Let me explain
Today I went into a branch of one of our largest Building Societies to pay in a cheque. A simple enough task, I went to the self service cash machine, put my card in the slot and fed the cheque into the machine as requested. After 30 or so seconds of whirring noises, I was informed that the cheque was the wrong way round, and requested to put it in the right way. I re-presented the cheque and waited while the machine whirred for another 30 seconds before being informed that "sorry, we are unable to process cheques at this time". It then took another minute or so of whirring before my cheque and card were returned. Undeterred, I turned to the other machine and paid in the cheque without fuss.
Thirty minutes later
I paid a visit to a local supermarket to purchase a single item (porridge, if you must know!) and proceeded to the "ten items or less" checkout. There were several people in the queue, and the other checkouts were all fairly busy.
Prepared for a short wait, I stood patiently before being approached by a handsome young lass who asked if I would care to use the self serve checkouts. I really didn't, but her manner was so sweet - how could I possibly refuse?
"Do you know what to do" she enquired, and, of course, I didn't! After a minute or two of explanation, scanning, looking for the reward card and feeding cash into the machine, I came away with my purchase - thanks to the very helpful young lady who returned to her position watching the queue for the 10 items or less checkout.
Well, I understand how self-service technology can aid us in our busy lives, particularly in these simple transactional activities, and I understand queueing theory, and how it is used to get us through the tills and cashier positions quickly, but what about the human element?
I like to interact with the cashier/checkout staff sometimes. Just the simple, everyday "passing the time of day" interaction adds to my day and makes me feel good!
In the supermarket, I was fortunate to get the best of both worlds - I used the self service till and managed a brief conversation with a fellow human being. But, in the building society I was held to ransom by technology, and would have felt better served by a cashier. Just as an aside, they too often have staff standing waiting to help customers to use the cash machines.
Just stop and think:
One place where I believe we have to be careful is Social Media (the clue is in the word Social). Having someone write a blog is one thing, but Tweeting for you can be counter-productive. I recently engaged with someone I knew on Twitter, passing comment on something that we had discussed, only to be informed that it wasn't my friend who was tweeting, but his Social Media company. End of discussion, disengagement, thanks very much!
By all means, use technology and external resource to add value and improve your "customer experience" but not at the cost of their humanity.
You can email Graham if you'd like to know more about Customer Service.
PS If you're going to pay someone stand and wait for customers to ambush, in order to get them to use the automated checkout/cash machine, wouldn't it be better to have them serving people in the queue?
Controversial? Maybe but life is already inhuman enough. Just my opinion, of course!