Some People Hate Self-Checkout

There’s a myth out there that helpdesk companies like to perpetuate about customer service automation — that it will save you time, that all your competitors are doing it, and you need to have it too so you can go work on more important things.

Except this it isn’t true.

As our friends at Buffer like to say about social media automation, “It’s not a rotisserie oven. Please don’t set it and forget it.” The same goes for customer service automation.

All awesome technology requires equally awesome people and processes to build it into a meaningful competitive advantage.

Automation is the technology component of the wonderfully productive golden triangle of people, process and technology. Each requires the other two to make a tangible impact on business.

people process technology

Take people and process out of the equation, and it looks a lot like the modern-day self-checkout.

48% of people don’t love self-checkout

The Mindy Project, a FOX sitcom, captures at least half of humanity’s sentiments about the self-checkout.

Mindy’s childhood love has just come back from a long stint in the army, miles away from any supermarket innovation.

Things have changed. There is now self-checkout.


Yea, if the future is a fiery dystopia. She puts it in the bag like the machine says.


The machine totally melts down.


It’s like automation gone rogue: the machine is going nuts, there’s no store associate around to help. They don’t even end up getting what they came for – they bail without that shampoo.








Useless, right? You might as well bark over the intercom:

“Good afternoon customer, we are replacing the privilege of human contact at the checkout counter with robots. You will now interact with a robot that you’ve never been trained to use. We will task a single associate to supervise the whole self checkout section, so if you run into a problem while checking out during rush hour, you’re on your own. Good luck thumbing through our massive directory of fruit and vegetable codes to find ‘heirloom tomatoes’. You would think it’s under H, but it’s actually under T. Thanks for shopping with us today.”

Some people don’t like self-checkout.

Check out the line at Whole Foods

Only 52% of consumers prefer self checkout. This automation innovation is by no means a runaway success.

Another 48% are opting for the human checkout experience probably for the same reasons as tech writer Farhad Manjoo:

The human doesn’t expect me to remember or look up codes for produce, she bags my groceries, and unlike the machine, she isn’t on hair-trigger alert for any sign that I might be trying to steal toilet paper.

Best of all, the human does all the work while I’m allowed to stand there and stupidly stare at my phone, which is my natural state of being. (WSJ)

Look at how differently Whole Foods manages its checkout lines at some of its busy urban locations.

whole foods self checkout

Customers stand in one long line and walk to their color-coded counters when it’s their turn.

This is a great example of how automation can be used to assist — not replace — human employees. 

The benefits are worth it. Customers enjoy the personal attention of a store associate and more importantly, they don’t have to work the register to be able to walk out with your groceries. Oh, and how about those nice last- minute impulse buys?

whole foods self checkout

Stick to your (automation) principles

There’s a general principle that successful customer-centric businesses tend to follow. We call it The Automation Principle.

kayako automation principle

Here’s where that comes from: some businesses believe that automation exists to free up their time. But better businesses use automation to reinvest their new free time in better human-to-human service.

Automation should support your support. If you’re automating any personal interactions, you’re doing it wrong.

With that in mind, here are little “human hacks” that are total winners:

Automation is your little helper

Follow up on a ticket

The scene: You’ve provided a fix to your customer’s problem. Now it’s up to them to implement the fix.

What to automate: Schedule a follow up date.

The human hack: Write a unique and personal message to ask if they resolved the problem or need extra help.

If several members of the team were involved with solving an issue, the initial point of contact should schedule a follow up to check in: “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Build your knowledge base engine

The scene: You’ve been answering or resolving the same issues over and over again.

What to automate: Run a report linking tags + priority level to see which inquiries are the most frequent and pressing.

The human part: Now that you know what’s tripping up our customers most often, prioritize those help articles first.

Celebrate customer milestones

The scene: Your customer has just been through a milestone with your product: it could be their first 10 followers, completing a level, referring you to a friend, or trying a new feature.

What to automate: Set up an email trigger to notify you of the customer’s milestone.

The human part: Sure, send a personal email, but could you work on something bigger? Invent a way to take the relationship offline.


Creative Market, a marketplace for designers, is seriously raising the bar. Every time a seller makes their first sale, it triggers an email. Then someone on the team sends across handwritten card along with a dollar bill. How’s that for inspiring?

The Takeaway

It takes time to find the right balance between automation and human-to-human engagement.

But you’ll find that if you’re doing it right, your customer service team will be busier than ever: upping their game, building new ways to engage your customers and the new face of your company. Like an unstoppable machine.

When in doubt, be human.

This post was originally published by Kayako at