A Total Lack of Customer Service

We've begun to survey Fast Company readers for this year's Customers First Awards, and my early afternoon lunch run made me think of customer service in a slightly different light.

I love Pret a Manger. The food is so good and so fresh — but slightly expensive. What I like even more is the retail experience. For that's what it is. Sans the counter staff, Pret is the automat of the 2K's. You walk in, you pick your food, you pay.

Pret is a food service first — staff are needed to make the food fresh every day — and a retail operation second — staff are needed to take your money. But the experience at the checkout is akin to dropping coins in a slot. I hardly exchanged two words with the checkout girl, and I'm curious: Were Pret just a tad less expensive — and they brought back an automat to the corner of 42nd and 3rd — would I eat there every day? I well might.

What other businesses seem to be entirely free of customer service?

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