Canadian Rental Service

At Your Service: Self disservice

By Russ Dantu   

Features Business Intelligence customer service equipment rental opinion

Changes to service delivery have to be managed with care.


I’m losing my religion when it comes to retail business customer service like banks, grocery stores and other facilities that believe they are increasing their customer service by installing more self-serve kiosks. It’s getting to the point where I am actually looking for different places to shop for certain items.

Case in point: I was at my local Shoppers Drug Mart store this past week to pick up a few things we needed at home. I obviously went on the wrong day, as every Thursday is seniors’ day so the place was packed with slow-moving people who apparently have lots of time on their hands. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m 55 so not far behind looking forward to Thursdays where seniors get 10 percent off all purchases that day.

I wasn’t pushy or impolite. I smiled and did my best to be patient…but places like Shoppers Drug Mart, the banks, grocery stores, Walmart and many others believe they are helping us out by installing these self-serve kiosks for checkouts when they may just be doing more damage than they think. 

I know change is necessary and I speak on that subject but I believe many retailers are making a mistake with putting in too many of these kiosks. I used to look forward to going into Shoppers and saying hello and chatting with at least six employees there who I have gotten to know a little bit over the past several years. Three of them are no longer there. They may have just decided it was time for a change or maybe they were let go because of the self-serve kiosks and they don’t need as many employees any more.

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Am I wrong in assuming that the retail places I have mentioned above are all making a pretty good profit? Every time I am in our local grocery store, there are lots of people buying groceries. The banks almost always have a lineup. Shoppers always has a full parking lot. Walmart…well, we all know how busy most Walmart’s are. Almost all are making a very decent profit each and every year.

So I’m waiting in this lineup to pay for my items and there are at least 10 people ahead of me. All are being forced to use the self-serve kiosks as there is no employee running the cash register on that day. They have one person running between each of the four kiosks helping people try to navigate through the screens to pay for their purchases. I can hear lots of complaining from the people at the kiosks and from others in front of me waiting to use a kiosk. Some seemed to be doing quite well but others were struggling. After five minutes and only two people finished at their kiosks. I put my stuff down, left and walked across to the grocery store where I know I can get my stuff. Even though they have four kiosks as well, I know they have a couple of cashiers also working. It wasn’t that busy and I got through fairly quickly and got to talk to one of my favorite cashiers who has been working there for several years.

I don’t like the kiosks. Some people do. Plain and simple. 

Here’s my beef:

  1. Did anyone in management do a survey to find out what their customers actually want?
  2. Did they take it too far by not having the option of a cashier for those who prefer to deal with a live human being?
  3. Are they doing this all in search for more profit for their shareholders?
  4. Do they get they might actually lose customers because of this?

Here’s the solution:

  1. Understand that you have many demographics of customers you will serve, regardless of the business you are in. Some may like to do the self-serve and others want to interact with a live person and have someone else bag their goods. Setting yourself up so you serve everyone makes your customer service go up to the next level. Staying the same may upset those who prefer to get in and out without speaking to anyone. Changing for them is a good thing. Having real live people keeps the other demographic happy. When I bring on a new customer, I always ask them how they prefer to be communicated with. The younger generation usually say they prefer I text as much as possible. People in their 30s and 40s (in my world) like email. Some of my older customers always want me to pick up the phone and call them or stop by to see them. By accommodating all of the different demographics, I keep more of my customers happy.
  2. Change has to happen…we all know that. Be gentle with those who are struggling with change. Sometimes a lot of handholding is needed. Sometimes an exception to your new rules are needed. Would you risk losing a $10,000, $50,000, $100,000 or $1,000,000 customer because you are trying to force them to do something they don’t want to do? Always remember that they are the customer. They pay your bills and your employees’ salaries through supporting you.
  3. When creating changes to your policies and procedures (and yes, I’ve said this before), please jump on the other side of the counter and see how it feels as a customer to be put through anything you change. It’s not about making things easier for you. It should always be about making things easier for the customer.

Thank goodness you are in the rental industry where you don’t have self-serve kiosks that may upset some of your customers. But please, do yourselves a favour and check in with your customers every now and then to make sure they are happy with the way they are treated and if they are happy with the way they have to deal with you to spend their hard-earned money.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and buy some more items at Shoppers. Or maybe I’ll go somewhere else where I might feel like a real customer.

Take care of yourselves, your employees and your customers! 


Russ Dantu is a 30-year veteran of the rental industry and has been delivering workshops, seminars and keynotes on customer service for over 15 years. Visit russdantu.com. 


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