The School of Self-Service Voiceovers

It never has any idea what you've really bought, how it's pronounced, and whether it's even in a 50-foot radius of the bag... 

Such is the Wide and Wondrous World of Self-Service Grocery Checkout.

But you don't think those are just simple mistakes, do you? Oh, no. Voiceover folks are trained for that sort of thing.

This is how it goes:

The instructor stands at the front of a packed room of aspiring self-service voiceover talent. A sample register is set up beside him, and a young woman is poised before it with a basket of groceries...

INSTRUCTOR: "Okay, class. Welcome to the School of Self-Service Voiceovers. I'm Mr. Stuffinsak. 

"Experts have realized self-service registers break the moment a customer looks at them cross-eyed. Meaning, it's actually more cost-effective to return to an earlier service model...

"The one where we hire cashiers to talk around the customers,  relaying tales of bad dates and drunken evenings out, who's on break now, who's going on break, and when their next break might be."

"So: with this new shift in goals, your job as voiceover for the self-service system is more important than ever. You need to make customers desperately want to go back to being completely ignored by real live human beings.

"Since today's our first session, we're going to start with the main principles of self-service voiceover. And to make it easy, you can remember them by the word: ' BUNGLE.' That's...

"Be Courteous
"Light Flash
"and Expedite

"Be Courteous, greet them warmly. It's important to really set the customer up for the ultimate disappointment, make them feel at home... Ursula, can you read from that script there to show the class?"

(The Instructor indicates a stapled set of papers in the hand of an assisting student.)

URSULA: "Welcome to GroceryGuru Self-Checkout! Please scan your first item... now."

INSTRUCTOR: "Excellent! Very warm, very friendly! So now that they feel like a part of the GroceryGuru family, you hit 'em with 'U'-- Unsettle 'em. Ursula?

URSULA (reading): "Weigh your... vidaria onions."

INSTRUCTOR: (chuckling) "Now I bet you've noticed, what our grocery store shopper there has is not onions. It's a 20-pound bag of charcoal. But it's going to scan up as onions. That's very important. See, now the shopper isn't sure whether she's getting the right price on the charcoal...

"She's also confused because she knows it's actually VIDALIA onions instead of vidaria. And we like to have those little mispronunciations on all our commonly-purchased items. They'll never get it out of their heads once they hear it five, ten times...

"It's just that extra little push to get 'em back to the regular checkouts...

"Ursula, go on with the next graph of the script, please?"

URSULA: "Please put your... vidaria onions... in the bag."

INSTRUCTOR: "Okay, now here's where we hit N. That's for Nag.

"See, there is just no way that big bag of charcoal is going to fit in that little thin recyclable grocery store bag.... So, with these systems, we like to wait... oh... (looks at his watch)... five, six seconds or so... just to have 'em looking around wondering what to do... before we queue up the voice over again. Ursula?"

URSULA: "Please put your... vidaria onions... in the bag... now."

INSTRUCTOR: "Ah, see now, how our shopper has gotten frustrated and put the charcoal bag just randomly in the bagging area? Now we can move on to G. That's for Grab.... Go ahead, Ursula."

URSULA: "I'm sorry. There is an unidentified item in the bagging area.... There is an unidentified item in the bagging area.... Please remove all unscanned items from the bagging area, and bag your scanned item... now."

INSTRUCTOR: "Notice how confused our poor customer is? She knows she's scanned the item and it doesn't fit in plastic bag. So what we do is let the customer stew a minute, and then we start with the flashing lights.... Ursula?"

URSULA: "Service needed in the check out area. Service needed in the check out area."

INSTRUCTOR: "Ursula will repeat that... oh... 60 or 70 times before someone comes to help. And notice how that light will keep flashing. Studies show it embarrasses about 82 percent of users and the other 18 are already on the floor from epileptic convulsions, so all our bases are covered...

"Okay, lastly, we have Expedite. Once you've got your customer blushing and confused-- or, you know, medics are trying to keep them from swallowing their tongues-- then you try to shove 'em out of the store. Let's give 'em Expedite, Ursula."

URSULA: "Thank you! Please remove all bags from the bagging area, and don't forget to take your receipt. Remove all bags now. This will help us keep the line moving, and provide the quality service you trust to all of our customers...

"Now. Quicker. Now. Faster. We don't have all day.... Move, move, move, Maggots! And thank you for shopping at GroceryGuru."

INSTRUCTOR: "Very good Ursula. That will be all for today. Next week, we'll learn how to do fake British accents to be used in US grocery stores, and we will practice sounding like unfeeling robots."



Anok said...

Hahaha I hate it when the check out starts yelling at you that "The bagging area is full. The bagging area is full. The bagging area is full..."


We actually now have these in store scanner doo-hickies that you carry with you, and you scan as you shop. You also bag as you shop, and you get to bypass ALL of the hassles at the register. It's awesome. You just point the scanner thingie at the register, it downloads your list, and rings you up without yelling at you. I like it because i am OCD and don't like other people bagging my food *snicker*

Jaffer said...

I've heard of some stores adopting the scanners Anok mentioned - but they are not near anywhere I live.

I never use the self-serve if I have any thing that needs weighing - I don't know why but I rather line up even if I have one bag of those berr peppels or appers or cucumbles that need weighing.

The self-serve at the store I go to has three bagging areas per counter. Last week, I scanned my items as usual and piled them all in bagging area 1.

Since I brought my own bag, the idea was to have the bad open in bagging area 2 and transfer the items.

But as soon as I began transferring, Ursula insisted leaving the items in bagging area 1 !
I ignored her pleas and continued - until she said that I can't continue and told on me - to a human, who told Ursula to shut up using her stylus.

Jenn Thorson said...

Anok- I've heard of those new scanning systems, but we haven't gotten them yet.

I actually do pretty well with Self Checkout, but just when the salad bar stopped being called "vidaria onions" (I kid you not) now it's being called "Asia Pears."

Jenn Thorson said...

Jaffer- I'm laughing because Ursula appears now to have become the generic name for female computerized voices...

I LOVE it. :)

Denise said...

As someone who runs a self checkout, this gave me a good chuckle. I often tell her (the voice is female, so I always refer to it as her) to shut up the customer is trying their best.
Thanks "Reader" for the heads up on this one

Junk Drawer Kathy said...

Cracking up that Ursula ratted out Jaffer. I think Ursula has a gig everywhere. I swear when I was buying a dozen donuts the other night I heard her ask me if I was gonna eat all of them myself. Couldn't be sure, though. Head was congested and my ears were clogged up. I'm guessing I heard right. That Ursula's got an attitude.

Hysterical post, Jenn!

Jenn Thorson said...

Denise- I have all the respect in the world for the folks who try to help the public with the self-checkouts.

It takes the patience of a saint, because I know you have to go through the same issues with different people, over and over again.

Kathy- Yeah, you probably heard Ursula right. I think she gets a little judgey.

Claire said...

Ohhh I got in a panic just reading the post!

I hate the ruddy things.

When you have to 'page' for help the human slave doesn't even make eye contact with you, they just sigh, scan something or other, put the thing in your bag and abandon you.

For some reason they got really pissed off when they had to come back another four times.

Jenn Thorson said...

Claire- I imagine this depends on the store and the employees. We have one lady I have to say is completely on the ball...

But there are two others who end up talking to the cashiers instead of helping. Generally the discussion rotates around who's going on break next, who's been on break already and who's enjoying break now. :)

Claire said...

Urggh you just reminded me of something horrid!

It must have been close to one of the cashiers breaks, because as she was scanning my stuff she noticed another person wheeled up with a trolley full.

She looked at me and said ' I have been dying for a piss for hours and now look!'

I think I just tried to nod in a fake sympathetic way and then legged it. I was tempted to report the dirty mare!

Jenn Thorson said...

Claire- You must have had a friendly face, she thought she could share. :)

Next time, scowl more.

Tiggy said...

I'm never going grocery shopping again now. Ever.

timethief said...

WOO HOO! We don't have this spooky technical innovation where I live as yet and with any luck we may never get it (fingers and eyes crossed). ;)

Melanie said...

Oh my. I'm so glad I live in the middle of nowhere and my grocery store still has real live cashiers who know me by name!

I did have a run in with one of those Ursula types once when I went to the city. Made me decide to do all my shopping locally or do without.

Deray said...

But, but, Ursula is sooo nice, she always asks for your ID when trying to buy alcohol! It is nice to have someone pretend that you are not that old, jajajajaja.

Knucklehead said...

I'm just going to take a wild stab at this, but did SOMEONE have a bad experience at the self-checkout?

Jenn Thorson said...

Tiggy- Afraid you'll get in a full-on Woman Versus Machine brawl with Ursula? :)

TimeThief- Heh, to be honest, considering how busy our stores are, I actually prefer doing self-check out for express items. I've gotten a system down. I'm already out of the store by the time the regular express line gets through. :)

Melanie- They know you by name? WOW! That hasn't happened around here since, oh.... 1950. :)

Deray- That IS kinda nice actually. We must savor those special moments.

Knucklehead- Heh, subtle, wasn't it?... Not actually at our grocery store, but at Lowes home improvement. It becomes an epic battle.

CatLadyLarew said...

I absolutely hate those self-service check-out spots! What slays me is that they devote one employee to standing around helping people figure out how to use those automated things... would have been easier and cheaper just to have the living, breathing person ring up your order to start with!

JD at I Do Things said...

My first thought was, "Oh, dear. Jenn has misspelled 'vidalia.' Should I tell her?" But then I read on and was reassured.

Can that check-out instructor also tell the trainees NOT TO SHOUT? I don't need the entire store to know that there's an "UNEXPECTED ITEM IN THE BAGGING AREA!!!!"

Also? When it comes to produce? Why do I have to scroll through 50 pages just to get to "potato." It's such a common item, it should be on the first page. But no. There's like 3 pages each for peppers and plums.


ennuiherself said...

I was just coming to complain about the volume. It's annoying and embarrassing to have Ursula shouting the prices and announcing my items to the entire store. I don't need anyone knowing that I spent $15 at the olive bar.

I also hate how pushy she is: "MOVE YOUR . . . (overpriced) OLIVES TO THE BELT!!". Quit telling me what to do!

JD - In the various stores I've used, there is a screen for common fruits and veggies. It's got things like apples, carrots, and, yes, potatoes. Also, you should be able to scroll by letter.

Anonymous said...

Hello from Russia!
Can I quote a post "No teme" in your blog with the link to you?

Jenn Thorson said...

CatLady- And they didn't used to have those people to stand around and help, either. We would all have to fly solo-- which was scary.

JD- Yeah, Ursula gets really upset if there's an unexpected item in the bagging area. I accidentally leaned my purse too far into that zone at the one in Home Depot, and the HD Ursula wigged out on me. Totally had a mental breakdown and refused to go on.

Ennui- But olives in a bar are one of the great inventions known to mankind! (Mmmm... olivey!) How can Ursula get all judgy about it?

Anonymous- You can quote from it, yes, please just don't reproduce the whole post. Thanks for asking!

Matt said...

I LOVE when I purchase an item that isn't heavy enough to register on their scales in the bagging area. I've seemed to remedy this situation by throwing it into the bag as hard as I can.
It's not only effective, but also therapeutic.

babs said...

All I know is that I always seem to have to scan the heaviest items on the scanner like kitty litter. And it always gives a fit.

It's one of those processes like xeroxing, scanning photos and such that wreck my back. My hunching tendencies probably don't help.

And I don't like the older woman who helps at cashier.