manned tills had short enough queues. Given that it was Saturday I was out of luck. Reluctantly I made my way towards the ‘Express’ tills although I could feel the eyes of the Checkout Supervisor ushering me in that general direction anyway. It almost made me feel that by not going to the self service till I was doing something wrong.

As I arrived at the ‘Self Service’ tills there were two inevitably with signs informing ‘OUT OF ORDER’ and one stating ‘CARD MACHINE OUT OF USE – CASH ONLY’. I suppose machines can be sick too.

Then I get to the till.

“Will you be using your own bags?” Starter for ten, I can cope with that.

“Please scan your item.”

I scanned my tea bags and into the bag they go. Next I scan the milk. In it goes.

“Unknown Item in the bagging area.” I look at the machine. I pick up and drop my milk again. I then try and scan the bread. “Unknown Item in the Bagging area.”

Then it starts – my conversation with the ‘machine’. “IT’S MILK. M-I-L-K. IT’S MILK.” Irrationally trying to inform the machine that the item is not unknown.

“Assistance Needed,” it barks.

So I turn and look. No-one. The sound of a full supermarket but all I can hear is this machine. Its toying with me, it’s playing with my emotions.

I look around again. The Assistant is talking to her colleague at the far end. Great. I look over in her direction trying to politely catch her attention with a look. She sees me twice and eventually, having disturbed her conversation (I’m sorry for being a nuisance) she comes over. In the most patronising tone ever I get, “What’ve you done?”

WHAT HAVE I DONE? WHAT HAVE I DONE? WHAT HAS THIS BLEEEEEP MACHINE DONE? ITS RUINING MY WEEKEND. I’VE DONE NOTHING. I’M A VICTIM. I didn’t say this of course but my goodness I was thinking it. I smiled politely, “I think it’s the milk.”

‘Beep’ she scans a card. “There, it’s ok now”. That simple and walks off to tend to another innocent victim.

Ok so now ‘Finish and Pay’. Pressed.

‘Cash, Card, Voucher.’ Oh no. A chill passes through my body. I pause. Slowly I press cash. In fearful anticipation I slowly reach into my pocket to pull out the most crumpled up £10 note the paper world has ever seen. I take the note between my thumb and forefinger slowly trying to iron it in an effort which I already know to be completely futile. I close my eyes. “Queen’s head first, Queen’s head first,” I mutter to myself. In she goes.

And out she comes.

And in she goes.

And out she comes.

Kill me. Kill me now.

I raise my hand like a petulant school child. “Please Miss, it won’t take my money Miss?”

I get a look that informs me of how burdensome this whole transaction has been. Off she goes to exchange my £10 note at the till in the meantime I start to remember the benefits of waiting in the queue for real interaction with another human being.

Finally she returns, the machine takes my money and I run, in fact almost so fast that I forget my change.

What are the lessons?

Now I may over exaggerate slightly on some of the detail but the point is if companies are going to introduce technology as a replacement for service they need to think at what cost this comes at in terms of customer experience.

  • Are you investing in technology as part of your customer experience?
  • Are you sure it helps, rather than hinders, the customer journey?

Don’t lose the personal touch

Companies need to think very carefully about replacing customer service with technology. Once you lose the personal touch in every day transactions you also lost the affinity a customer feels with your brand. There is no loyalty between a human being and a machine. Customers will quite easily do business elsewhere, when they are not felling valued.