The Perspective 
Friday, 15 June 2007
 
Bill Lynch is on the Self-Service & Kiosk Association Advisory Board and vice president of Self Service Solutions for Source Technologies, a provider of financial self-service kiosks and printers.
 
Retail self-service is catching on and everyone’s getting in on the act, as evidenced by hundreds of vendors and increasing adoption rates. According to NCR, 39 percent of consumers are willing to use timesaving self-service alternatives to help reduce their wait times. Consequently, kiosks in North American retail locations have increased 69 percent since 2004, according to KioskCom's Self Service Expo. 
 
The growing momentum of self-service transactions reveals a higher confidence in non-traditional delivery channels such as self-service kiosks. All businesses should carefully evaluate their approach to self-service and consider the positive impact of deploying services through feature-rich self-service kiosks.
 
In this new culture of convenience, the real question for consumers is not “may I help you?” but “how would you like to be helped?
Consumers are becoming more comfortable interacting with kiosk technology, even in the sensitive area of money handling. In fact, they increasingly trust automation as much if not more than the traditional person-to-person service.
 
The rapid growth of self-service technology is leading to a migration of transactions from traditional retail environments to other, more convenient locations driven by consumer demand.  Thus, the kiosk becomes a customer service strategy just like online banking, personal service, call-center support, etc. The objective is to reach the customer when and where he chooses.
 
So instead of forcing kiosks on customers, the real task becomes identifying the optimal transaction solution for every activity, in any setting, then educating the customer on how to use the new technology. When kiosks provide the right technology solution for self-service, consumers are happy to embrace them once they understand how they meet their needs for convenience and service.
 
For example, let’s look at bill payment. Historically, bill payment involved someone sending a check through the mail or presenting it in-person. Today consumers who want to pay bills may chose between many options, including online bill payment, paying by mail or paying in-person with either a check, cash, debit card, credit card and money order. 
 
Despite the vast impact of the Internet and electronic payments, there remain customers who prefer to pay in-person or who do not have traditional banking relationships. In fact, this particular demographic is significant: according to the Center for Financial Services Innovation, 40 million U.S. consumers are unbanked or underbanked.
 
The kiosk is an optimal solution for delivering convenient service to the unbanked as well as for those who may have bank accounts but prefer to pay in person. The utility and wireless industry demonstrates the success of bill payment kiosks, with some providers like cable company Cox Communications having tremendous success with transitioning bill-payments from manual to automation. 
 
Bruce Beeco, director of Technical Architecture for Cox Communications said “Because these kiosks have the ability to accept all forms of payment and apply them to the accounts in real time, the kiosks are extremely popular with Cox customers. In Baton Rouge, for example, if a kiosk went down, the customer service reps would not be able to handle the workload when it comes to the sheer number of bill payments that customers make. That’s how important [the kiosks] are.”
 
Businesses embracing expanded self-service offerings realize the benefits of consumer-driven service where the customer can choose his method of business interaction. Kiosk adopters capitalize on this trend by differentiating themselves with self-service portfolios that appeal to today’s convenience-oriented consumer. In addition, self-service kiosks offer many operational benefits by reducing manual tasks for employees, which yields improvements in overhead costs, labor requirements, transaction accuracy and reduced risk of human error.
 
It is wise to approach this market shift as a response to consumer preferences for self-service transactions already evident in the marketplace. Assisted self-service is already prevalent in applications such as self-checkout lanes at grocery stores, airport self check-in lanes and gas station “pay-at-the-pump” option, where there is an attendant available to assist and sometimes help complete the transaction. Total self-service involves the customer interacting with the kiosk only, as is the case with bill payment. These options are now viewed as an “added value” to convenience and customer service. Kiosks give you an edge, not just another option. 
 
The convenience challenge
 
Once you understand the value of kiosks in providing consumer-driven service, how do you sell this concept throughout the organization? Even today, shifting management culture to emphasize customer-oriented delivery solutions rather than the traditional focus on specific technologies can still represent a significant change of thinking. 
 
Managers should emphasize self-service as a business strategy that weaves numerous technologies and distribution channels together into a self-service portfolio, rather than focusing on one specific device. Businesses will achieve more benefits by implementing the self-service solution that best matches the needs of its key customer groups.  
 
Businesses that embrace the market shift to a broad view of service options will differentiate themselves by providing more customer choice in service delivery. In this new culture of convenience, the real question for consumers is not “may I help you?” but “how would you like to be helped?” 
 
Decision makers should carefully evaluate their organization’s approach to self-service and consider the positive impact of providing these options. Kiosks are a distinct part of a company’s portfolio of self-service options and add value for progressive businesses that are willing to invest in convenient, feature-rich technologies for their customers.

Posted by: Bill Lynch AT 12:53 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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