Without warning (to me), suddenly in the '70s when I pulled my car into a gas station a friendly attendant no longer trotted out to my window to inquire, "Regular or ethel?" In order to stabilize rapidly rising gas prices, the job was eliminated.
OK, I adjusted to pumping my own gas. Now my challenge is self-checkouts in the grocery stores. They beg the question: Whatever happened to customer service?
These days, stores are providing a maximum of self-checkout stations and a minimum of live cashiers. I assume stores are saving money by replacing clerks with automation, with the savings being passed along to customers. But is that true? And is it worth it?
I usually eschew self-checkout even when the live checker has a long line. I look at that employee and think, "This is a person with a job. I want to support that." Perhaps it costs me a bit more but if this is the cost of full employment, I consider it a worthwhile investment on my part.
But mostly I object to the way consumers in many areas increasingly are expected to do more of the work and get less service.
Take the travel industry. Whatever happened to those wonderful, knowledgeable agents who would plan your trip for you and give advice based on personal experience? Now we are all expected to become our own online travel brokers.
And every business seems to have an automated phone tree requiring me to say or press answers to a series of questions often irrelevant to my query. It is way too hard to reach a person although that is where a call will invariably end up.
But back to the automated checkouts. With no training, customers are expected to know how to scan fruit with no bar codes, how to pay and where to place the bags.
Some shoppers enjoy the human interaction with cashiers but whether this is important to you or not, checkers are always efficient. Shouldn't we be insulted that stores are cutting back on the very people who have been groomed to provide service?
Department stores and shops have kept the personal touch, but the large grocery stores and pharmacies are aiming to train all of us to become efficient cogs in the commercial process.
My brother-in-law, in his early 80s, says he always checks himself out, not finding it challenging at all -- but then he likes technology and was a chemist by profession. His goal is to get in and out as quickly as possible and this means self-checking, he said. My sister, on the other hand, has not mastered the process and chooses live cashiers.
I remember grocery shopping with my mother when she was older; she lived to be 94. The checkout process confused her even with a patient cashier behind the counter and me by her side. What will happen to the aging population with increasing automation? I guess that is why there is still a gas station with full service right outside Rossmoor senior community in Walnut Creek.
The day will come when our groceries are automatically totaled as we place them in the cart and charged to us as we walk out. That would be customer service at its finest. But this interim step is annoying.
Thanks for the tips
Marty Katz of Pleasanton responded to my column on staycations, and suggests day trips to Murphys in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and Calaveras Big Trees. And he recommends the Butterfly Sanctuary in Santa Cruz, as well as Laughing Sal at the Boardwalk. He also enjoys going back in time at the Old Sacramento Waterfront historic district, and its California State Railroad Museum.
Katz has been to Bodega Bay more recently than I have and reports that the schoolhouse from the movie "The Birds" is now a private residence but visitors are allowed to wander around. The Bodega Harbor Inn, where Alfred Hitchcock stayed during the filming, Katz said, has a DVD player in each room and when visitors check in they are given a copy of "The Birds" to watch. Fun!