Customer Service Efficiency Delivers a New Customer Checkout Experience


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“If you are old, handicapped or just plain slow, would you mind getting out of my checkout lane? Also, if you need cigarettes or some special service, please consider a different lane. Get your money out now or if you are paying by check, please start filling in the fields while I scan your items. And whatever you do, please don’t talk to me because the clock is ticking.”

That is not a direct quote. At least not yet, but you can be sure many retail checkout service reps are thinking it. According to a recent WSJ article (“Stores Count Seconds to Cut Labor Costs”) many checkout reps are now having their efficiency measured. “A clock starts ticking the instant he scans a customer’s first item, and it doesn’t shut off until his register spits out a receipt.” According to the article, reps at Meijer Inc., will be bounced to a lower paying job (or fired) if they fall below a 95% baseline score. You can bet that those service reps don’t want anything to happen that can slow them down.

In today’s economy with every man, woman and teenager worried about keeping their job can you guess what type of employee behavior this will drive? At a minimum you can expect less eye contact because they certainly don’t want to strike up a conversation or let small talk slow them down. In fact, according to the article some reps suspect that the elderly don’t come back because they feel so rushed at checkout.

If you are a “get in and get out” type of person or always opt for the self-service checkout lane you are probably cheering right now. After all, you don’t have time for small talk and hate it when someone in front of you requires a price check because the item didn’t scan.

I’m all for efficiency and effectiveness – in general that is every consultant’s motto. However; it seems to me that the lines would move faster if more than 2 of the 40 possible lanes were open. OK, OK that means more labor costs, and with Wal-Mart reaping big gains from our souring economy based on their supply chain and labor efficiency and effectiveness who could possibly be considering opening up additional checkout lanes?

Some cashiers have already learned how to game the system. They make heavy use of the register’s “suspend button,” which stops the clock. They also increase use of the remote scanning guns which allow more time. In general, I’m no longer counting on a friendly experience at checkout. In fact, I’m hoping they don’t even take time to ask me if I want “paper or plastic” – after all, I don’t want to be the reason they lost their job. What are your thoughts/comments on this retail survival tactic?

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Alan See
Alan See is Principal and Chief Marketing Officer of CMO Temps, LLC. He is the American Marketing Association Marketer of the Year for Content Marketing and recognized as one of the "Top 50 Most Influential CMO's on Social Media" by Forbes. Alan is an active blogger and frequent presenter on topics that help organizations develop marketing strategies and sales initiatives to power profitable growth. Alan holds BBA and MBA degrees from Abilene Christian University.


  1. I agree with you totally Alan, and your colorful story serves to remind us all that even the most humble roles can put occupants under enormous stress. RFI and self-scanning will fix the problem by transferring the work to the customer, but that won’t save the job.

    And a further thought on your remarks about efficiency and effectiveness. Effectiveness without efficiency may be expensive, but it’s a damn sight better than efficiency withiot effectiveness, which is simply pointless.

    Francis Buttle, PhD
    The Customer Champion


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