Count me among the witnesses. Here in Canada, the largest pharmacy in the country is Shopper’s Drug Mart, where for the last few years there has been a steady move to deploy self-checkout kiosks next to the cashiers. It’s typically been up to the customer whether or not to use them — though some say that’s no longer the case.
In a story posted by CBC, our national broadcaster, multiple Shopper’s Drug Mart customers reported something along the following lines of what Lorrie Perko said:
“[An employee] stood there with her hands crossed, and she said, ‘Head office said, unless you’re using cash or buying lottery [tickets], you have to use self-checkouts now.’”
I didn’t see this exact scene, but something very much like it. A woman who has been working at my local Shopper’s for at least as long as I’ve lived nearby was no longer standing behind her till. Instead, she was standing near the kiosks, and as customers approached she asked them if they would be paying with cash, debit or credit.
There was no coercion, but the impression you got was similar: if you really wanted to swipe or tap your card at the cash register, you’d have to make a real point of it.
When The Move To Self-Service Got Faster
Before any reflexive finger-wagging, I should start by saying I love the Shopper’s self-checkout kiosks. I find them faster and I get no special joy out of having a stranger facilitate routine transactions.
When the pandemic hit, the kiosks seemed to make even more sense. You could easily wipe down the screens before using them, and reduce contact with the store’s employees. It’s the digital experience I prefer, in other words.
Shopper’s corporate parent, Loblaw, told CBC “its policy hasn’t changed and that customers should always have the option of using a cashier.” The response on social media, however, suggests the company will have to overcome perceptions to the contrary if it doesn’t want these complaints to continue.
New Channels, Same Problem
For CX professionals this will probably look like a familiar story. We saw it in banking, when employees were tasked with walking down line-ups for the teller and asking if customers would be interested in trying an ATM. Later, it became questions like, “Are you just getting out cash today?” To which, if the answer was yes, the unspoken followup was, “Then please don’t take up this valuable space in the lineup for the teller.”
The same has often been true of trying to push customers to visit a web site or use a mobile app — usually by reducing or eliminating the resources in face-to-face or pre-existing channels.
The challenge in most of these cases for brands is that the majority of customers might prefer the newer experience. This is usually how they respond to the criticism. What gets overlooked is that a majority doesn’t mean all customers will taken a vote, and that they will be willing to accept the end result.
What customers don’t want to give up
In time, self-checkout kiosks might be seen as antiquated as a human cashier. We could see more retailers move to something like Amazon Go, where customers can simply walk through the exits as their mobile device checks them out on their behalf. What could be more “frictionless” than that?
But think about what else gets removed along with the POS and the employee:
- The opportunity to ask free-form questions.
- The value of having someone ring items through and bag them while you check your e-mail, or daydream.
- The brief sense of connection with the people who remind you the brand is more than a faceless corporate entity by their friendliness and empathy.
The CX community needs something to quantify this. Instead of a Customer Effort Score, it would be the Self-Service Gap Score, or the degree to which customers feel isolated, abandoned, less confident or simply less emotionally connected to the company asking them to do things themselves.
I haven’t yet come up with all the details on how the Self Service Gap Score would be measured. But I would say if a number of customers — even if they’re still technically a minority — feel they’re being given an ultimatum to adopt a digital experience — you should have all the data you need to act.
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.