Self Service–or Square Wheels Service?

Some years ago, one of my favorite grocery chains introduced self-service checkout.Confident that I could master anything computer, I marched right up to the checkout. There were at least five people ahead of me just going about their pre-holiday business, scanning and bagging their groceries—and swiping their credit cards at the far left of the counter ahead of the space to place groceries.

Then it was my turn. Suddenly, self-confidence became self-flagelation. The more I tried, the worse it got. The user interface made no sense to me. A growing line of tired shoppers behind me made matters worse. I considered dumping the cart and leaving. By the time a junior checker showed up to rescue me, I had decided I would never go through that store’s self-service again. And I have not.

Weeks later, I finally figured out what went wrong. The user interface paradigm was wrong for me.

The FILE/OPEN user interface paradigm that I as a computer user had come to know quite well was not there. Instead, a proprietary and arcane interface all but defeated me. I decided that interface had been designed by a committee dedicated to protecting the jobs of the checkers. I also deeply suspected that those shoppers who zoomed right through self-help spent far less time at a Windows-based computer than I.

Fortunately, another store in the same chain implemented another solution to the problem.

That store simply distributed hand scanners and a supply of grocery bags to each customer at the entrance of the store. I simply scanned each item before placing it in the grocery bag. By
the time I reached the cashier, all I had to do was give the hand scanner to the checker, swipe my credit card on another scanner and VOILA! I was a happy customer on my way out the door.

My takeaway from this experience became obvious. It’s not “build it and they will come.” It’s “know your customer.” It’s not about my brand or the benefits I think my product or service can bring to the customer. It’s learning from my customer what my customer genuinely needs.
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