Self Checkouts Don’t Know My Name

May 21

I talk to machines a lot more often these days.  I’ve been left with no choice… Whether at the grocery store, the gas pump, or the hardware store, I find myself in the following (maddening) conversation several times a week…

[scan my first item]

“Thank you for shopping at StuffMart,” chirps the monotone-yet-friendly female voice.

“You’re welcome. How are you doing today?,” I ask.

[no reply]

Right off the bat, I’m frustrated. Maybe it’s because I live fairly remotely and yearn for a little human interaction. Or, maybe it’s just that I miss those reruns of Little House On The Prairie and Cheers where everybody knows everybody’s name.

But, I can’t help wondering - how many businesses actually know their customers by name?

“Have you scanned your Club Card yet?”

I reply, “No, I have not.” (But, she already knows that – she’s just trying to be nice.) “My hands are a little full at the moment. Can I swipe it once I am ready to pay?”

[no response]

This always gets me thinking of the young workers I meet in their first summer jobs, working at a JambaJuice or a DirecTV  – full of semi-contagious energy right up to the point that their well delivered script no longer makes sense within the context of the actual conversation.

It makes me wonder, how many businesses have over-trained their staff that the message is more important than the conversation?

And then, the inevitable happens…

[I scan my lemons, weigh them, and place them in the bag]

“Please place item in the bagging area…”

[I pick them back out and drop them in the bag again]

“Please remove item from bagging area…”

[I do as I'm told]

“Unauthorized item in the bagging area…”

“Huh? They are just lemons, not a crack pipe,” I reply.

“Please wait for assistance,” she instructs me.

[I wait.]

“Should I cancel the last item and re-weigh it?,”

[no response] I ask as I push on-screen menus and look around for a human

“Excuse me, is there a problem?” asks a human voice behind me.

“I guess so, she thinks my lemons aren’t authorized… I’m trying to cancel…”

Pushing past me to swipe his secret fix-all card, “You probably didn’t weigh them right.”

“Oh, well, I put them on the scale, and pressed the ‘Accept Weight’ button..”

Rolling his eyes before walking away, “Yeah, well, I don’t know what to tell you…”

Now, let me say – I’ve always felt very sorry for the poor people who have this horrible job – cleaning up after programming deficiencies. I’m sure he was more annoyed by his circumstances as a digital lion tamer than he was at me personally.  But, at the same time, it makes me (the customer) feel like a jerk for simply trying to buy some lemons.

It makes me wonder though, how often do businesses make their customers apologize for wanting to do business with them?

“Have you scanned your Club Card?”, she reminds me.

“Hold on, hold on…”

[I scan my last item, a bottle of wine]

“Authorization required…”, she warns.

[I get my wallet out, and produce my driver's license, turning to see the impatient line behind me, all waiting for the single checker to return]

“I need to take that back over to my terminal to authorize,” he explains, so I hand it to him… A moment later, his magic as worked and my screen clears, asking me for my next item. Instead, I hit the “Pay Now” button.

“Have you scanned your Club Card?” she politely asks again.

“Yeah, yeah, here you go…”

I then jump through the redundant hoops between both screens to pay by debit card and ask for cash back.

“These damn machines!” exclaims and elderly woman next to me, trying to look up the four digit code for her Pasillo chiles. I slide over and help her find them under, “Peppers – Ancho”.

“Thank you for shopping at StuffMart, please take your…” the machine is interrupted by a woman over the loudspeaker calling for extra help in the deli.

I can’t wait to get out of there and grab my two bags, nearly running for the door. Of course, it isn’t until I get home that I realize I never got my driver’s license back and left my $40 cash back hanging out of some slot in the machine…

At the end of the day, nobody knows my name, and I wonder – at what cost are local businesses depersonalizing their customer’s experience?

Building a successful local business is all about building relationships.

Incidentally, my wife and I frequent a greasy old diner about twice a week, not because of the food (fairly mediocre) but because the entire staff knows us by name and is quick to stop by to say hello (whether they are waiting our table or not).

One comment

  1. Add spilling my coffee and the contents of my purse on the floor and I would swear you were watching me just last week. Good viewpoint and reminder to look up and say ‘hi’ to the local business clerks and staff and say thanks!

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