Wednesday, September 05, 2007

NYT blogger uncovers user perceptions about check-in kiosks

New York Times technology columnist David Pogue isn't exactly a Luddide, so I was kind of amused to see this recent blog post about his experience with a hotel check-in kiosk at a New York Hilton. Here's his account of what happened:

There were about 400 people waiting in line for the Reception desk. But me, I just breezed up to the kiosk, fed it a credit card for I.D. purposes, and pocketed the card key that the machine spat out. The machine then printed a page that identified my room number, and even gave me directions on how to find the elevator! (“Cross the lobby,” etc.)

They’ve had check-in kiosks at airports for years now. But in my view, hotels need them far more desperately. What the heck took so long?

O.K., the concierge told me that this Hilton has actually had them for two years now. But still, you get my point: At most hotels, you get there, you stand in line, you’re tired from travel, and you just lean against the counter for—what, seven minutes?—as the reception agent taps away on the computer. What on earth is so complicated about checking somebody in?

Hate to say it, but the little kiosk machine completed the same transaction in under 30 seconds. Let the revolution begin!

Of course, hotel check-in kiosks aren't anything new, and while still less utilized than airport check-in kiosks (which have reduced some airlines' check-in staff by over 40%), they're still one of the fastest-growing areas for self-service devices today. My own (wholly anecdotal) observation does agree with Pogue's: people seem reluctant to use the machines, as they still seem to get some additional benefit/service from speaking with somebody at the counter. This is distinctly different from airports, where very few people need or expect to get anything other than a boarding pass and seat confirmation before heading to the gate.

More interesting than Pogue's post, though, are the 100+ reader-submitted comments on the subject, ranging from "kiosks are great" to "kiosks suck." I don't know that I've ever seen a more varied display of opinions on the matter, and I suspect that kiosk application designers will be able to gain a little insight into the love-hate relationships that many people have with self-service technologies. The comments themselves are well worth the read. Here's a brief selection that I found pretty enlightening:

  • I don’t know, there’s something about check-in kiosks that I just don’t like. I see the obvious benefits of having them if you’re tired, don’t feel like waiting in line, etc. But I just prefer interacting with a person, especially when I’m at a place like an airport. They’re great as long as they’re just an additional option for checking in, not if they replace normal check-in desks altogether (Nick Schumacher).
  • I have seen them in other Hilton’s over the past 2 years. Most times they are not even noticed by the folks in the check-in line. I was in a hotel in Oakland near their airport about 6 months ago, and not only did they have kiosks to check-in, they also had lobby kiosks to let you print boarding passes for every airline serving the Oakland Airport. Talk about convenience (Jim McNerney).
  • I often wonder if keeping the traditional check-in method is some misguided idea of providing high-touch service… (Brian)
  • There’s a big reason to use a person. A person can find you a better room, especially if you have status with the chain. The computer will give you nothing better than what your reservation says. (Stew)
In those four comments alone there are a range of shortcomings that need to be addressed, not so much with technology, but with marketing, customer education and staff training. Thankfully we're now passed the stage where kiosk reliability is measured in the number of reboots/day, but the problems that we'll face as they become more pervasive will be even harder to solve.

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