When I go grocery shopping, the supermarket prefers that I use the self-service checkout. Banks want you to do your banking online, and charge if you choose to pay a bill or deposit money at a branch office. A friend recently booked a flight ticket, and had difficulty when the airline changed his departure time. Could his travel agency help? No, he hadn’t paid the extra €30 “customer service fee”.

Welcome to the world where customer service is an optional extra.

Realising I might sound like a grumpy old man who moans that things aren’t what they used to be, I do feel that companies are doing themselves no good when they charge their customers extra for doing their basic job. They can damage their brands and their relationships with their customers.

Take my friend and his flight ticket. He booked with a travel agent specifically for the additional customer service he expected. Then the airline bumped him to another flight, which would have meant he would miss the meeting that was his whole reason for travelling. The travel agent said it could help him, if he agreed to pay the additional customer service surcharge. Result: my friend has vowed (and swore, understandably) never to use that travel agent again.

I am reminded of an infamous low-cost airline that charges you extra to pay by credit card. And then they offer no other realistic way of paying.

Supermarkets might not charge you more to go through a “real” checkout-out, yet. But they don’t make it easy. Several large supermarkets that I frequent deliberately make it less appealing. There might be only one staffed checkout operating, with a long queue, and a wide open self-service checkout. Some people I know insist on principle on waiting in line, but I admit I often take the path of least resistance. But even if it doesn’t cost more in itself, self-service does put more responsibility on you as the customer: miss out on scanning an item, and you can get in serious trouble. Which does cost more.

Other examples are an “administration fee” levied on top of the price of your purchase; pay-TV providers charging an extra cost for the decoder card, without which your service won’t work; and the aforementioned bank fees for handling money.

We are often prepared to pay more for something extra. But for a business, charging customers more for basic customer service isn’t good for their brand. Or my blood pressure.