My old friend Jack Telfer, the editor of the Midland Daily News, wrote a column today pointing out how drastically things have changed since he (and I) were teenagers. I’m actually older than he is. He wrote it with what I took to be an air of disapproval at how many things we took for granted have been replaced by new and different ways of doing things.
All these new and different things entered the capitalist marketplace and were accepted. They might just as easily have failed, except they were better than the systems they replaced.
Jack looked askance at how his daughter told him to just recycle a 4-pound telephone directory, because she and her family looked things up online. He was surprised that she would rather “do the work herself” than allow the directory to do it for her.
It doesn’t work that way, Jack. My wife can take her 4.9-ounce iPhone and look up any business, anywhere. It will tell her which location is closest. She can put the address into Google Maps and get directions. She can call (or e-mail, or instant-message) the shop and find out if the product she wants is in stock, if the website doesn’t already tell her. She can carry all this in her purse, something she can’t do with a 4-pound directory.
In short, it’s a superior product and a superior customer experience.
Jack also waxes nostalgic over full-service gasoline delivery. I much prefer self-serve, and have for more than 30 years. My own gas tank is a little quirky; when the automatic shutoff kicks in, there’s still room for 3.5 gallons of unleaded. I know this. I can fill it to where I want it and save myself a trip to the service station.
My wife’s car, on the other hand, is absolutely full when the shutoff kicks in. Don’t even try to top it off to round it up to the next dollar.
No gas jockey would know, or would be expected to know, these things. And I’m old enough to remember the smeary, ugly jobs gas jockeys did while “washing” my dad’s windshield. Thanks, I’ll do it myself for a superior customer experience.
Automatic tellers? A lifesaver. For nearly 30 years, I’ve pulled cash from the bank after hours. Even when the bank’s open, it’s simpler, faster and more secure to get cash while in my car. I still use tellers for deposits or anything special, but there’s no reason to waste their time and mine – and the time of the person behind me in line - if it’s a routine stop for pocket money. It’s a superior customer experience.
Self-serve scanning and bagging at the supermarket? I’ll do it when I can. The lines are shorter, I’m at least as good at scanning as most cashiers, and not once have I put the bleach on top of the bread. Now, I can even bag my groceries according to where I’ll put them away.
And weirdly enough, the robot voice saying “Thank you for shopping at Meijer” sounds more sincere than most human cashiers. It’s all part of a superior customer experience.