Self Service Should Not Mean “No-Service.”

The move towards self-service must be so tempting for a business owner. Despite the initial investment, the returns in efficiency and savings must be quite alluring. As a consumer, I do not mind it either. It has quickened my check-in times at the airport, simplified paying at the pump, and on more than one occasion, allowed me to avoid dealing with a less than knowledgeable retail clerk.

I do occasionally pine for the old days of a full service gas station however. This is something New Jersey still has going for it. “Fill it with regular and check the oil please?” And the good ones will even clean your windows without being prompted. Have you ever tipped at a gas station? I have.

While many of us have become numb to the routine of filling our gas, traumatized by the ever fluctuating prices, we are accustomed to doing it on our own with a myriad of pay-at-the-pump options. The closest thing to service we actually receive is the muffled voice from behind the glass attempting to explain arcanean pumping procedures or for some reason we need to move to pump #6.  Case in point on a recent visit:

Me: Do you know that some of the Speedpass sensors do not seem to be working at the pumps?

Attendant: Yeah.

Me: Is it just those two I tried?

Attendant: No, none of them work.

Me: Have they been down all day?

Attendant: No. They’ve been down a few weeks. Ever since they changed the motherboards in the pumps.

Me: Are they going to fix them?

Attendant: Doubt it.

Me: That kind of defeats the purpose of having a Speedpass to “pay at the pump” doesn’t it?

Attendant: Yeah.

Sadly, self-service is becoming synonymous with “no-service” at too many establishments. Even if there is no one standing pump side to assist me, I still want to see evidence that management cares that I pulled into their establishment. Over-flowing garbage cans, raggedy window squeegees and vacuum cleaners that do not suck tell me no one is paying attention. Why should I ever come back here again?

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Traveling through Laguardia on a recent trip, I was shocked to find iPads newly stationed at virtually every seat and counter. While I appreciate the role they may play in filling time between flights, and understand the airport is simply trying to squeeze even more revenue out of passers-through, I am not sold on iPads replacing human contact at the food-counters or else-where. My attempt to order a cheeseburger with no one in line behind me still took the unwilling assistance of at least three attendants. And I am fairly technically savvy. I shuttered to imagine my Luddite father-in-law meticulously picking his meal with a ravenous and impatient mob behind him at lunch time.

If your customer service is somehow being improved by eliminating actual face-to-face customer service, then you have deeper problems. Let technology work for you (and for your customers) and utilize the efficiencies it may bring by making the purchasing experience more memorable, for all the right reasons.

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