Death to self-checkouts, back to customer service

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor

As a teenager during the summer, landing a job at McDonald’s was as guaranteed as getting acne. Only now, jobs at McDonald’s are going to become a little scarcer, as it begins to intergrade touch screen kiosks to take your order.
We already see these kiosks at the gas pump and self-checkout lanes at grocery stores. They are touted as ‘convenient,’ and ‘time-saving,’ but what they really do is replace employees — and now they are coming to the Golden Arches as a way to allow you to get food faster. I thought McDonald’s already was ‘fast food.’ I recently walked into a McDonald’s in Bolingbrook and saw these kiosks in action.
I watched as a family of four tried to place their order. The children faired better than their parents. The children maneuvered between the screens in a frenzy, adding extra items to their burgers and deleting shakes they weren’t supposed to order.
On the other hand, the parents gathered around another kiosks looking more like the monkeys in “2001 Space Odyssey” who were seeing the giant, black monolith for the first time. They gingerly touched various screen. When nothing happened, they looked at each other for support, shrugged their shoulders, and then returned to tapping the touch screen.
It was the father that first gave up. He grabbed his wife’s hand and proceeded to the counter to have a real employee take their order.
As I approached the kiosks, their greasy, fingerprinted touch screens were enough to put me off. Ewwww. They don’t accept cash and I only wanted some apple pies. Not wanting to charge $1.10, I also headed to the counter.
From a customer’s standpoint, I guess placing your own McDonald’s order could eventually be faster than waiting in line, but only after you practiced. In the end, these kiosks are job eliminators — they’re anti-labor. With unemployment rates staying steadily high, this is not something we want to embrace.
And when did ‘service’ go away from customer service? Most older people I know stay clear from the self-checkout lanes at supermarkets and would walk out in frustration after trying to use the McDonald’s kiosks. Having someone take your order at a fast food place and scan your food at the grocery store is a service you expect — not be expected to do. You wouldn’t want to be handed a toilet brush as you entered a restaurant bathroom, so don’t expect to checkout your own groceries at the supermarket.
While standing in ‘real’ checkout lines at the grocery store, I see customers using the self-checkouts, and in the end, they inevitably need assistance from a clerk. Management doesn’t understand that using self-checkout lanes to save money and increase profits is coming at the expense of losing the basic service that comes with running a business — customer service.
Last month, Albertsons LLC announced it will eliminate self-checkout lanes by the end of August. It wants to focus more on customer service. They said only a small number of customers were using the self-checkouts.
My first job was working for a grocery store, and I was a cashier. I loved that job and I loved my customers. I was so well liked by customers; families specifically came and waited in my line so I could scan their groceries. That time was our time to catch up and talk, to find out what had happened during the week.
In the six years I was a cashier, I watch kids grow up, graduate high school or college. I saw relationships bloom, marriages end and people die. I attended my customer’s graduation parties, funerals and birthday parties and loved the looks I got when I introduced myself as “the girl that checkouts their groceries.”
But that’s what customer service is all about. Making what could be an otherwise mundane, sometimes stressful shopping experience, into a trip customers look forward to.

Jennifer Rice’s e-mail address is Jen@foxvalleylabornews.com.

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