The headline article on the BBC news website the other day stated that 1 in 10 people in Britain are now officially unemployed. That’s a pretty bleak statistic. I’m sure our Conservative government (who I didn’t vote for, I’m a Labour lass through and through) would like to tell us its all down to people being too lazy to look for jobs but that attitude, though typical of them, really isn’t very helpful and more importantly, its wrong.
To be honest they’d do better making the Degu Witch Prime Minister because I can tell them in one sentence why so many people haven’t got jobs – we keep giving the jobs to machines instead.
The last few years has seen the introduction of the self service till. I have a real problem with these machines, in fact I truly hate them. They never work (especially yours Tesco, yours get my vote for being the worst. Actually I’m avoiding your shops full stop at the moment. I read the book “Tescopoly” recently and discovered that you are a truly immoral organisation. And I’ve cut up my club card as well, I’ve heard the tales about you stalking your customers. You can stuff your money off coupons where the sun’s rays fail to penetrate).
Anyway, these self service tills give my poor husband high blood pressure (and he’s a pretty laid back kind of chap. Goddess alone knows what they’d do to my Father, I can only assume Mum doesn’t let him use them….). And they drive my own blood pressure up too when they insist on telling me I’ve put an illegal item in the bagging area. I bloody haven’t put an illegal item in the bagging area - I’ve put an almond croissant in the bagging area. Its hardly a bag of cocaine. I’m getting cross just thinking about it.
And some of the darn things even tell me to have a nice day. Imagine, the insincerity of a machine wishing you a nice day! But these hopeless (and frankly rude) machines seem to be the future of customer service. Obviously spending money employing a real person seems to be a thing of the past where most companies are concerned….
Mind you, the machines themselves aren’t the worst of it. What worries me is how, while the machines are slowly being programmed to emulate humans, at the same time the humans are being trained to be nothing but machines. Think about it. Think about that poor soul on the (probably Tesco) counter asking if you’d like a hand with your packing. (No, I don’t, I’m only buying a bottle of orange squash, I can stick it in a bag myself.) That cashier is a person, she has feelings and emotions and ideas, she’s probably an interesting person to go to the pub with. And unlike the self service machines she can think. So why do the supermarkets insist on treating her as nothing but a robot and giving her a script of only three sentences to say? Where’s the benefit? To the company? They obviously think they are promoting good service. Well I’ll tell you this, it isn’t good service. I’ve actually stopped shopping at Boots because I got so annoyed with being pestered for an advantage card. (Every time I went in I had to justify why I haven’t got one. I’m then always told they will “validate your receipt”. I don’t even know what that means and what is more I don’t care. In the end I got so fed up I just stopped going there. And that’s bad luck for you Boots, I buy a lot of make up!).
And how does it benefit the cashier? She looks bored stiff because she is bored stiff. If you gave her a bit of leeway to interact with people naturally, she’d probably have a lot to say. But sat there asking for the millionth time if people with one item would like help with their packing is destroying her soul bit by bit. She just wants to go home and get the hell away from it all. I bet she recites that flipping script in her sleep.
And me as a customer? Treating me the same as every other customer in the queue robs me of my identity. I don’t feel valued, to be honest I feel patronised. I feel I have accidentally stepped into a mechanical world where I am coerced into using the same kind of scripted language as the long suffering cashier. I’m being moved through the system as efficiently as possible so the company’s profits can mount up as quickly as possible. And I’m frustrated because the experience is so drearily impersonal.
I don’t know where it is all going to end up. Already I can go into town and do my shopping and banking without speaking to a single human being. I can navigate my way round the shopping centre with interactive information boards. I can book my cinema tickets with an automated telephone system. Should I at the end of all this soulless hobnobbing with technology want to end up killing myself, they’ve probably got an automated helpline for that somewhere. Some robot offering counselling and emotional support…. Maybe not yet but I bet that’s the way its going... They’ve even talked about automated teaching. I don’t want my niece taught by a computer, I want her taught by a stern man with a bushy beard (like Mr Duffett who scared me witness as a child but my goodness did I get my sums right in his class…).
Secretly I’d like to go back to the 1950s. I’d like a shopkeeper to chat about dinner recipes with. I’d like to be spoken to human to human rather than human to machine or even worse machine to machine. I’d like the world to slow down a bit, forget maximum efficiency and value a little social interaction instead. And I’d like to see people talking to each other instead of bawling into those interminable mobile phones.. (actually that whole mobile phone subject is worth its own rant on another day).
So my mission at the moment is to make sure I treat people as individuals. I’m breaking out of the script mould, at home, at work and most of all in the supermarket. I’m a one woman crusade against the machines and a lone voice in the wilderness desperately hoping that one day some of these companies might just start to understand what customer service actually means. (Even you Tesco, but in your case I won’t hold my breath).
Image http://www.sxc.hu/photo/827556 (Thadz)
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