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Where Has Customer Service Gone?

Funny isn't it, how businesses and consumers see things differently?

Take for example customer service. Older Americans remember the days when you could get it over the phone from the moment the phone was answered. You got a real person.
Today, you often have to listen to a company's entire recorded menu, frustratingly pushing number after number on your phone pad until you narrow things down to the category in which you're interested.

Sometimes, if you're lucky, you finally get to speak to someone. There are times when you are unceremoniously disconnected without ever getting that opportunity.

Businesses call that progress. Consumers call it frustrating.

Businesses have to cut costs to stay competitive. New technology is a way to do that. And at a time when many consumers view service industry workers as substandard, machines can offer a real convenience.

Enter the latest thing in grocery shopping: self-scanning. That's right, no checkout clerk.

CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson says the Giant supermarket chain is among many stores trying out the new technology.

Evidently, this is the most happening thing at the supermarket since sliced bread. Giant says it provides a new customer convenience, in addition to cutting cashier costs.

Here's how it works: You gather up your groceries and go to the checkout line. There, under the eye of a camera that records your every move, you scan your groceries. The machine asks if you have coupons.

If everything works as it should, the machine takes your money, returns your change and tells you to take it, along with your receipt.

If there is a glitch, or if you have a question, a supervisor who is viewing four machines at once from a station nearby will come to your rescue, fixing the problem or answering your question.

"The problem comes," says Stephen Brobeck of the Consumer Federation of America, "when the technologies are misapplied, and also when consumer choice is eliminated and consumers are forced to use the new technologies, but they don't want to."

Like when you used to go to a service station and get real service that you didn't have to do yourself. Or when you called a business and got a real person on the phone, right off the bat.

How long will it be before you'll be hearkening back to the good old days when there used to be checkout clerks to add up your bill and bag your groceries?

And, by the way, how will they keep people from stealing groceries? Well, the computer knows how much each item is supposed to weigh and your bags will be sitting on a scale.

If they don't weigh out right, that direct personal contact you long for will be quick in coming, as the supervisor — notified by computer — will come running.

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