Have we taken the SERVICE out of guest service?

Had another service experience recently that I thought was very interesting.

I was at a local Walgreens (drug store) and approached the checkout area.  There were no other guests around, and behind the counter was a well groomed individual named Blaine.  As soon as I got close enough, Blaine greeted me with an enthusiastic, “Hello”, complete with a smile and appropriate eye contact.

So far so good.

He scanned my item, and then it was my turn to go to work.  I was paying with a debit card, so I swiped it, entered my pin, declined the cash back, accepted the amount and okayed the transaction.

During that time I happened to glance up at Blaine, who was literally staring off into space.

Once the receipt started to print, Blaine swiftly gabbed it from the printer and handed it to me, saying (in the same pleasant tone as the greeting), “Thanks so much, have a great day!”

If you were chart Blaine’s brain activity through this interaction, I imagine it would look like a big U or V… up, then down, then back up again.  But this isn’t Blaine’s fault.

Blaine is engaged in the parts of the transaction he can be engaged in.  With the advent of self-serve terminals (and many other “process improvements”) we have literally taken the employee out of the service equation for a period of time.  If Blaine was less conscientious, his blank stare could have leaked into the other parts of the transaction.  How many times have we seen that, before?

This is not a new phenomenon, nor does it happen only at Walgreens.  It happens all over the place, and before we curse the quasi brain-dead employees, take a look at what they are being asked, or not asked, to do.

In Blaine’s case, he didn’t have to:

  • Ask how I was paying, eliminating a potential point of contact and conversation.
  • Swipe my debit card, where he could have seen my name and used it in the interaction.
  • Engage in conversation about purchased items – he was being polite by not interrupting my “work” so I wouldn’t mess it up.

In other words, Blaine didn’t have to think. He could just remotely go through the motions to complete the transaction.  If I could have scanned my own item, there would be no reason for him to be there at all (like the many self-checkout lanes popping up all over the place).

In terms of providing a service, each one of the actions above can build rapport with a guest, which creates value above and beyond the item purchased (and makes people want to come back!). When we take the ability to interact and think away, and ask our employees to simply scan items and hand over a receipt, we have created a system that actually discourages providing service.  Surely that wasn’t the intent, but it happened.

Thanks for reading!


A wise man once said, “Only an idiot will want to do an idiot-proof job.”  Your employees aren’t idiots, but they do need guidance.  Let me know if you need help with that.