The Computers Cheshire Grin

Lately I’ve had this unsettling feeling that after every interaction with a check out machine, ATM or the numerous others, when I turn to leave there’s a big grin floating above the machine just like the Cheshire cat in Alice’s Wonderland.

The difference here is unlike the cat, these machines aren’t going to be so kind as to tell you how everything works on their side of the glass. You’re going to have to figure that out on your own. And the price for this knowledge might be higher than we expect. In more ways than one.

Yesterday I visited my local bank which like many today is part of a national entity.  They opened a new state of the art branch which is being heralded as one of only 12 in the nation outfitted with state of the art customer interfaces. Or put another way. Smiling faces have been replaced with shiny interfaces.

When I walked in the first thing that stuck was for the first time in my life, I had no idea where the teller windows were. Where do you make a deposit I thought? The branch no longer resembled anything I’ve come to know as a “bank.” It had more in common with a financial services or brokers office than a bank. Layout was open with strategically placed half glassed cubicles surrounding an employee, desk, and 2 chairs. It’s clear from my point of view the people inside these cubicles interact with you, not you with them. You’ll need to be called upon to enter those spaces. But if you wish you can take a seat and view the activities that go on within as if you’re viewing some form of human aquarium to pass the time as you wait.

This branch has clearly transformed from what we knew as a traditional branch bank to more along the lines of a financial products up-sell center. Nobody here wants to handle your deposits, withdrawals, or checking and saving account details unless that leads to your retirement fund assets, or business accounts. If you want just hum-drum banking as in make a deposit or withdrawal there’s another square piece of glass to look through for that. Welcome to your new teller. Not Cindy or Bill. But the new Techno-Dyno 4386-12 teller interface. (I made that up, but that’s what it felt like)

Traditionally teller windows were always prominent being front and center in any bank. Now? Not only are the teller windows gone, but these new interface devices are relegated to the far corner of the office. And the only smiling face I was privy to this day was the person whom hailed me from the center of the branch when I most obviously looked confused on where I might go first.

Who was this person hailing me? Well, she was none other than the corporate representative to demonstrate how someone like myself were to use the new interfaces. All the prior smiling faces are gone. Just her. (And you know she’s temporary before she’s on to the next one) There are no tellers any longer. Just a row of glorified large screened ATMs.

I’m a big fan of technology. I understand replacing mundane tasks with auto-matrons and such. I get it, and I know the difficulty when you find it necessary or prudent to replace human interaction with machine. However there is just something unsettling about actually going to a bank and not interacting with a person. Even more unnerving is the subliminal message being sent on the coming inevitability there will be even less in the coming future.

I don’t think it’s a far stretch to ponder just how quickly these half glassed cubicles containing “associates” will also be replaced with full glass screen monitors. Then as you’re waiting to be called upon they’ll flash images of real aquarium scenes. Or maybe they’ll flash images or scenes showing what human interactions at a bank were once like. They’ll be just as rare to view as any tropical fish in a tank and similar because again it will all be done behind the glass.

With a great big smile floating in mid-air.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr