A Computerized "Service" Economy

Oh dandy. Here comes another service industry "helping out" us customers by eliminating clerks whose job it was to help us out.

Thanks to the "innovative use" of computer technologies, banks and gas stations (which used to be called service stations") have led the way to a new service economy in which the term "customer service" has become an oxymoron. The latest innovator is your friendly supermarket, which soon will require you to weigh your own groceries, ring them up on a scanner, bag them, and pay for them through an automated check-out system. USA Today tells us that Kroger, Albertsons, Safeway, A & P, Pathmark, Food Lion and others are marching inexorably down this high-tech, low-touch path.

You'll be glad to know they're doing this for your convenience ! The industry notes that a big gripe of customers is having to wait in long lines to check out. They're right about that, but instead of hiring more clerks, providing better training, and paying a decent wage to retain helpful and friendly employees... the industry's answer is to eliminate the clerks and have you and me do that work for them -- for free.

The supermarkets claim they're simply trying to eliminate lines by offering a do-it-yourself checkout lane that will be super-efficient. But, one, they're not increasing the number of lanes, so you'll still face long lines; two, computers are filled with erroneous data and are always crashing, so kiss-off that efficiency claim; and three, while they now say consumers can choose between a real, live clerk and a computer, banks said the same thing before eliminating most of their clerks and pushing us out to the machines.

This is Jim Hightower saying ... Drugstores, hardware chains, airlines, even restaurants are also computerizing their "service" and saying to customers: Do it yourself, Bub. It's a Brave New Corporate World in which there is no service and there are no jobs -- a perfectly soulless marketplace.

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