Sunday, September 17, 2006

Till Troubles.

"The tills at Pizza Hut would be perfect if...some techy would put a 'return to previous screen' button on it rather than having to actually put an order through to get back to the first screen. But seriously, they are pretty good otherwise...especially when they keep telling me I was bang on the money at the end of the night! :-) I'd hate to have a checkout system with fixed buttons and just a little green screen (presumably what yours is?), as they are totally non user friendly."

My thanks to Pizza Hut Team Member who has drawn attention to the fact that for all the abuse I've heaped on their technological deficiencies I've yet to do a Proper Job on our tills.

The reason for this is that I rarely bear the brunt of the consequences of their very many failings except in the evening - when we don't have a checkout supervisor employed to act as a buffer between the customers and the shop floor staff on the one hand and 'management' on the other.

I have many times touched on the frailties of The System. The software and hardware (and possibly the firmware, but I don't know what that it) are all fragile, repeatedly patched and vulnerable. They'll keel over at the slightest difficulty or even some days none at all.

For me, trying to keep the business afloat, the absence of management data which flows from the tills is a problem. For the staff the checkouts not operating as they're supposed to is a problem of a different kind. And then there's all the problems that flow from the tills operating as they're expected to...

Card transactions

The greatest problem we face is card transaction failures. These happen All The Time - and that's no exaggeration. This is something that transends satire and belief. Essentially no card transaction works first time, every time. Those days when this aspect of the system works as we all (staff, customers) have every right to expect are rare and delightful. Most of the time the Cards are erratic and unreliable.

For weeks now we've been struggling with an entirely unpredicable Cash Back scenario. Cash back is available on some but not all cards. Where in the past Cash Back has been a given for those with a card that has this option available we're currently dealing with a 'will it, won't it' situtation. The solution has been to cancel the entire transaction when cash back isn't offered and start again, and repeat that until the 'system' suddenly wakes up to the fact that the proffered card is permitted to offer cash back.

Irritating? Certainly.

But this preamble focuses on a short segment of the transaction chain and your typical customer is currently having to confront a far longer sequence of till troubles.

How it works (or at least should work)

The tills comprise a bar code reader, a set of scales and a key pad. Most items that are presented bear a bar code. The operator wafts the item, bar code to the fore and the time is registered.

Some items don't work this way.

Some greengrocery items must be weighed. The item must be placed on the scales which are an integral part of the till. The operator then selects "Veg" on the keypad for the Fruit and Veg menu and then works his/her way through the menu to find the particular item on the scale. When the item is selected the scale kicks into action and a price is calculated based on the weight and the price per weight for that item.

We have a hot food/deli bar. Some items don't scan (ie, are not in PLU) but are on a menu.

A lot of these items have a PLU code that is either imbedded in a long bar code or on a sticker affixed to the item but most operators remain oblivious to that fact.

So what the job of operator boils down to is 'mostly wafting, occasionally keying in, very occasionally asking for help'.

Age Restricted products

First of all, and in our effort to appear to comply with the law dealing with sale of underage products (including Booze, products containing booze such as chocolates and jams, lottery, cigarettes, lighters, matches, lighter fuel, knives...) any operator who is underage (ie, less than 18 years old) or hasn't yet passed the Sale of Restricted Goods test cannot sell such products unsupervised.

You might be familiar with an underage operator yelling to an adult operator something along the lines of "okay to sell alcohol?". You won't hear that with us. The operator must call for a supervisor - and we only have one on duty at any one time, who must come out and personally supervise the transaction. That involves giving the customer the once over and then entering a code to release the till.

That all takes time.

The bar code

With a few exceptions (such as some greengrocery/deli) all items carry a bar code which is linked to a database (see how it works, above). The process is known as Price Lookup and when a bar code scanned at the till doesn't link to an item in the database we have a situation known as Not In PLU. The 13 digit number is linked to an item description and a price.

Regularly we are issued with products that have not yet been entered into the database.

For the moment I shall leave aside the process failure that results in products that are Not In PLU reaching our shelves. Suffice it to say they do. Customers see them and think "oh goody, I'll have some of that" and in all innocence put in their trolley and present it at the checkout.

When this happens two things must happen: the correct price must be established and the price must be entered manually.

Typically our operators don't know the price of an item so will call for a shop floor assistant who will go to the shelf and look for a ticket.

That ought to be it, but it isn't

The operator must then call for a supervisor to enter the price. Our operators are not permitted to enter prices manually.

That is such an extraordinary statement I shall repeat it: Our Operators are Not Permitted to Enter Prices Manually.

When I was growing up the tills were manual rather than electronic and the operators sat behind them bashing away at those keys while remorslessly shoving items off the belt and into the space behind them to be bagged. Thus ladies and gentlemen is the full impact of 'technological progress' revealed.

So that's two calls, and two causes of delay.

A third source of delay arises when the Not In PLU item has reached the shelves without a ticket. When that happens, frankly, we make it up (unless it's a 51" digital TV in which case we might actually try to phone head office and get a price)

Flash Packs

A similar problem arises with flash packs. These are items bearing their price irrespective of what the shelf labels says. In a way they are a lesser problem since the necessity for someone to go to the shelf and check the price does not arise. But still the operator must call for a supervisor to enter the price if the item doesn't scan.


Or voiding as we refer to it. The reader can be sensitive. It is all too easy to scan an item more than once. The operator doesn't have the facility to delete a mis-scanned item. Each and every time an operator makes a mistake a supervisor must be called out to correct that mistake.

Each and every time a customer picks up something they then decide they don't want or cannot afford a supervisor must be called out.


Our operators are less than 'grunts'.

They are not trusted and they know they are not trusted. Under the circumstances it can hardly be surprising that they individually behave as if they've not a pair of brain cells to rub together.

They earn their pay not by thinking but by sitting till, mute and accepting all the scorn that radiates down on them from the customers they serve. How would you regard a person who could not even correct their own mistake, key in a price they know or some other such example?

You would regard them with contempt. And we conspire to set the up for this ignomy, may God forgive us.

Lanes and boxes

Some years ago we abandoned individual till boxes. Each lane (and we have twelve) has a box and over the course of a day and a week any number of operators might work a given lane. A check is not run on the contents and the expected contents at change over. If a problem arises we have absolutely no way of identify where and when the problem arose.

Our operators are thereby insultated.

Other business place responsibilty and consequences on the shoulders of operators. We've removed both.

Where do I stand?

Very simply I'd issue each operator with his or her own box and return to each operator some of the responsibilty that has been removed from them over recent years.

On the one hand this increased sense of responsibilty would, I believe, enhance their feeling of being valued and at the same sense translate into far greater care and attention to detail.

I believe that enhancing the role of the operator would heighten the regard of customers for the person they're dealing which would further fuel in operators a sense of appreciation and worth and commitment to their role.

None of this is likely to happen soon.

As for who I work for - that isn't something I'm going to divulge but I am intrigued by _ _ - _ _. I shall keep working on it and probably be up all night as a result.


  • At 9:12 pm, Blogger Pizza Hut Team Member said…

    Ooops sorry for making you type that looong post about tills!

    I have to say...our tills have another flaw - you can't open the cash box without putting an order through, so if you slam the draw in with your leg out of habit (like I already have...) you have to process an entire new order to open it - or go and fetch the keys from the back. We also thank god don't have barcode scanners, but we do have lovely touch screens which if some grubby person before has been on you'll get that nice stickyness until close.

    We do have our own floats too - starts at £100. Right, off to write about tonights shift...


Post a Comment

<< Home