It sometimes seems as if the embuggerisation of modern life – the process by which large corporations gradually shave away at the corners of customer service in defence of their bottom line by making their customers do the work that they used to pay staff to do while simultaneously trying to squeeze as much cash out of them as they can – is unstoppable and unrelenting. But sometimes, just sometimes, the customers fight back. And sometimes, just sometimes, they actually win. And it seems that one such tiny victory has been acheived in Bigtown, at least for now.
Normally I avoid buying my paper in WH Smith ever since they abandoned the honesty box system in favour of making you stand in an enormous queue made only longer by the need for the poor cashiers to upsell something to every single customer (would you like a bottle of water for 50p with your paper? Unfeasibly large bar of chocolate? Or how about a useless voucher that gives you 50% off everything except newspapers, books, magazines, unfeasibly large bars of chocolate and indeed everything else we actually stock in this shop?). Then, just before Christmas they brought in self-service tills, an act of genius in a shop that sells things like newspapers (which are often bought with vouchers which are enormously fiddly to use on those machines) and tobacco – which now has to be kept under the counter.
Naturally, the good people of Bigtown studiously ignored the self-service tills, as is only right and proper, and simply queued up for the remaining tills, and when I went in this morning it seems as if the customers might have won. Bigtown WH Smith still has the loathed self-service tills in place, but when I went in this morning I found they had simply turned one of them round and put a cashier behind it to ‘help’ the customers by basically scanning everything through herself, taking their money, dealing with the vouchers and issuing receipts. Presumably as far as head office is concerned, the self-service tills are doing wonderfully well – and as far as Bigtown is concerned, things are back to normal. Indeed, we’re rather better off than before, because the machines aren’t expected to do any upselling, so we no longer have to fend off huge bars of chocolate when we’re in a hurry for our change, although we do still get the useless vouchers. All they have to do now is bring back the honesty box system and my life will be complete, although I suspect what will actually happen is that head office will discover the ruse and crack down on it, and we – customers and staff – will be re-educated to use the self-service tills if it kills us all. It is, after all, the modern way.