I throw the final few items in my cart and head to the checkout counter. I had made a quick stop at the local grocery store, and after a quick count of my items, I confirmed that I had indeed met the 20 item or less criteria. Yes!  As I reached the checkout area in the front of the store, I found only one staffed aisle, and the three carts in line had enough groceries to feed large families… for a week or more.

The only option, and the one that I dreaded, was the horrible, poorly functioning, self-checkout stations. I gave an audible sigh and began to scan my items.

“Please place your item in the bagging area,” her voice rang out in that familiar, yet robotic tone. “Please scan next item.” Beep. “Please place item in the bagging – Please replace item on the scanner. Unexpected item found in the bagging area. Contacting store Associate.”


I wait. I waive for a staff person. There is one, but she is helping another guy who apparently can’t look up “honeydew melon” from the menu of cartoon images on the screen. I contemplate going over and pushing the image – right in front his face for him – but decide against it. I try to waive to another staff person who is bagging groceries. They tell me that they can’t help me. Finally, a frazzled staffer comes over and swipes their card at my register, hits a few buttons in rapid succession and I am back in business – briefly.

“Please scan your next item.” Beep. “Place your item in the bagging area.” I place my lactose-free cottage cheese container in the bag.  “No item detected,” she repeats in that infuriating monotone. I repeat the action, but the response is the same. I try over and over.

“Contacting store associate.”

Frustrated (read furious) I grab all the items out of the bags, throw them back in my cart and make my way to the back of the line in the staffed checkout aisle, and wait for a human (with daily, high volume scanning experience) to check me out. I should have started here in the first place. On second thought, the store should have had more than one checkout clerk serving their customers.

Pushing me to self-checkout was not for my convenience, it was to save them money. But it’s not going to save them money, it’s going to cost them a customer – and lots of future money. Fail.

Organizational “bean counters” are costing companies millions, if not billions of dollars each year when they exclude marketing, customer service and even HR from the budgeting process.

Here’s the problem: A static economic model envisions a direct cause and effect correlation. In other words: Cut costs, save money. Makes sense.  However, a dynamic economic model recognizes that real people are effected in an emotional way by service disruption, and that buying behaviors are influenced when people are inconvenienced or unhappy. In short: We don’t like voice mail robots, self-serve checkouts and tag your own bag at the airport.

The lesson is pretty basic, but too often ignored: You spend a great deal of time and money acquiring new customers, why on earth would you make it hard for them to do business with you? Don’t forget we have lots and lots of choices. Are your policies geared toward make it easy for your staff or your customers? Is the elimination of humans to solve customer problems or answer questions, frustrating your customers? (By the way, thats’s a rhetorical question. The answer is “yes.”)  Fix that. Quickly.

David Avrin, CSP is a popular marketing and customer service keynote speaker, consultant and business author. He is the author of the celebrated business book: It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who Knows You! (Classified Press) and his latest: Visibility Marketing (Career Press) is available worldwide. Learn more and watch a preview at http://www.VisibilityInternational.com


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