When I was in college, I worked at a gas station. This was at the time when gas stations were converting from full-service to self-service. Where we previously would pump the gas for the customer as well as wash their windows and check their oil, the new procedure was that they would pump their own gas and we, the employees, would simply collect their money and say “Thank you.”
These early self-service stations did not have the advanced technology as those of today. There was no credit card machine attached to the pump, and not even a kiosk where the customer would pay the employee at a window. No, we collected money on the drive. I had a metal coin changer attached to my belt and bills in my pocket so I could make change, and we manually reset the pumps for the next customer.
I remember one incredibly cold day – with the wind chill, the temperature was double digits below zero. A frail-looking elderly woman – a regular customer – pulled up and stepped out of her car to pump her gas. I went over to her and told her that I would pump the gas if she would like to sit in her car, for which she was very grateful.
Afterward, when I went inside the building to warm up, the manager of the station approached me. He looked agitated, and as I recall, he said, “Did I just see you pump that woman’s gas for her? We’re self-service, you know.”
I felt a bit defensive and I replied, “She is a very old woman, and she’s been here before. I was just trying to be nice.”
He snapped back, “Well, what do you think she will expect the next time?”
I said, “Well, maybe she will come back the next time she needs gas instead of going to the station across the street.” As I ran out to help the next customer, I remember being shocked by his attitude. Helping an elderly woman on a cold day just seemed to me like doing the right thing.
I thought about this experience today as I was checking in at a self-service kiosk at the airport. I was having difficulty; for some reason, the machine wouldn’t read my credit card. Almost immediately, an airline employee appeared to help me. I didn’t have to ask for help. Although it was a “self-service” check-in, there was an employee ready and waiting to help the customers.
Self-service is not an invitation to ignore the customer. It should be about enhancing the customer experience by making it faster, more efficient and maybe even less expensive. Don’t forget about customer service just because you have a self-service option. On the contrary, use self-service as a way to enhance your customer service.