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Monday, June 18, 2018

Why am I doing all the work?

NOTE: This post was originally published in 2015 and has been updated with relevant information.

McDonald’s recently announced that it would be expanding automated ordering kiosks to 1,000 stores per quarter for the next eight quarters. Pundits rued the announcement as McDonald’s response to labor costs due to higher minimum wage requirements, thus eliminating the need for cashiers. Of course, McDonald’s did not report or even intimate that cashier’s would be replaced or their workforce reduced. The kiosks are meant to supplement the cashiers and enhance the customer experience. Admittedly, McDonald’s CEO noted that. “kiosks allow customers to dwell on the available options and choices, which in turn promotes additional sales.”
While no company would admit to eliminating jobs, one has to wonder the longer-term effect over time. Layoffs may not occur but will companies installing point of sale automation continue to hire at the same rate as before automation?

Over the years we’ve become accustomed to pumping our own gas, bagging our groceries, and other self-checkout situations. As technology improves mobile ordering and service delivery becomes more frequent. Fast food restaurants have integrated phone apps and pay systems to allow for mobile ordering and pickup. Most of these businesses don’t appear to have fewer employees, but, again, what will the industry experience after automation has been in place for several years? Gas stations use to have several employees dedicated to pumping gas. Now there is one operating the terminal that controls the pumps. Grocery stores have ten plus checkout lanes installed sometimes only having a couple staffed.

Automation may or may not affect the workforce but it is affecting the customer experience and wallet. While self-checkouts and automation may make the customer experience smoother, faster, and more convenient it is not lowering prices. Begging the question-Why am I, the customer, doing the work of the service provider for the same price? Recent experiences brought this to light.

Having telephone issues, issues meaning no dial tone, which translates into a true triple play of also no Internet or TV, the problem was reported. Rather than fight the system and try to talk to a person I decided to play along with the online troubleshooting. After a half hour on the floor performing several technical tasks to determine the nature of the problem, the online assistant determined that there was something wrong with the incoming line and repairs were needed. Wise decision. I do admit that following the system and performing the checks wasn’t that difficult. After the troubleshooting, I was even guided through the repair appointment process. Although given that all of our communications were out, the process could not have been completed without a Smartphone.

Not so long ago, a repair technician would have come out and completed the whole process. Which in this case they still had to do. The point being, I did the repair troubleshooting. Did I get a stipend or bill discount for performing the tech work?

The second instance was noticed while checking in for a flight. You can already check in and print boarding passes from the comfort of home or directly to your phone. Then if you have bags to check, you report to the airline agent who checks your paperwork, weighs your bag, prints and attaches your luggage claim tags and takes your bags. This flight introduced us to a new system for our convenience. Once at the airport we were shuttled to a kiosk where we checked our bags, printed our luggage claim tags, attached the tags, and then handed them to an agent, who put them on the conveyor, which was the only step performed by the airline. Didn’t see any payment for that day's work either.

As technology improves more and more services are being pushed onto the consumer. Companies reassign personnel because the customer is now performing those jobs, but prices stay the same. Companies explain this by saying that they are able to keep their prices low by adding the new “self-serve” features. Keep prices low? How about lowER?

Yes, it is more convenient and sometimes quicker to just do things for yourself.  Eventually, there will be no human interaction at all. Just scan your phone and off you go. Oh yeah…that’s happening now.

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