Auto-maker BMW has been using informational kiosks for years in airports, malls and health clubs, as well as in dealership showrooms, to generate buzz for upcoming model releases. The man behind a lot of the buzz is Robert Plante, BMW kiosk programs manager for BMW of North America. Plante personally designed the company’s innovative wireless kiosks and pioneered the idea of using cell phone technology to wirelessly connect those kiosks. Now he answers 10 questions about one of the self-service industry’s highest-profile deployments.
How has BMW used self-service?
The goal of BMW’s kiosks is to provide information about our vehicles to customers. The kiosks give interactive descriptions of the vehicles, the products associated with those vehicles and about programs aimed at getting customers behind the wheel or to experience the brand. Our dealer kiosk program, which has won eight major industry awards since its first deployment, is being phased out and replaced by a new kiosk program that combines the functionality of an interactive, Web-based kiosk with the big-screen impact of digital signage. We also have an award-winning wireless kiosk program that we use to support product launches and experiential programs. These are deployed in malls, airports and other public spaces.
How were you involved in implementing the kiosks?
I was hands-on throughout. I oversaw the kiosk design, production, training and deployment — and remain deeply involved in the creation, design and distribution of all content. I also supervise the help-desk support.
When did BMW decide self-service would be beneficial?
We decided to use self-service several years ago. Our brand became a technology leader in the automobile market with more complex products, and we wanted to reflect that in our showrooms.
Who are the major suppliers of your self-service technology?
It was a collaboration of several vendors. Czarnowski and Frank Mayer & Associates designed the fixtures. Reality Interactive developed the technology/software. Reality Pictures provided the screen design and video content, and we went with Lenovo and Sony for the hardware.
What problems were the kiosks designed to solve?
We wanted the kiosks to communicate the romance, excitement and sheer joy of the BMW driving experience and to make the safety and technology easy to understand and to promote the experiential programs.
What steps did BMW take to deploy the kiosks?
We started with research, attended trade shows, studied other kiosk programs and held a design competition. We have an ongoing effort to build vendor team unity, design prototypes, increase field staff exposure, improve dealer communication, continue training, beta testing and content fixes.
What has been the biggest advantage of having kiosks? Are there any disadvantages or complaints?
The kiosks are a private, high-impact, targeted information highway to our customers and dealers. We can add new content within 24 hours — and, when necessary, even faster. Technical problems with Internet connectivity are a minor ongoing headache.
What kind of feedback have you received from car buyers?
We have heard excellent feedback so far.
Have you seen good ROI on your investment?
ROI on in-dealer kiosks is difficult to measure as these kiosks are more of a branding and information tool. Sales people seem to love it, though, so the kiosks are helping the sales process. The ROI on wireless kiosks is unbelievable.
What do you think is the future of self-service in a sales setting?
As vehicles become more complex, the landscape becomes more competitive and kiosk technology becomes better, the use of this tool only will grow.