The Perspective 
Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The following is a preview excerpt from our 2009 Self-Service Consumer Survey, to be made available later this month. –Ed.

The self-service industry has come to a crossroads of customer service and technological innovation.

Over the past two decades, banks and airlines have led the way with ATMs and kiosks, with retail, medical, hotels and ticketing embracing self-service technology in ever greater numbers. Now, we are close to the tipping point of full adoption of self-service technology, similar to where we were in the mid-1990s, when the Internet and e-commerce became inextricably linked to consumer behavior.

The primary evidence of this arrival is that customer requests for self-service are increasing throughout most service-transaction industries. Kiosks are no longer a fad but rather a requirement for many (albeit not all) customers.

None of this is lost on hospitality professionals.

"The depth and range of self-service solutions in the hospitality industry has grown over the last year," said an article in Hospitality Technology. "Consumers are more interested and motivated to use self-service kiosks, and both hotel and restaurant operators are making significant strides in respect to rolling out solutions. While self-service solutions still have limited availability in hotels and even fewer restaurants, the number of rollouts planned will increase markedly over the next four years."

The customer speaks

The same reasons that make self-service popular elsewhere also apply to its applications in hospitality. Consumers want more choices and convenience, and benefit from shorter lines, less waiting and faster service. Control is another big factor. Some consumers just want the choice to do it on their own and maintain control over the experience. While these systems will never replace personalized customer service, they are flexible and offer an increasing number of consumers fast and reliable service. Service companies, then, need to offer guests the option to initiate a transaction and not stop at the reception desk, if that's what they choose to do.

"Hoteliers are seeing that self-service will become an expectation for consumers and therefore a critical component of their business strategies," also according to the above report.

Among technology options, mobile is showing significant promise. "It’s clear that mobile is the gateway to how airlines will interact with their customers in the future for almost anything," said Henry H. Harteveldt, a vice president with Forrester Research. As airlines led the way with kiosk deployment, we can predict that customers will be increasingly demanding mobile technology at the hotel.

A survey performed by market research firm TNS in December 2007 states that when given a choice of checking in to a hotel up to 24 hours prior to arrival via the Internet or a mobile device, 36 percent of respondents preferred the PC, 20 percent preferred the mobile device and 24 percent expressed no clear preference. Hoteliers wanting to move guests to mobile check-in may consider including top-rated options such as "upgrade room" and "choose room based on floor maps," the respondents indicated.

Getting it right

Self-service technology has now passed the "nice-to-have" and early-adopter stages. An ever-increasing number of customers expect transactive, interactive, efficient and elegant user-friendly technology to be available during the full cycle of customer interaction. It should be implemented from the first remote touchpoints through transaction completion.

Key issues to consider for successful self-service transactions are:

  • Kiosk deployment. Ensure that the units are available where customers want them, at as many touchpoints as possible.
  • Increased functionality. Adopt the most comprehensive units as possible and retrofit currently deployed kiosks with the latest functionality.
  • Wireless. Wireless kiosks will increase your customer capture as they provide the flexibility to adapt to changing customer patterns. In short, you can put them where you need them, when you need them there.
  • Web and mobile access, with barcode functionality
  • Mobile messaging and marketing. Develop a mobile message strategy to bring the customer into the transaction at the earliest possible touchpoint.

Notwithstanding the appeal of the kiosk and the novelty of mobile technology, hospitality professionals should not neglect the Web.

Web check-in provides guests the ability to remotely use a computer or mobile device to check in to the hotel. This is a direct evolution of the customer hotel experience. Customers worldwide are becoming more and more connected via PC, laptop and mobile phones. The customer has already shown increasing adoption of Web check-in for airline boarding passes. Also, according to a study by Compete Inc., hotel guests want and expect branded Web sites to provide a better "total travel experience." Further, one-third said online check-in was significant to them.

"Service enhancements that are geared to making the pre-arrival experience easier for business guests, such as online check-in, continue to be important guest satisfaction factors," said Linda Hirneise, hotel practice partner for J.D. Power and Associates. 

Peter Slifka is a business consultant with more than 20 years’ experience in operations and corporate disciplines. Most recently, he focused on the self-service initiatives for the Starwood Hotels, implementing kiosk programs for Sheraton, W Hotels, Le Méridien, Four Points, Aloft & Element brands.

Posted by: Peter Slifka AT 12:12 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 18 March 2008
You've probably seen a kiosk that has an error message on its screen or even a kiosk that has a blank screen. A non-functioning kiosk is worse than no kiosk at all. It undermines the consumer's trust in a reliable source of content or their trust in the capabilities of the provider.
Sure, we all pretty much understand that computers are not perfect and will need some maintenance from time to time, and that not every company has world-class IT support teams. But you can implement systems that will alert your team when something goes awry, or reboots itself in an attempt to clear the problem. Sadly, many companies that implement kiosks don't want to consider these possibilities, or they are the first thing in the budget that gets axed when trying to make the numbers work. Ongoing maintenance and support are important considerations. On-site warranty from hardware manufacturers, combined with good software infrastructure and a plan, are the basics of maximizing uptime.
But one thing that is perhaps even worse than a non-functioning kiosk is a kiosk that is well designed, has good signage, has a good purpose and then fails to deliver on its promise. I recently saw an example of this at Cincinnati's airport. As you enter the baggage claim area there are two large stations of three kiosks each that promise the visitor hotel information and courtesy phones. When you approach the screen, you see three links: Hotel Courtesy Phone, Visitor Information and Kiosk/Airport advertising information. Obviously, this was put together by whoever has a lock on airport advertising, otherwise why would you give that last topic such importance for a visitor kiosk? When you click on “Hotel Courtesy Phone” you get a page with a bunch of logos of local hotels and basic information on them. This is helpful content for the traveler. If you click a button, it promises to call that hotel for you so you can book a room.
But the phone dialing did not work.
So I tried the Visitor Information in hopes of finding out what to do around town, where to eat, shop and perhaps some quick local history. Nope. The page loaded with a simple but terrible message: "Content coming soon."
I can tell you that these kiosks had already been deployed for months, and still there was no content.
I was disappointed. I was let down by the content provider, not the hardware or operating system. It was simply a lazy provider of content that did not live up to their promise to the consumer.
I wanted to voice my dissatisfaction so I clicked the third link to learn about airport advertising and find the company responsible for the content. But guess what, I found the same "Content coming soon" message on this screen. So even if I wanted to add my hotel to the list, or find out how to help this content provider, I could not. I had to shake my head and let out a slight chuckle that can only come from someone in the business. I should have sat nearby to see how many other visitors would come away from the kiosks with a positive experience. I'm sure I'd have been sitting for many hours.
I was able to find the name of the company responsible for the kiosks and I attempted to look up its Web site on my Blackberry browser. The site was empty too.
However, I just checked it again from my PC at work and it forwards to another site which is also light in actual content, and overly complex in design. They will show rate cards for some items, but not the kiosks. They do digital signage and promotions within the airport. It appears that this is their first airport market.
The kiosk hardware is nice enough, these use a good brand of kiosk enclosures, with touchscreens and phone handsets. I even liked how the power cords were nicely covered where they run into the wall and plugged into a power source in a room behind the wall. Nicely done! So I can find no fault in the hardware installation, no fault in the operating system and the screen design was even decent. But the most basic element, the content, was limited or missing. The opportunity was there, and they missed it. How many people tried to get some value from these kiosks during their first months of deployment and were also disappointed? Those visitors will likely never walk up to those kiosks again. You get one chance to make a first impression and you had better not mess it up. A returning guest at your kiosk will cut you a break when you have a temporary hardware/software failure, but that's because they already like the product you deliver, which is the content. A first-time guest will not give you any slack and will not likely return.
Editor's note:  This essay was originally published on Tim Burke's blog in an entry dated Monday, Nov. 5, 2007. Since then, Burke says he was contacted by the content provider, who gave him the following statement:
"We are not offended at all. In fact, we appreciated the input. 
The kiosks are intended to be a fun and simple communication device for passengers to reach hotels, and not as much an informative device. But you make some valid points. We shouldn't have advertised the fact that we have visitor information and not have any. Buttons that don't work are worse than no buttons at all. This is something we would have never known without your input."
Burke praised the content provider's response and noted that these are common issues that deployers are frequently plagued with. Issues notwithstanding, he added that it's important for deployers to make sure that content is prepared before launching the deployment.
Tim Burke is on the owner of Electronic Art. His blog can be viewed here.
Posted by: Tim Burke AT 10:37 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 15 May 2006
An easy way to compute demand is to look around for a big line of people. If the people in the line have money, and the line occurs constantly in a certain circumstance, you’ve found a good venue for the next big thing in kiosks.
That’s what made the most successful kiosk in history, the ATM, so successful: a lot of people who definitely had money (given that they all had bank accounts) were tired of standing in line, and the banks wanted to save the man hours it took to service them all.
Since then, grocers, retailers and airports have done similar things in similar situations and realized similar benefits in cost savings and service increases. We can now look at a few different verticals and see more next-big-things on the way.
Common use check-in: Airport self-check-in has become so successful, the kiosks now have long lines of their own. What’s worse, service at the airport, aggravated by security concerns, is deficient compared to other service industries. Airports themselves tend to be crowded, making space optimization a priority. Enter common use check-in kiosks. Imagine everyone in that big line diffused across every check-in kiosk in the building, each unit featuring the ability to check in a passenger on any flight from any airline there. The crowd disappears, customers are more satisfied and space is no longer wasted.
The driving force behind this concept is the International Air Travel Association, which has developed the Common Use Self-service Standard (CUSS) to facilitate integration and communication of airport check-in kiosks. The IATA has made CUSS integration one of its top priorities, with a stated goal of persuading 15 more airports to implement it in 2006. Major industry players like association-member NCR’s subsidiary Kinetics, which builds the majority of airport check-in hardware, are vying for a slice of the CUSS-compliant kiosk market.
Hotel check-in: Already, major hotel chains are deploying kiosks allowing guests to check-in from the airport instead of the front desk and print room key cards on the spot. This expedites hotel check-in, reducing lines at the front desk and freeing up hotel staff for other tasks. It’s especially useful for travelers doing a short stay, with very little luggage in tow, who can go straight to their destination (for example, the floor of a convention) without taking an extra cab ride to the hotel and standing in line to check in first. And they need not only be at the airports: on-site check-in kiosks will help alleviate lines at peak arrival times.
Medical check-in: Relieving lines for patient convenience is only part of the reason this technology will soon become widespread. It can improve patient safety by making medical records more portable. For example, after medical data is gathered by a kiosk it can be downloaded onto a USB thumb drive in a standard (i.e. XML) format that a patient can carry on a keychain or lanyard. If that person shows up at a hospital incapacitated, caregivers can quickly access his or her complete medical history.
On the back-end, these kiosks can offer complete treatment and financial tracking, including the cost and profit of treatment for different patients and illnesses.
Of course, there are enormous crowds of people who aren’t as easy to see, and finding them is a little trickier. For example, c-stores have realized that many customers often don’t use banks. About a third of American residents fit this category. Financial kiosks, offering services like billpay and money-order printing, have become widespread as they try to draw more foot traffic into stores, where the high-margin items reside, since another successful self-service solution, pay-at-the-pump, has deterred many drivers only to the gas – a low-margin item.
Now companies are catering to another big crowd of people with money: immigrant workers wanting to send money home. According to The Pew Research Center, 40 million money transfers occurred from the United States to Mexico in 2003, totaling about $16 billion. Now, financial kiosk companies are trying to capitalize on that market.
We’ll see many more next-big-things advancing rapidly as well: pay-by-phone, biometric payment and RFID, for example. For now, deployers line up to service the crowds.
Posted by: Bryan Harris AT 01:54 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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