Robert Hampton

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16th January 2012

United We Scanned
Posted by at 10.17pm | 1 response | In the News

Esteemed documentary maker Richard Wilson has done a programme for Dispatches about the shoddy customer service that results when real human beings are replaced with computerised services. This slow move towards robotized customer service has been going on for years, so I’m amazed that Channel 4 have only just noticed it. Perhaps a commissioning editor there listens to Adam and Joe. (“The Easter Bunny gets funny!”)

I haven’t actually watched the programme. If I want to see Richard Wilson as a crazy old man irritated by every aspect of the modern world, I can watch his classic series Duck Patrol. But I was alerted by Twitter (cheers Seb!) that one of the features was about supermarket self-service tills.

I like supermarket self-service tills. Anything that reduces the amount of actual human interaction I have to do is fine by me. However, I was reminded of something that happened when I paid a visit to the Tesco Superstore in Liverpool city centre last year (I’m full of Tesco anecdotes, me).

I used the self-service till and happened to have a discount voucher with me, so I scanned it.

“Please insert coupon in the slot provided.”

Okey-dokey. I posted the coupon and waited for the machine to respond.

“Please insert coupon in the slot provided.”

Ah, right. The pleasantly-voiced computer hadn’t noticed me sticking it in her slot. Unfortunately the machine, believing that I was pulling a fast one, completely locked up, refusing to do anything else except repeat the coupon mantra over and over.

Noticing my problem, the supervisor came over. I explained my predicament to her.

“Ah yes,” she said, “this is a common problem. I know how to fix this.”

And with that, she placed her lips on the slot and gently blew into it. This satisfied the machine, allowing me to continue my transaction.

What a wonder of technology these machines really are. If the supermarkets ever follow through on their threat to replace staffed checkouts entirely with self-service machines, I can look forward to a wonderful future, filled with rows of shoppers lovingly French-kissing their checkouts.

It’s so exciting… I can feel an unexpected item in the bagging area just thinking about it.

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One Response
  1. Comment by diamond geezer
    16th January 2012 at 11:05 pm

    I’m with Richard on supermarket self-service tills. Much as human interaction unnerves me, I’d still much rather let someone else deal with all the awkward mechanical stuff while I concentrate on packing. Anecdotes like your slot-locking problem merely make me more determined to avoid them. Alas, while people like you continue to use self-service tills with glee, they’ll rise to domination, and one day we’ll all be forced to use them. This isn’t customer service any more, it’s serviced-by-customers.