‘Unexpected Item In Bagging Area!’ or ‘Hello, How Has Your Day Been?’

Know Your Customer

Wagamamas was the lunchtime destination at Bluewater on the weekend for my daughter and I. We knew we would be guaranteed a speedy, healthy meal.

When we were handed the menus on arrival we were also given a Qkr! Brochure with information on how we could pay our own bill at the table, on our mobile phone, in our own time! Very handy I thought, no more waiting around to catch the team member’s eye and ask for the bill. No more waiting for the bill to be placed on the table in readiness for my card or cash. No need to wait whilst my payment is processed and no more frustration if the pay terminal decides to ‘go slow’. How very convenient! It took some time to download the app and add my credit card details (now that I’ve downloaded it the process will be far quicker in future). Then magically my bill appeared on my phone. I was given the option to tip and from then it was a simple tap of the finger to pay my bill. All without even one word to the team member.

Conveniently the bill is stored on my phone, a very handy feature for those who need to reconcile their accounts.


I liked this new development. I felt in control and I was glad to avoid the sometimes-lengthy payment process. But as I wandered away, looking over my shoulder in case someone sprang on me shouting ‘You haven’t paid!’, I felt a little invisible, a little irrelevant. I felt like I had consumed the product and then I was left to my own devices; a rather impersonal transaction that was replicated hundreds of times throughout the day. It made me consider the usual process. Often, whilst the payment terminal is in the hands of the team member, I have been asked ‘did I enjoy my meal?’ Sometimes, the team member would strike up conversation about the weather or my day. On many occasions in the past I have shared a laugh and a pleasant interaction with the team member and often I have left a restaurant with a smile on my face. This time, I snuck out furtively with no words spoken.

An article in today’s newspaper discusses the real value of self-service ticket machines at train stations (Neil Tweedie, Daily Mail). How convenient are the Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) if they present you with too many choices and not enough explanation as to what would be the best solution for you? Due to the fractured network of rail systems in the UK, the differentiation between peak and non-peak prices and the complex ticket types themselves it would appear that the many of the tickets actually sold via TVMs are overpriced or completely invalid! Perhaps it’s best to join the lengthy snake of a queue so you can actually say to the face behind the Perspex window “What’s the cheapest way of getting from London to Brighton…?”

Even when I visit my doctor’s surgery I can now register my attendance at a touch screen check-in point with no words spoken.

And then there’s the self-service checkouts in retail. I would prefer the ‘Unexpected Item In Bagging Area’ mantra to at least be spoken with an undulating French accent or perhaps in a calm and soothing hushed tone with gentle chimes echoing in the background…….. instead of the robotic, 1960s headmistress style we usually receive.

So in our world of self-service and automated everything, are we happier? Are we grateful to scrape back a few minutes of time whilst sacrificing eye contact and a smile? Finger tip convenience or genuine customer service? If you are keen to add a personal touch and maintain an outstanding level of customer service, you must consider ALL elements of the customer journey.

Some suggestions that are guaranteed to make a difference:

  • Make it simple and make it easy!

Technology is wonderful but don’t lose sight of the fact that your customers want simplicity; make it easy for them.

  • Price is NOT everything

Train your staff to smile, to engage, to interact. (Over 80% of customers would pay MORE for a product or service to ensure superior customer service.)

  • When things go wrong, admit it and spend time in ‘recovery mode’

Thomas Cook spectacularly failed at this recently. Sharon, the mother of the two British children who died on a Thomas Cook holiday in Corfu in 2006, flew out to Corfu with her partner immediately after the tragedy. On her return flight home she was seated on a normal flight home, watching happy families file past her to their seats. The bodies of her children in their small coffins were then loaded onto the hold in full view of the passengers. A customer-care failure at the critical level by anyone’s standards.

  • Offer MORE

Teach, advise, support and communicate with your customers. Hold workshops or sessions where your customers can engage and experiment. Have charity or fundraising events – be seen as a CARING and SIGNIFICANT part of your community (with sales possibly becoming an exponential by-product).

  • Delight your customers
    Be cheerful, be bright, be the polar opposite of those self-service machines. Offer something special. People like surprises and a little personality goes a long way. Think of some unique ways to create a priceless connection with your customers. Read more about delighting your customers in our blog: http://www.shopperanonymous.co.uk/expectations-vs-surprises/
  • Be ever-present
    Apparently the number one fear in the mind of the twenty-something is FOMO (fear of missing out)! So, expose yourself! Be cross-channel with your brand; use social media, use email marketing, use loyalty programs. Be on your customer’s mind. They are much more likely to return.
  • Mobilize your experience
    Whilst there is a blurred line between self-service and the use of technology, there is no denying that our younger generations want and respond to mobile customer experiences. From mobile banking to content updates from the BBC news, customers want mobile access to your brand. And it’s not just the younger generations. In May of this year Google announced that more searches were being made on mobile devices than on personal computers in the U.S. and in many other countries.
  • Create the circle of trust for your customers
    Many customers begin their customer journey amongst their circle of trust. Make it easy for customers to communicate their trust. Build customer loyalty programmes, have real and virtual forums. Capture customer feedback. Listen, respond, and do what you say you plan to do – just like any good relationship.

There is no avoiding technology and, often, ‘ease of use’ is vital in improving your business. But at the heart of every innovation, every new venture and every new business strategy, one thing should remain at the top of the list; your customer.

Deborah Winchester

Leave a comment