Checking out – self-serve

Those of you who know me or have followed this column for a while will know that I have an interest in observing some of the little things, and how lessons from one industry can be applied to another.

This week I found myself once again in the supermarket… this shopping for food thing seems to be becoming a bit of a habit! 🙂

With only a relatively small shop, this weekend I decided to use the self-serve checkout. This is something most of us are pretty familiar with these days, and as always it was a relatively smooth process.

However, I was struck by, not the wonders of automation, but actually by the level of trust that is embedded into the process by the supermarket.

Now yes, I know there is an attendant there and I am sure lots of cameras recording my every move, but they’re also must have been, at some point, a conscious decision to trust customers to scan, pack and pay for their own groceries…

Somewhere there must be a cost-benefit analysis demonstrating that the cost saved from fewer check-out staff, minus the loss from products taken, not scanned, or paid for (ie stolen) is positive. It has to be for these automated checkouts to be rolled out so widely.

Trusting Customers

And, I think that this experience really underlines is that in the vast majority of cases customers are trustworthy, honest, willing to do the right thing, and be fair to the businesses they deal with. People are generally good people.

Of course, working in Collections, it can be possible to easily see the world differently. Customers tend to be behind on payments and after a few tough experiences, it is all too easy to become cynical, start to see flickers in the shadows, and think that everyone is deliberately avoiding making payments.

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What the supermarket teaches us, is that is not really the case. By a huge factor, the vast majority of customers do try to do the right thing. The same is true in Collections and Recoveries.

Customers in arrears often have other things going on in their life, and where our worlds do overlap with our products, we can help them find solutions… indeed this customer support mindset has been a great area of regulatory focus recently and one that has been well-received by collections teams too.

An expert opinion

The other thought this week was in listening to the debate over the pandemic and just what to do next… needless to say, there is ‘some’ debate.

On one hand we have epidemiologists, trained to look at the bigger picture, developing broad policy and influencing decisions to benefit society as a whole.

On the other, we have doctors, whose concern is for patients more at an individual level, ensuring they have the right treatment customised for their needs and situation.

Sometimes the needs overlap and everyone is happy, but sometimes they do not, leading to conflict. Ie Sometimes a broad policy does not make sense for some segments of the population or individual patients… and sometimes getting treatments for segments of individuals correct, can actually undermine a wider message on what is needed more generally.

It is mainly polite and scientific, but there can be disagreement amongst scientists, and all of this before politicians get involved.

A principles-based approach

And here, maybe, there is an analogy with financial services.

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On the one hand, we have credit risk, trained to look a the bigger picture, setting broad, portfolio level policy to benefit and protect the company as a whole.

And, on the other hand, we have the collections team, looking after the individual needs of customers, advocating the right treatment for them at an individual level.

Yes sometimes, just like above, different points of view can arise, creating points of conflict that need to be managed. And, increasingly, rather than take a rules-based approach, a more principles-based one is taken… one that yes, points to broad policy but also provides a framework to enable decisions at an individual level, minimizing customer harm and do the right thing for customers.

It is not perfect… but nevertheless a powerful, yet subtle, technique that seems to be generating positive change and being adopted in other markets and industries too. Maybe this is something we will increasingly see a flavour of more publically and more widely too.

Err… enough said on this topic I think… have a good rest of the week everyone.

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