*Editor's note: Mark Ozawa is managing director of Accuvia Consulting, a leading boutique consulting firm focusing on technology and systems solutions for the lodging, foodservice and retail industries around the world.
Guest and customer interest in self-service options continues to grow and, as a result, kiosks and other self-service devices are appearing in more and more retail, lodging and foodservice locations. Although existing technological capabilities in the user interfaces limit the ways in which devices can be used, new capabilities in technology will permit operators to find more ways to use them for self-service.
A very significant enhancement is coming in user interfaces. For instance, some systems coming out of the lab allow users to interact and manipulate items on a display with nothing more complicated than their fingers. Very complex tasks can be accomplished without a mouse or a keyboard. Moreover, the displays can recognize multiple points of contact at the same time and very natural finger gestures. They even can be heat sensitive and capable of interacting with multiple users at once.
Imagine you approach what appears to be a nice glass-topped table but it is, in fact, a large, horizontal, touchscreen. You touch an icon of a folder marked “Images.” The folder opens and a group of images spill out just as if you had taken a set of photos and dropped them on the surface of the table. Using your finger, you spread the images apart and move them around the desktop just like you would spread pictures on your table. Selecting one image, you take a picture and, using your fingers, you “pull” the opposite corners of the image. As you do so, the picture gets bigger. Then, you “spin” the image, which turns within the display. It is 3-D, so you can see all sides of the item in the image.
Now imagine you are seated at a table in a local restaurant. Instead of giving you a menu, the greeter touches a menu icon on your table. She “slides” a menu image with her finger and puts it in front of each diner. She clicks each image and each menu grows into full size. Each diner “turns” the pages of the menu by dragging the right edge of the page to the left.
Each menu item is accompanied by an image. Diners can use their fingers to “pull” the images into a larger image. By clicking a question mark icon next to the image, nutrition information appears along with preparation details. Suggestions for other items appear next to the selected ones.
Or, in your local clothing store, you pick out a nice shirt. You go to an interactive table and enter the item number on a keyboard displayed on the surface. An image of your shirt appears along with various icons. You are looking for other clothes in the store that might go well with this shirt, so you touch an icon and options for pants, jackets and accessories appear. You touch on the pants icon and images of various pants appear on the desktop.
You can manipulate each image with your fingers, making them larger and allowing you to see all sides of each garment. You “discard” those that don’t appeal to you. Selecting a pair of pants you want to see, you click the image and a 3-D map of the store appears with the location of the pants marked.
In your hotel room, you have an interactive tabletop instead of the traditional desk. One of the available options is an electronic concierge. Touching an icon brings up a map of the area around your hotel. You can “pull” the map in opposite directions to enlarge a section into an expanded view. Icons appear marking restaurants, bars and other points of interest.
You touch the icon of a restaurant that seems interesting to you and information about the restaurant appears. Because the image is 3-D, you can manipulate the map into a view of the city you can expect to see as you walk to the restaurant.
This new interface has two significant advantages over current technology. Most important, it is very intuitive and easy to use. Second, the interface allows the user to access deeper levels of information easily, which allows the self-service device to provide more and better data than often can be obtained from a staff person. This new interface will launch many new ways for operators to enhance customer service with self-service devices.