De-servicing

Posted on April 18, 2011

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The insidious creep of “de-servicing” service is something that torments me almost as much as the pervasive creep of insincere “faux-service” which I’ve already blogged about in my coffee shop experiences.  I know that there is no such term as “de-service”, but I quite like it and anyway it’s that kind of thing that gets you noticed as a serious marketer, which of course I am not.  That said, I have worked on my “serious portrait pose” in the mirror over the years in case I am ever a serious anything.   Actually, between you and me, my efforts at a serious portrait pose come across as slightly inane and more-than-slightly effeminate.

Selfservice

no.

I hope I don’t come across as someone who is anti-technology, as I’m not – I like a gadget as much as any averagely sane individual – I just don’t like how business puts technology to use.

It seems to me that the drive for technology is to either make us work longer and harder or to remove any level of service which we might have come to accept as the norm.  I’m not suggesting that in our depressingly modern age we should have an “Open all Hours” level of service when we go to buy our groceries, but do we need to be made to do the work of the shop whilst being told that they are helping us out, I’m not that stupid!

Open All Hours (c) Telegraph

I accept that they were not always happy to help, but indulge me please

I have more than a couple of issues with the self-serve tills that are invading the high street at an alarming rate.

Queuing

It has taken us Brits about 40 years to master the art of queuing at a checkout. We have developed a system whereby we can just about get by without a fight, but it has taken time.    Our system however has not evolved to cope with the idea of self-service.  Faced with the prospect of queuing for six self-service tills at a time goes beyond even our finely honed skills at civilised queuing.  I have to say old women are the worst offenders here. They will happily elbow you in the groin to get to a free till.  If I had a pound for every time someone *innocently* jumped the queue because they didn’t notice the (massive) queue I would have more than enough money to pay for the plastic bags that these machines insist on charging you to use.

That’s another point.  If I go to the manned express tills in M&S they’ll give me a plastic bag for my lunch and won’t charge me.  If however I go to the self-serve till and thereby save M&S staffing costs, the bloody machine charges me 5p for my plastic bag.  Actually, it says “did you use any of our bags?  There is a 5p charge for plastic bags”, I always have that moment of should I lie or not, is it theft when they are giving them away at another till?

The machines don’t work

I’m not suggesting that working a till doesn’t require an element of learning, but having stacked shelves in my youth (I was never deemed front-of-house material – I should have shown them the intellectual pose!). So I’ve witnessed the level of intellect that some of the best till operants have (is that the official title?).  One of the people I worked with at Tesco, who was deemed fit to work a till, turned out to be a murderer… so I suppose a cold determination is what is required to make it in the till operating business.  Thinking back to my murderous colleague I’m thinking that there were maybe a few signs that we could have heeded as a warning.

He was an exemplary employee.  When he “faced up” an aisle (“faced up” is making the shelves look neat (as in tidy, not American “neat”, as in “clever”)) his tin labels were unerringly straight… with hindsight too straight.  He spent most of his time working in the in-store bakery where he filled donuts with jam, using a machine that had a prong which you inserted into the donut to fill it with red-gooey-goodness.  I suppose it was only a matter of time before he put a screwdriver into someone’s skull to see red-gooey-goodness spill out, not that he could use that in his defense in court.

Anyway, back to the point in hand, whatever “skills” it takes to work a till evades me and most of my fellow shoppers I might add.  I have never gone through one of these tills without “assistance required” showing on the screen and an alarm going off, followed some time later by a till operant; who could be a murder; coming over to tut, swipe a card, mutter something and wander off.   If you’ve used one of these machines you’ll know what I mean.  You are required to scan your product and then place it in the bagging area – simple.  Except it never works and I’m also told that the term “bagging area” can be misinterpreted by certain sections of the community when they buy teabags (if you need explanation of that read here – the link contains the word “scrotum”, just as a warning).

The machine more often than not tells me I haven’t placed an item in the bagging area when I have.  I find myself banging the item down to make the point, which isn’t good when I’m buying eggs.  Anyway to help you picture this, I end up a little like this cat below:

Where’s my discount?

Probably the most galling aspect of the entire encounter is that I get no discount for saving the shop money and putting a till operant out of work and possibly setting them off on a murderous spree, who’s to say where these things lead to?  I know I’m a moaner, but surely this is the thin end of the wedge?  Before you know it, they’ll have de-serviced to the point where we are in something akin to communist Russia in the 80s… and they’ll have put the price up too –  I guarantee it.

I’m off to practice my pose now as I’m sure “de-servicing” is going to catch on and I need to  position myself as the world-leading expert on the subject.

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