I was in a grocery store in Reno a couple days ago. Since I can be a “Type A” when I’m traveling, I like using the self-service checkout lanes when they’re available. They really do save time.
This particular evening though, I was forced to pay a human being for my purchases because the self-service checkout lines were closed.
Maybe I’m strange or maybe I’m just travel weary but I think that’s funny.
Was the machine on break? Did it not show up for work? Maybe it was sick that day.
I thought one reason we have automation is to provide more consistency and reliability in certain repetitive-task jobs. Silly, me but I thought a machine would have almost no down-time.
What’s worse, in my opinion is the message this sends to customers.
We’ve invested in technology so you don’t have to even talk to a real live human being in our store. But, the technology is broken. So, we’re sorry, but you have to wait in line like everyone else.
Even though I like self-service checkout for it’s potential speed, I’m not certain it’s going to increase the customer experience for most people. This is because as human cashiers get replaced by machines, I doubt they’ll get redeployed elsewhere in the store. I predict the net number of employees in these stores will decrease.
And that’s a problem.
Because too many companies today are spending too much time keeping their customers away from their employees. I know they think they’re saving money but, in the end, I think they’ll lose more than they save.
Customers are people. And they want people to help them. Or, at least they want a choice.
What they don’t want is to think they paid some company their hard-earned money for a product or service and then the company abandons them. They are forced to use automated, non-human service methods to get the help they want.
And self-service checkout is one more step in that direction.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
It’s all about purpose and intent.
If your purpose in automating is to save money, then your changes may or may not help your customer. What your customer wants or needs does not enter into the planning and execution of the change.
So, your customers might suffer because the change makes it harder for them to do business with you. And if your customers suffer, they’ll leave you.
On the other hand, if your intent is to serve your customers better, then self-service and automation can be a good thing. It becomes just one piece of your total offering to your customers. And, any changes you make are more likely to increase the level of service to your customers. Because that’s your goal.
It’s all about your focus.
If your focus is on cutting expenses, then your actions will probably save you money. And your customer retention might suffer.