Farewell to Small Talk and a Smile?

bankteller

When was the last time you waited in line to see a bank teller? I'm happy to use an app or an ATM for most of my banking needs, but for occasions when my transaction is more complex than a basic withdrawal or deposit, I've never minded queuing. Perhaps it's owing to childhood memories of being in the car with my parents, idling at the local bank's drive-thru, where the smiling teller would ask: "Would he like an "L-O-L-L-I-P-O-P"? Even before I knew how to spell—let alone spell "lollipop," (two "l's" or three?)  it didn't take long for me to realize that this scarcely disguised messaging was code for candy. Yes, please!

With or without a lollipop, a teller transaction—even to this day—is most always a pleasant experience. A smile and some small talk. About the weather. About a long week coming to an end. About a good weekend had. About a new week commencing. Pleasant, courteous and enjoyable conversation that entails two people establishing a brief connection before the customer goes on his or her way.

And yet, I wonder for how much longer tellers will serve us at banks. At the local branch of my financial institution in New York, plunked ominously in front of the wall of mostly unattended teller windows now sit two machines. They are best-described as "super ATMs." The bank purports they do just about anything a teller can do, things ordinary ATMs can't. Always stationed nearby is an earnest employee whose primary responsibility, it seems, is to direct clients to one of these monstrosities rather than a person. If you demur, the greeter will provide a multitude of reasons for how an ATM on steroids can speed you along your way, sparing you the nuisance of having to wait for a teller.

I'm all for progress. I just wish it didn't come with the price tag of stripping away yet another opportunity for genuine human interaction. It depersonalizes the banking experience. Less and less is it a place to see friendly, smiling faces, employees who are genuinely vested (and invested) in our day-to-day fortunes.  It's becoming more so a place to spend time staring at a touch screen before grabbing a receipt and dashing out the revolving door.

Efficient? Yes. Accurate? So far so good. Small talk? Not unless you count beeps and chimes. Lollipops? Not a one. Then again, I think candy for kids went out of fashion years ago—along with the umbrellas and toasters you once got for opening up a passbook savings account.

"Farewell to Small Talk and a Smile?" is the first in a series of stories on this blog that will talk about self-service in 2016 and what it means for consumers and business etiquette in general.