Friday, January 25, 2008

What's Wrong With This Picture?

OK, I don't actually have a picture here, so I'll explain.

The last two or three times I've been at my local post office, I've noticed a friendly gentleman standing by the "Automated Postal Center" (APC) assisting people using it. Meanwhile, at the main counter, there are four windows, one attendant and a line winding out the door. (Personally, I only try to get counter service at the post office at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday because everything thinks they close at 12:00, but they are actually open until 12:30!)

Ideally, the APC would help reduce the load of the long line. However, it takes some people longer to use the machine than it does to get help at the counter. Then there was the day when a local business was at the APC shipping about 40 boxes!

I've used the APC and I can't really fault the machine or the software. However, I do think the postal rules have become more complex, which leads to people taking longer to read and interpret the rules.

Now, back to my original thought and a question. Does an automated assistant really help when it must be accompanied by a human assistant?

Maybe it's just a matter of cultural conditioning, but good grief, we've had these things for years now. Whether it's at the post office or grocery store, it takes a live human being on a regular basis to help people use the technology.

All of this makes me think about software usability. I'm sure in these automated service machines there has been due attention paid to usability. Yet, people still struggle. I can think of two notable exceptions: ATMs and airline check in kiosks.

Do you have similar observations, or is it just me?

Oh, and by the way, could we PLEASE get more people at the Post Office counter?

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