What's the point of paying for service if you then have to do the work yourself?

The service industry – the engine of the British economy – is turning into the non-service industry

Share

Standing at the Norwegian Airlines check-in desk at Gatwick I waited for my suitcase, which I’d just heaved on to the weigh-in scales, to do that reassuring jolt backwards on to the main conveyor belt and on its way to the plane. But instead it just sat there. A woman in a fluorescent vest loitered, so I called her over. “Is there something wrong?” I asked her. “Yes, you have to scan the label yourself.”

Perhaps it was because I’d had only two hours sleep, or perhaps because I’d already had to do everything myself – from checking in at a machine (where I had to get a member of staff to help me), to working out which way the sticky bit went on the luggage label (again, where I had to get a member of staff to help me) – that I suddenly wailed, “What next, do you want us to fly the bloody plane ourselves?”

It wasn’t just me – there was (literally) a plane-load of confused passengers bound for Helsinki being forced to do all the work and having to ask staff from both Norwegian and Gatwick for help, meaning that the whole process took far longer than if there had been a normal check-in desk operated by people who knew how to do luggage-label origami.

In Scandinavia, where it’s assumed people are generally happier, they love this kind of do-it-yourself service: at the petrol station, you have to pay by card at the pump, working out how much a tank will cost you before filling up – the stress of a long queue forming behind us compounded by a failure of arithmetic as we tried to work out whether we needed €80 or €100 worth. Back in the UK, we  drove into a Sainsbury’s petrol station looking forward to some old-fashioned customer-retailer interaction only to find the same DIY pay-first procedure has arrived in this country.

The service industry – the engine of the British economy – is turning into the non-service industry, and I don’t like it. Self-service check-outs (which I refuse to use) have been in supermarkets  for ages, but this habit is spreading. Airlines and retailers must assume  they are “empowering” the customer  by giving them control over their flying  and shopping, but it is actually a way to  just keep staff costs low while the tills  keep ringing.

There are now restaurants where you can make your own meal – such as Steak & Co in London, which promises you can “cook your own steak to your liking”. Actually, my liking, if I’m paying to eat out, is for a proper chef to cook it. If I wanted to fumble over a stove, or indeed make my own cocktail – as customers of the Rebel Dining Society have to – I’d stay at home for a fraction of the price.

 

It is not just the service industry but the public sector too: when I turn up at my GP surgery for an appointment I have to check myself in at a computer, including touching the screen where it says “Arrive Me” – a travesty of grammar as well as service. My local library is one of those where you have to scan the books you want to take out, marking the end of the return-by stamp. If cutting staff costs means keeping the library open, then that’s welcome, but it still means people have lost their jobs.

And for the customer, the concept of service is dying out. Bad service can be appalling, but good service is a joy to experience. Customer-service staff are at a company’s front line, and can show how a firm is doing in a way that no computer can. When so much of our lives is conducted in the digital world, face-to-face interaction with another human being is precious – and increasingly rare.

Parks are for rich and poor alike

The think tank Policy Exchange published a report yesterday calling for more value to be placed on our public parks, including the idea of council-tax rebates for residents who volunteer as rangers or litter wardens, as well as “ecotherapy” for overweight and unfit patients who would attend fitness classes in their local park, part-funded  by the NHS.

Both are attractive proposals designed to ensure that our public spaces are kept in good repair. But a third proposal – to impose a levy on people who live near parks – would surely only lead to them becoming exclusive playgrounds of the middle class.

In most cities, the greatest parks are bordered by both rich and poor areas and should remain free to everyone. Conservative-controlled Wandsworth council in south London has repeatedly tried to impose a charge on a local playground, despite widespread public anger. Parklife should be a right, not a privilege.

READ MORE:
Our limited generosity is being wasted on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
What's the most meaningful response we could have to the murder of James Foley?  

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would halt the charitable status enjoyed by private schools

Rosie Millard
 

Nick’s accident has been an education for my lexicon

Rebecca Armstrong
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links