Self service seldom satisfies like customer service

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Margaret Haylock Capon

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Self service can be a good thing, but it is also an insult to customers. It was not so long ago, back in the day, that store clerks did not become endangered. The customer, upon entering a store or business place promptly was asked, “May I help you?” Those times are fast coming to a close.

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Recently, I went to Belleville with a friend who was looking to buy a printer. She needed a charging cord for her cell phone. The sales associates – as they’re now called – were nowhere to be found. A second customer, who was also looking for a new printer, reported that a store employee had promised to return in 15 minutes but had not returned.

After spotting a young person whom I thought to be a member of the sales team, I managed to herd him back to a printer section. He was polite and knowledgeable. He was not readily available. In retrospect, it was not surprising to me as I remembered a trip I made last fall to the same shop when I needed a widescreen TV. I recalled standing in front of a large display of TVs, hoping vainly to catch the attention of a salesperson. Finally, I ran down the aisle trying to catch one rare bird in flight. The employee at this store showed little interest in answering any of my questions. When I asked about the size of a TV, he gave me a tape measure instead of an answer. The store did sell me a television that day, but I was not satisfied with the poor service.

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Unimpressed with the service at Big Box Store Number One my friend and i decided to try another business. Our experience here was completely different. A young man greeted us at the door and asked immediately if he could help. We found exactly what we were looking for, made our purchases, and felt appreciated when we left.

Sales clerks used to be ready and willing in the past to serve their customers without being chased down the aisles. Store owners employed them in sufficient number to serve the public quickly and efficiently. Today,  too often stores are understaffed, making it difficult for sales associates to give proper attention to every customer. Self-checkouts is another way to leave customers to serve themselves under the guise convenience. Each time I am forced by circumstance to use a self-checkout at Dollarama I find myself talking back to the annoying robotic voice that repeatedly tells me to “please place items in the bagging the area.” I have yet to establish its exact location.

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It is now expected that we locate the items that we want to purchase, examine them and then provide or purchase bags with which to transport them. In a few minutes, you can enter a store and shop without ever speaking to anyone. Then, when you’re done, you can check out your purchases, pack them up, and leave. In the past, we were treated with personal service and had our purchases totaled at a cashier’s desk. We also received bags to carry them in.

Today, some stores still continue to offer old-fashioned service among them Picton’s Foodland. A plastic bag refused to open when I was shopping in the produce department. A young member of the staff asked me if there was a problem. He pulled a bag out of the roll, and opened it with a magic flick of his wrist. I asked him how. It was just a happy accident. It was like the old-fashioned customer service.
It may have only been a single tomato I bought, but I still left the store with a feeling of being regarded as a valued client. We rarely get this kind of satisfaction from self-service.

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