(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Mike Masnick

Where Did All The People Go?

from the thanks-for-pawning-off-the-work-to-me dept

There's nothing wrong with automation. It often does help improve tedious tasks while opening up new more interesting jobs. However, what keeps getting passed off as automation, isn't automation at all, but shifting labor to customers. You'll notice the people have been disappearing. It's happening at grocery store checkout counters, movie theater ticket purchases and airline check-ins. Now, you can add hotel check-ins to the list. The hotels implementing this say it's to give guests better service -- but I'm not sure that's true. Maybe I've just been lucky (or I have the good fortune to always arrive at odd hours), but I've never had much of a problem checking in to hotels. I honestly can't remember ever having to wait in line at a hotel to check in, but to read this article, you'd think it was a big problem -- that's now solved by the fact that you can "check in" via the web, up to a week before. You get a page to print out and when you get to the hotel you hand over the paper, and they hand you an envelope. It seems like this must save all of about a minute. It must be all those impatient broadband users (note how the check in occurs over the web?). Honestly, I wouldn't have any problem with this, if they simply said outright that this is a way that they can save some money or get rid of tedious/repetitive jobs by making the customer do the work instead. Hell, if we got a discount for doing some work the hotel staff used to have to do themselves, even better. However, this isn't automation, and it's really not designed to make the customer experience better. It's just shifting the labor to the customer.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    thecaptain, Aug 31st, 2004 @ 5:28am

    Its never about better service

    Its about the bottom line....

    Rather than pay 4-5 (or many more) clerks, you can have...A MACHINE!

    Its like the banks. Originally, they pulled out the ABM which was fine. Then to "encourage" its use, they tacked on a small fee to use a live teller...this created the exodus towards ABM. They save tons of money by cutting back on tellers.

    Now they now charge a fee for using the ABM. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. The rich get richer and the poor are screwed.

    This kind of automation is simply a download of labor to their paying customers to keep more of our money in their pockets.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Bob, Aug 31st, 2004 @ 5:35am

    Better service?

    Given the frequency with which I think "I could do a better job," perhaps having me take on the labor would, in fact, provide better service.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Oliver Wendell Jones, Aug 31st, 2004 @ 7:42am


    Ever been to Vegas?

    I have, lots of times (mostly work related) and I can tell you from personal experience that if ever there is a place for this, it's Las Vegas.

    People arrive via plane and either rent a car (another place this could be helpful) or take a cab for the ride to their hotel. They get there and all they want to do is gamble, eat, see a show, etc. but they find there are anywhere between 10 and 50 people in line ahead of them to check-in.

    Places like the Luxor I've seen have as many as 8 check-in clerks working at a time with 4-5 people in each line.

    Last time I went on a non-work trip I decided to stay downtown at the Lady Luck (big mistake, avoid it!) and at 2:00 in the morning I still had to wait in line for 20+ minutes and even then they screwed up our rooms and we had to make a trip back down to the check-in desk where there was still a line waiting.

    When I'm on vacation, I'd be willing to pay as much as a $20 "service fee" to have my hotel key and everything mailed to me at home so I could show up and skip all the hassles.

    Way back in the pre-web days, there was a cheap airfare service called 1-800-AIRPLANE (or something similar) and you could call and purchase your tickets ahead of time and they would ship the tickets to you overnight at no charge. I used to use them all the time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Phibian, Aug 31st, 2004 @ 8:27am

    Automation as added service

    Of course, we actually drive further to go to the grocery store in order to use the self-scan checkout...

    Automation here isn't just about reducing the number of cashiers required.

    It allows you the customer to handle your own groceries (no more cringing as the cashier bruises the fruit you've just carefully selected), pack the bags the way you want, and use the number of bags you think is necessary instead of the number the cashier is trained to use. And it's just about as fast.

    Plus, I personally love touch screens, so I think the whole experience is just more fun.

    Check-in over the web for hotels sounds dumb though. I'd prefer to have a touch screen kiosk in the lobby that spits out my key :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Adam, Aug 31st, 2004 @ 9:08am

    Re: Automation as added service

    You definitely won't hear me comlaining about self-checkout at the grocery, self-ticketing at the movies or airport, or self-checkin at hotels.
    Do you LIKE to wait in line? I find it hilarious at the movies when a line of 50 people wait to be sold a ticket from the box office when you can walk up to the credit card kiosk(s) with literally nobody using them and get the SAME ticket with NO line. Same for airport and hotel checkin.

    The less I have to deal with slow clerks, the better my experience with the company is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    RJD, Aug 31st, 2004 @ 9:18am

    No Subject Given

    Actually not a bad start ... not a good one and far from a great one but a start nonetheless. It does mention self-help kiosks at some of the bigger hotels so they are probably trying for a trade off of labor versus technology.

    Perhaps a better idea, that can have all kinds of ideas shot into it, would be to check in over the web (have terminals available in the hotels) would be a 'check-in' code being issued by the web site to the user. The user could then simply key in the code to enter their room, purchase food and hotel items.

    This of course would be better accomplished it the code was downloaded to a 'smartcard' but that would require a standard of some kind to be involved.

    Problems that you can forsee with both their current model and this idea are the 'wrong room' scenario which needs to involve a live person.

    Self help will or should continue to invade all aspects of our lives as we become more comfortable at using technology. We should see some time in the near future a tax or sur-charge on service from a live person as stores force non-adapters away from services that could be accomplished by the end consumer. I suspect one day you will pay for the privleage of having someone at a cash register ring you up and package your purchases for you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    TDavid, Aug 31st, 2004 @ 10:11am

    Re: Vegas?

    I see the point Mike is making about it not being automation, but I've seen lots of situations (traveling) with hotel check-in wait times.

    Reno, NV has these hotel check-in issues as well as Vegas. My wife and I usually go on promotions though so we can go through the VIP check-in and that's usually a wait of no more than 1 or 2 people, but it is still a wait. I've seen lines out the door for people waiting to check-in to the hotel through the main hotel desk.

    I'm not in that big of a hurry to lose money, though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    jack aubrey, Aug 31st, 2004 @ 12:23pm

    Auto hotel check in

    Many, many times I have waited in line for half an hour to check in. Ever been to Vegas for example? Quite honestly I would love to check myself in at a hotel using a kiosk or terminal.

    I already enjoy using the self check in terminals at O'Hare. Any time I can use a computer instantly rather than wait half an hour in line to speak to a rude bored obnoxious stupid incompetent agent who has English as a third language, I will.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    RogerP, Aug 31st, 2004 @ 3:02pm

    No Subject Given

    Wouldn't it be easier to be able to swipe your credit card to ID you at check-in time? Instead of having to print out a bar code and carry it with you?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    RogerP, Aug 31st, 2004 @ 3:04pm

    Why use paper?

    Why do they make you print a barcode and carry it with you? Can't they just use your credit card to validate you? Imagine a trip with 5 hotel stops... ugh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    TJ, Aug 31st, 2004 @ 7:33pm

    Not just an automation trend

    My water company has an interesting policy. If I read my own water meter every month I usually pay ten dollars or so for water. If I want them to read it and bill me, which was always my experience before I moved here, they want an additional $8 monthly for that effort. I'm not thrilled with reading the meter, but it nearly cuts the bill in half. Past companies just handled that chore, but then their rates were much higher.

    So far my experiences aren't all negative or positive with this trend. Depends on the implementation. Extra charges for using the method where I do the extra work leave the worst taste, like ATMs.

    I really don't like the idea of having to do the extra unloading, scanning, and sacking at the grocery store. The shopping is enough of a chore already. But since the minimum wage drones seem to work more slowly and sloppily every year, seems in part due to lousy morale, I may soon bite the bullet and do that myself. But there ought to be a discount for saving them the labor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    bob, Aug 31st, 2004 @ 9:46pm

    You have to be kidding

    You must not travel much.. I would give my eye teeth (whatever that's supposed to mean) to go from the front door of the hotel to my room in less than 20 minutes (that seems to be my average). I can now bypass the check desk at the airport, go directly to my rental car (Hertz is good for this) and this would really make my life easier.
    Note that I don't think it's going to be effecting the front desk staffing since that seems pretty sparse at the hotels I visit anyway :-/

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Brian Shock, Sep 1st, 2004 @ 8:58am

    No Subject Given

    I was never so happy as when my favorite grocery put in automatic checkout lanes. When I buy bran cereal and Metamucil together, I don't need some wise-cracking checkout person commenting on my colonic health. Granted, all this information goes into The Big Database; if John Ashcroft really wants to know about my constipation, it's all there for him.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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