Customer service

Being a dutiful son I popped into Walworth Post Office yesterday to post a package containing a Mothering Sunday present and card. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was no queue; in fact I was the only customer in the post office. However there was a post office employee hovering by the counter, who when I approached her guided me over to a machine* that looked not unlike the self service checkout at the supermarket, and showed me what seemed to be the twenty or so steps that it takes to enter the correct information. (One screen even asks me to confirm that my package does not contain poisons or explosives.) It’s just as well she was there as the machine didn’t like the tatty £5 note I pushed into it, and it requested her assistance. After entering her security code hey presto, it printed off a stamp, I stuck it on the package and she kindly asked whether she could post it for me.

As I thanked her for her assistance, she said “Next time you’ll know what to do.” “Use the counter?” I thought, but of course expressed it a little more politely. “I think I prefer dealing with a real person at the counter”. “Well, this is the way that post offices are changing,” she said, before asking me whether there was anything else she could help me with today, would I would like information about their credit card deal, and please could I enter their consumer survey on the post office website to report on my customer experience? I wonder whether they will let me suggest that I preferred the experience of a two minute transaction with a human being rather than five minutes wading through menus and options on a machine?

You might think that after putting up with self service ticket machines at the Overground station and the automated check out at the supermarket, I would have breezed through my encounter with the post office stamp machine. The problem is that every machine is slightly different. I just about got the hang of the check out at the Tesco Metro near the church where I regularly look for reduced price offers for lunch, once I figured out that you don’t actually have to answer every question on the screen – just swipe the barcode and insert cash in the slot. But try using the machines in Asda or Sainsbury’s and I’m lost. In any case, once I have more than a half dozen items I find it quicker to queue and let a professional do the scanning. I quite begrudge having to do something myself which used to be done by the checkout assistant/Post Office counter clerk. Shouldn’t they be paying me for doing their work for them?

Thank goodness I can still go into the Co-op Bank and speak to a real person. I must admit that it isn’t very often these days – usually just when I have a cheque from a funeral director to deposit. The thing that annoys me there is that the staff, like the lady in the post office, are always trying to sell something. “Is there anything else I can help you with today, Mr Weary?” “No thanks.” “Can I interest you in our will-writing service?”

If I was interested in their will-writing service I would have said so, wouldn’t I? Fortunately, a couple of days later, I have the opportunity to complain, after an email arrives noting that I recently visited the branch and was served by so-and-so and could I complete a brief customer survey about my experience? I answer that the service was great except for the tedious sales pitch afterwards. Needless to say, next time I’m in the branch, the conversation is the same, only this time it’s selling some sort of insurance. Considering that they have the technology to send out email telling me that the date and place I was in the branch, is it too much of a stretch to put a note on my account? “Do not try selling any products to this customer. He’s a grumpy old git.” Or something like that.

*I just found out that officially this is a ‘Self Service Kiosk’. And according to “it’s the same reliable service, only quicker”. No it’s not!


About Holloway Rev

Paul Weary is a Methodist minister living and working in Holloway, North London.
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