Monday, October 3, 2011

Self Checkout Lines from Hell

It bothers me that I have to pay more to get less.  As large corporations and even government agencies become more automated, they get to save on labor and health benefit costs, while passing the headaches on to me.

When I go to a certain grocery store in my town, half the checkout lines are "self checkout".  This means I have to go through the hassle of figuring out how to ring up produce, which doesn't have a bar code.  Inevitably, the machine, in all its condescension, declares I have made some sort of "human error,", i.e. something won't ring up properly.  This leaves me waiting for the actual, human clerk to come over and remedy the problem.  If the clerk would have been available to check me out, then I wouldn't have needed to bother with the machine in the first place.  Stores will try to sell these machines to you as being more convenient and faster.  However, they are neither.  Part of the reason you pay more at certain stores is to get some level of service.  The last time I checked, the prices didn't go down when the machines went in.  Instead, the profit margins went up while my level of frustration went even higher.

This seems to be the trend in business now.  Even more disturbing is when government tries to join the fun.  I went to the library the other day and decided to check out some books.  There are two "self-checkout" machines.  Because these were being used, I approached the clerk.

"Yes?" she inquired, doing little to conceal the look of irritation on her face while eyeing my hands filled with books.

"I need to check out these materials."

"The self-checkout line is over there," she responded curtly.

"Yes, I know. Those lines are busy."

"Fine!", she said, practically rolling her eyes.

The last time I checked, one of the duties of the clerks at the library is to check people out, along with putting away the library materials.  It seems that they have come to believe that now they only have to do 50% of the work they did before just because of the self checkout machines.  She should be mindful of the fact that if they invent a machine to allow you to self check in the items, then she suddenly has no actual purpose for having a job anymore.  This is not the case with the reference librarians, who still serve an important function at the library.  But for the lower level clerks, they should be shunning the introduction of automation, not becoming annoyed when they have to do their jobs.

What if I prefer to have human interaction at my library?  Call me old fashioned, but I don't always want to interact with a machine.  The same goes for my bank.  I don't use the ATM.  I prefer to have a human process my transactions.  I like it when they remember my name, which usually they do.  In fact, I know the tellers by name as well.  It is one of the niceties of daily interaction that is quickly becoming automated and eliminated.

Dealing with electronic voice systems on the telephone is enough.  If I have a problem and I need to call someone for customer service, there is a 99% chance the automated system isn't going to be smart enough to help me.  If it could, I wouldn't be calling in the first place.  Therefore, the system only serves to annoy people into giving up and leaving the few remaining human workers alone.  If I want automation, I will use the Internet.  If I am calling, I need to speak to a person.

As a lawyer, I charge hourly.  That means my time has a value.  Corporations and government agencies, however, don't value my time.  They somehow think that the time wasted by people trying to get through the automated systems has no value.  Perhaps if I start sending them a bill for every minute wasted by their computer systems or for when I have to check myself out, things will change.  Somehow, though, I doubt they even care.  Their machines separate them from their customers.  And that is just the way they like it.

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