One of the things I’ve noted at Sainsbury’s is the plethora of targets. Quite rightly, they aim for customer satisfaction. However, I wonder if the people responsible for targets have ever really looked at the service from the customer’s point of view, or considered what the customer really wants. For example, one of the targets for checkout staff is not only that they should put shopping through at a certain speed to avoid queues (good), but they are supposed to engage in conversation with the shopper simultaneously. As a shopper, I don’t want conversation. Politeness, yes, but conversation, no. I’m here to shop, not engage in small talk. I don’t like small talk at the best of times. So when I’m shopping, I want to get in there, get on with it and get out as expediently as possible.
Now, it seems, others are jumping onto this bandwagon with the intention of annoying me even more.
Workers are being taught how to spot people who look after elderly, sick and disabled relatives by the contents of their shopping baskets, so they can be advised about support they are entitled to.
Cashiers are being trained to discretely ask customers about their personal circumstances while serving them.
They can then put those requiring help in touch with charities that can provide information on financial and practical assistance and respite care.
Okay, I’m not a carer. However, if I was, I wouldn’t want the person on the checkout at my local Sainsbury’s asking me about it. I would clam up rather than spill the beans. It is, after all, none of their business and I would keep it that way. If I needed help, I would go out and find it. It’s what I’ve always done when I’ve needed outside help. That is why we have such organisations as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau after all.
Apparently pharmacists are also being “trained” to do this. A pharmacist is already trained to discuss treatments and symptoms when dispensing medicines. I’ve had some long discussions about my health history relating to my migraines when buying triptans for example. This is fair enough and if one is buying for an infirm relative, the pharmacist will still want to be sure that the medicine is dispensed correctly according to need and medical history. So there is a slight difference here. However, if all one is doing is collecting a prescription, I would expect no more than to pay for it an walk out, I wouldn’t expect questioning over my circumstances as it isn’t relevant, the GP has dealt with the issue of appropriate medicine. Personal circumstances are just that; personal.
However, concerns have been raised that the initiative intrudes on people’s private lives.
Daniel Hamilton, of the campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “It strikes me as something that will make a lot of people uncomfortable. They are trying to do the right thing but they have to be careful about how they do it.”
It does intrude on peoples’ private lives (and it would make me feel uncomfortable). That is the whole point. And as such it is an intrusion too far even if it is being touted as “for our own good”. Aren’t all these initiatives “for our own good” after all?
People have tongues in their heads. If they need help, they can ask. If they don’t, it does not justify using the check-out operator as a defacto spy on everyone passing through their tills.
A spokesman for Sainsbury’s, which is piloting the scheme, said all questioning would be done in an “absolutely discrete and unobtrusive manner”.
That’ll be a another target on the list, then…