The retail market is changing rapidly, servicing a new breed of consumers who are increasingly knowledgeable and savvy. With Web-enabled cell phones, iPods, BlackBerries, and portable computers, consumers can access information at their convenience.
Armed with information on prices, features, services and consumer ratings, these customers can be a very tough crowd for retailers to please. Businesses must find ways to create shopping experiences that are interesting and relevant to not only a specific customer’s needs, but for that customer’s needs during a particular shopping trip. In today's environment, it takes strong differentiation and a compelling value proposition to compete for these consumers’ wallet share.
Advances in kiosk technology offer a wide range of opportunities to satisfy this new age of consumers. Powerful, compact kiosk units that are cost effective and can be placed almost anywhere have come into their own, offering both retailers and other businesses the opportunity to provide a technologically satisfying experience to their customers. Kiosks are now appearing in unexpected places – in store aisles for guided selling and gift registry, in hotels for self check-in, as music preview and download devices, in quick service restaurants – all of which can fundamentally improve the consumer experience.
How about employees? Offering self-service for employees is an option that more and more businesses are pursuing. In fact, many businesses are now finding that the best way to service their fickle and demanding customers is to offer their employees kiosk solutions. Providing "self-service" solutions for their employees opens up virtually limitless possibilities to improve training, boost productivity and enhance service.
Kiosk technology is helping one popular restaurant chain improve the efficiency of meal preparation and food order delivery. Fuddruckers, one of the first known restaurant chains to use interactive kiosks in its kitchens, now uses kiosks to provide its general managers and cooks with easy access to recipes to help reduce training time and deliver orders faster and more efficiently. By replacing paper-based procedure and recipe manuals, these kiosks allow the restaurant chain to provide accurate and up-to-date food preparation instructions quickly and easily. A process that was cumbersome and used to take weeks to implement can now be done simply by sending online updates to the kiosks.
Employee turnover has always been a concern for retailers and businesses, with some establishments experiencing a rate of greater than 100 percent. How do you keep such a changing workforce well-informed on the products, accessories and services that you carry? A large office supply chain has piloted a kiosk solution that allows employees to look up information about their complex inventory while servicing a customer. They can provide the customer with real-time information about an item, as well as recommend accessory sales. The results of the pilot showed several important benefits: improved employee satisfaction with their job responsibilities, an increase in revenue from accessory sales, and more than 30 percent decline in returned goods.
These compact, portable kiosks can also be used to help ensure employees understand their benefits, company policies, and general HR information. A growing number of companies are piloting these types of applications to help educate their employees easily and quickly.
Advances in kiosk technology, and a growing number of application solutions aimed at the employee, can provide businesses with a cost effective way to differentiate and significantly improve customer service. Kiosks offer businesses opportunities to help train, inform, educate and boost the productivity of their employees. Results can be well worth the investment, by gaining knowledgeable, motivated employees who can serve customers better.
So next time you hear the term self-service solutions, remember that self-service solutions can be a viable option for employees as well as for customers. Providing a simple, unique, differentiated experience for your employees can result in enhanced customer satisfaction, higher revenue and improved operating costs. It’s hard to find fault in that equation.
Norma Wolcott is a kiosk business executive for IBM Corporation