Does Self-Service Mean No-Service
Jun 22, 2021
It’s 7:30 at night. It’s been a long day. I had been speaking at a conference in Calgary, Alberta, and now, after three days, I was heading home, determined to be kissing my wife by 10:30 pm. I stopped at a gas station before jumping on the highway to fill up.
As is for most of the gas stations in major cities, I had to pay at the pump. Credit Card in, straining to see the display (it was -17 Celsius, the Fahrenheit equivalent was, “Frigin’ Cold”). The little screen slowly phased to the next, “Please remove .”
Being a compliant human, I did what this machine told me to do.
Slowly, the screen morphed, (why do we use LCD screens in Canada? – I mean, the operative word in “Liquid Crystal Display” is “Liquid” isn’t it? ….. -17 degrees, remember?) and the “To Start, Please Insert Card” became visible.
So, I started the process again. Only to be met with the same routine. After two more attempts – Hey don’t judge…. I had to make sure I wasn’t doing something wrong. I figured I had to be smarter than a gas pump, right? Not so much, it turns out.
I pressed the intercom button, the one that says, “For help press here!”
I pressed the button again…… still nothing. Once more…… crickets! Through the store windows, I see the clerk walking, ok, sauntering, from the right side of the store to the cash desk, on the left side of the store. From the intercom speaker I here, a garbled, distorted voice, “Doo wnann umpph secora slampotin,” I press the button and say, “the pump does not seem to work, I put my card in, and itrejected it.” “Slopistoken ?” “What?” I respond. “ dou smothin secors flaskisin commladin seherera don!” comes the horribly distorted sound.
Obviously, we were not communicating.
< I give the universal signal that something is wrong with the pump >
I imagine that my version of the conversation is getting just as garbled as his version. He comes to the front door and peers through the glass, his hands cupping his face, probably so he can see into the darkness. I give the universal signal that something is wrong with the pump: Swaying back and forth, pointing at the pump with each hand making a motion slicing my hand across my neck, then shrugging my shoulders, hands up as if to say, “What the French Toast is wrong with this thing?” I probably looked like one of Justin Timberlake’s back up dancer’s father, trying to keep up. I’m sure it wasn’t pretty!
He then walks back to the desk, “ kasturak staturin mosphlioksis monstor” comes over the speaker once more. He then picks up a box and walks back to the left side of the store.
I feel that I have just been abandoned in “Self-Service Purgatory.” I was left standing there.
Now, granted, I could have gone into the store, it could not have been more than 150 feet away. I could have gone in to try to solve my problem. But I didn’t. I felt, that if the clerk could not be bothered to help me solve my problem, I would go somewhere else. And I did.
I gassed up in Airdrie, Alberta, 30ish minutes away. While there, I bought two large teas (one in a paper cup, and one for my insulated car cup. I bought some beef jerky, some Cheetos, and two peanut butter Oh Henrys. I know it’s not a healthy diet, but I had close to 3 hours to cover. Aside from my gas, I spent $18 at the store.
It left me asking, was $18 enough revenue from one customer to motivate a business to exude the tiniest bit of customer service? Was that gas station in Calgary doing so well, it could afford to lose the sale of the gas and the merchandise?
I’ve had similar experiences of Self-Service Purgatory in retail outlets and self-service counters in fast food outlets.
With the increase in the minimum wage and increased overall costs, I get that operators need to reduce their expenses. Operators have to carefully weigh, product cost and value, operational cost, and efficiency, while still being competitive and of value to their customers.
But does “self-service” mean “no service”?
I bet top dollar that in the operators’ view, the answer is a huge “NO!” But there seems to be a separation between the owner/operator’s view and the employee’s perspective. When standing in front of the self-checkout kiosk, the employee-in-waiting seems to give you the “well, you chose to do self-check-out!” stare when something goes wrong. Having one clerk, for 10-12 machines might be cost-effective in theory, but measured against the angst of a customer trying to purchase an 8’ ladder, and the machine squealing “please place your purchase on the bagged item square!” can be too much to take.
So, here are three easy-to-implement behavioural changes that will help you focus on making sure your customer has a great experience.
- Customer Service means caring for your customer. Even though like me, some may not be smarter than a gas pump, customers sometimes require patience, understanding and help. Keep in mind, you are in your environment for every working hour, you know everything about your store, the equipment, etc. – your customer just got there. What seems like child’s play to you, might be more complicated for a first-timer, especially if it is a senior or someone with accessibility issues.
- It takes very little to find out what your customer needs. Just ask, “How can I help?” “Need a hand with that?” It’s still about you being a service to them.
- Solve the problems for the customer. That means, having the resources in place to immediately jump on the issue. Customer service is rarely judged when everything goes well, it is always judged when it goes poorly. Solve problems to the advantage of the customer, for the customer, with their needs in mind.
Now more than ever, as retailers and operators looking to find efficiencies and cost-saving opportunities, we cannot afford to be less hospitable to our clients. As my friend, Bob “Idea Man” Hooey says, “If you don’t take care of your customer, someone else will!”