The Secret Marketer on the (in)efficiency of modern technology

Secret Marketer

Earlier this week, I had to visit one of my company’s offices in Manchester, which involved taking the train from London Euston.

Like all good executives, I had pre-booked my tickets, thus benefiting from the supposedly cheaper prices offered to those who are able to predict their movements.

However, on my arrival at the London Euston ticket office, I came across a long tail of people queuing at the ‘FastTicket’ machine. Why? At the front of the queue was a man scratching his head at the various instructions on the screen in front of him.

Alongside this display of customer confusion was the ticket counter manned by a slightly grumpy looking railway ticket employee with no queue whatsoever.

The “fast, efficient, modern way to pay” was taking a lot longer than the old-fashioned human model.

Which got me thinking. Whenever I call into my local HSBC branch I come across a spotty youth – who was once sitting behind the teller’s desk – standing in the centre of the floor, helping confused customers cope with the array of machines where you can pay in a cheque, print out a statement or obtain an account balance.

The ‘fast, efficient, modern way to pay’ was taking a lot longer than the old-fashioned human model

I’ve also been to Tesco and seen the poor guy from the checkout on his hands and knees beside the self-service machine trying to work out why poor Mrs Miggins’ incontinence pads are not registering on the scanner.

And I’ve been stuck behind infuriated motorists at numerous petrol stations because the driver in front of us can’t get the ‘convenient’ Pay at Pump machine to release any fuel.

As marketers, we sometimes forget that in our haste to dash to the latest technology, there was a reason why our predecessors developed their service offerings the way they did.

It is common sense that the expert at the point-of-sale, who has carried out many thousands of transactions and knows every button to press, is going to be considerably quicker at processing the order than the poor customer who might use it at best once a week (and possibly less frequently than that).

And, after all, in each retail outlet, the screens and buttons differ. But perhaps the customer experience is no longer part of the marketing mix.

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