Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Does self service = better service?

That's exactly the question that this article at the Washington Post considers. The first half considers the many things that self-service has going for it these days, including better technology, more user-friendly applications, and a shopper base that's already used to surfing the Internet (probably doing some pre-shopping research) and using ATMs. The second half takes a look at some shortcomings, though, including these tidbits:
[Many] retail outlets remain kiosk-free, with consumers preferring to try on clothes and ask sales associates for help. Fast-food executives say they're waiting for better, more flexible technology.

Gap Inc.'s use of consumer kiosks failed because shoppers were being left alone for too long and many preferred talking with sales people, said Praveen Kopalle, a professor in Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business.

"This technology is very useful when customers immediately see where the benefit is, where the convenience is and where it's more personalized," Kopalle said, citing simple tasks such as withdrawing cash or placing a fast-food order.

McDonald's, Burger King, Subway and others are testing kiosks and while technology providers predict widespread adoption by 2010, restaurant executives seem unconvinced.

I thought that last part was especially compelling, since we hear so much industry "analysis" pointing to massive upswings without any real social, technical or business resolution causing it. Going forward, I expect that the successful kiosk applications -- the ones that have really, really big adoption rates -- will be the ones that provide a significant benefit to both deployer and user. Just look at airport kiosks, as the Post article does. The airlines love them because they can complete a check-in transaction (by far the most common type of transaction handled at the airport) for as little as $0.14, whereas checking in with a rep behind the counter will cost the airline about $3. For the customer, the ability to bypass long lines and check in via a 30-second process on a kiosk means easier, less stressful travel. While these kinds of win-win situations are still the exception rather than the rule, there's no doubt that other self-service applications that fit this model will drive the next wave of kiosk adoption.

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