Efficiency…. But at what cost?


Off to the Post Office to pay a credit card bill… I got to the desk, passed over the bill and asked, “Can I pay off the full amount please?”. The clerk picked up the bill and asked how much I wanted to pay off… “the full amount” I clarified…He then asked me again to confirm how much I wanted to pay off. I explained that I didn’t know the exact amount off hand so was passed back the bill so I could tell the clerk the exact amount. Squinting to see the amount (I had noted that I didn’t have my glasses) I guessed at the figure and informed him of the amount he could have read for himself.. Apparently, I had to tell him the amount!?

I can understand the clerk needing to key in the right amount first (as to revise it at a later stage may cause untold trauma to recover!) but I’m not really sure what part of ‘I want to pay off the remaining balance’ is too difficult to understand.. Do we now need to fit into systems designed to serve us as customers rather than systems fitting around us? Do we have to specifically say the right things in the right order so we fit into a corporate form filling process. Ironically, in this case, we had not even got to the system before this interaction took place…

Consider… Hi there I’d like a burger please, one with cheese on but none of that sauce stuff, not really a fan of that, but I would like to have some onion on it too please?

Apparently, this normal social interaction is sometimes too much for the operator of the system to cope with. Being a slave to the system the operator, instead of becoming a break to the mechanistic process, become themselves mechanised. Surely the aim should be to translate what the system requires into human speak so the customer feels like they are being treated as such. So, unless you order in the way that’s assumed you are going to order, the operator is often completely thrown. Worse still you, yourself, are also obliged to become part of the ‘efficient’ process and woe betide if you don’t ask for things as set out in the script (a script that they obviously have in their training but you don’t even know exists).

When multinational coffee shops started opening I naively asked for a filter coffee.. Some of you will be chuckling at this but you see what I mean? This is OK if you know that you need to ask for an Americano with hot milk on the side please but if not, you are treated like a dick for not knowing the secret script. A learning process I suppose..

Back to the burgers… I now know to skip the preamble (deffo don’t bother with hi there, having a good day? Oh heck that’s not in the script!) and just say (please read this in a monotone computer voice) Can I have a cheese burger plain, with only onion on …. Thank.. you

See! a lot more streamlined and fits in with what burger HQ reckons should happen for maximum efficiency! Dare you deviate..

Can I have a weekly Megarider added onto my Walrus card please? Sure said the bus driver, pop it on the machine.. Bling! Walrus charged, that will be £14 please. Can I pay on my debit card please..? WAH! WAH! WAH! See another secret script. No, you should have told me that before you asked for the ticket, I’ll need to keep that card now and you will have to buy another card to charge up, says the driver.. So not only did I not know to ask for something I didn’t know to ask in the first place (which, of course, is my fault?) but I was out of pocket (only by a £1 but that’s not the point).

Generally, you get a service/goods and then present payment so why should I feel so bad I ‘got it wrong’. Perhaps as this is the UK and I should have known better now that you have to pay for things first these days… As it turned out another customer wanted a ticket too so ultimately cards were just swapped so no harm done!

To make things more efficient, cost effective and course in turn cheaper for us… hmmm, electronic systems have streamlined processes to the point now where the only way they will improve is for the end user/consumer to also become similarly streamlined. Cut out the guff, do things in the set order, in the right format…

Human, spontaneous and fun interaction is all very well but can we afford its inefficiency?
I can only hope we can!

Are we all just feeding the machine rather than being served by it?
I think we are just now one element of the consumer process, to be system analysed, rather than unique human beings.

2 thoughts on “Efficiency…. But at what cost?”

  1. I can’t understand why it’s so hard for the cashier to understand your request of ‘I want to pay off the full amount please’. They need only look at the bill (which they do anyway) to work that one out!

    For me it’s mainly the issue of safety .. I mean who wants the whole shop to hear the amount you’re paying off and even how much you’ve spent *tut tut*!?

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