Friday, November 16, 2007

Kiosk replaces front desk in Amerstam's Qbic hotel

There's an interesting story that ran in The Denver Post about a hotel in Amsterdam that has eliminated their front desk altogether in favor of a self-service kiosk.

In theory, if the kiosk can actually handle all of the typical transactions that take place at a hotel's front desk, it might work out. Hotels can be tricky environments, though, and a faulty computer system or incomplete transaction could potentially mess up reservations and quickly lead to chaos on on crowded weekends or holidays (though of course an attendant could still be present during peak traffic times).

To avoid those types of issues, check-in kiosks are often implemented in hotels that are primarily aimed at people traveling on business, since their transactions tend to be straightforward, and the travelers quickly build up experience using the kiosks. They don't work so well (in my experience) in more touristy hotels where people are infrequent travelers, have complicated reservations, or are simply looking for that unique human interaction that comes at every turn while staying in another country. For that reason it's pretty interesting that Qbic has decided to go the route of ditching the front desk altogether.

One other possible concern is how older, less tech-savvy users would respond to the technology. Granted Qbic is billed as a state-of-the-art hotel, so guests are probably going to be of the variety comfortable interfacing with computers, but the issue of tech support is bound to come up anyway. A lot of the more common pitfalls can probably be avoided with lots of well written and easy-to-follow instructions on nearby signage.

If all else fails, though, a "roving concierge" is still around to assist customers.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Got a self-service app you hate? Maybe now you can do something about it

At least, that will be the case if RedesignMe! takes off. The site is a collaborative database of poorly designed products (uploaded by regular folks), and helpful suggestions about how they might be made better.

While there's no focus on self-service per se, I can certainly think of a number of kiosk apps that I've encountered in the past that could have used a bit (or a lot) of design work.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Diebold study focuses on ATM habits

A recent study from Diebold takes a look at the banking preferences of Boomers, Gen-X and -Y consumers, and the results have some clear implications for the kiosk industry. According to this synopsis on, "The analysis considers three distinct demographic groups in its findings: baby boomers (age 43 and older), Generation X (ages 26-42) and Generation Y (ages 18-25)" the article continues to discuss the findings saying, "Specifically, study results reveal that automated teller machine (ATM) usage continues to find strong support across generations. In fact, the study shows that aside from withdrawing cash, all generations unilaterally rate viewing account balances, making deposits and transferring funds between accounts as their three most-preferred ATM services."

So what does this mean? Simply put, if ATMs can top the traditional banking system in terms of consumer preference, then it's possible kiosks providing different services can also do the same.

Younger customers are more tech savvy and our lifestyles reflect that. I would fall in the "Generation Y" category, which according to the study showed the biggest preference for ATMs, and I know for a fact that I use banks as little as possible. I also know that more advanced technology makes my life easier in some ways and makes it more hectic in others. While ATMs may save me the time of going to the bank, I also compulsively check my e-mail sometimes to the point of addiction. Regardless, I've grown up with a variety of advancements that came into their prime during my lifetime and most of them seem more natural to me than anything that came before it. And I'm certainly not alone. I can't remember how many times my friends from college would ask me in all seriousness, "How did they do reports before the internet?"

When relating these concepts to kiosks, the key is that everything has to lead back to convenience. That's how to get the attention of the average, everyday consumer. Flashiness doesn't matter nearly as much as practicality. I doubt that my generation is any lazier than past ones, but we do expect a certain level of convenience that comes from our constant exposure to technology. If we can do something at a screen instead of doing it in person (and it's not a social thing), then we will. It's more comfortable for us, and it's almost always faster and more convenient too.

A lot of companies in the kiosk business get this, and more businesses are starting to hop on the bandwagon. Now there are places in public where we can download songs, pay bills and even get directions. It's a trend that is only going to grow stronger. ATMs lead the way. But now airport check-in kiosks are pretty much universally accepted, and hotel check-in kiosks are rapidly catching up. I wonder what the next "killer-app" kiosk will be?

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Google places mapping system on gas pumps

Serving as a nice follow up to Monday's article about pay-by-touch gas station pumps, MediaPost reports that Google has struck a deal to include mapping systems at the pumps as well. According to the article, "Men who hate asking for directions now have a savior in the form of Google Maps, which will soon be available via interactive displays installed in gas pumps at stations across the country. The Internet connections are appearing courtesy of a deal between Google and gas pump manufacturer Gilbarco Veeder-Root, which says the first wave will bring the service to about 3,500 pumps."

According to the article, advertisements will not be utilized immediately. That's really a shame for advertisers, because this a perfect venue for them. My guess is it won't take long before they start popping up.

Putting displays with easy access to directions near gas pumps obviously has some very practical benefits, and as a great service to customers, I think advertisers on such a system would be given a lot more consideration than other pump-top ad networks. Plastering ads in places where they aren't welcome is always a tough sell, but putting in ads for local restaurants, supermarkets and other businesses on these displays will be much more welcome, especially when you can touch a screen to get directions to them. This will be especially true in high tourist areas where people tend to be lost or unfamiliar with their surroundings.

Once they've gotten into the game, why stop at directions or basic advertisements? Why not include actual reviews for restaurants or the capability to print out coupons to local supermarkets, or beam them down to your cell phone. The more interactive these displays are the better, since there's a several-minute long period that people must wait while filling up.

Now, if only they would invent ad-subsidized fuel to bring gas prices down to a more reasonable level :)

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Paying by touch at Chicago-based Shell stations

According to this article on Yahoo!, some Shell gas stations in Chicago are testing kiosks from Pay By Touch that will allow consumers to pay based on fingerprint identification. The firm has traditionally placed its biometric scanners into grocery and pharmacy chains, but has decided that it offers a value-add anywhere that purchases can be streamlined or made faster or more convenient.

The first question I asked myself when reading this was, "with technology like this how long will physical money survive?" It's an important question to ask, and my guess would be not too much longer. In all honestly, I make a good portion of my purchases by just using my debit card. I rarely write checks and with online checking I don't really keep a check book in the conventional sense. I'm also guessing that I'm not in the minority. So what does this mean in regards to my shopping habits? That's simple: more impulse buying. Using a debit card makes a purchase seem less real than using cold, hard cash.

Technology as advanced as this will only increase impulse purchasing, and that is always a good thing for business. It's a lot easier to place your thumb on a screen to buy something you really want but know you shouldn't buy than it is to reach into your pocket, grab the cash and physically see the tole it is taking on your net worth. Not to mention, you can leave your wallet at home, or worse, lose it. You're never without your thumb (hopefully).

Of course, there is the issue of paranoia that comes into play with technology such as this. To most people, finger identification is a tool used by secret agents to infiltrate the lairs of criminals. They don't expect to see it at their local gas station. And if you think I'm over-simplifying or even exaggerating just read this interesting bit from the article:

"Sunflower Market, a Chicago grocery store, also has Pay By Touch systems installed. About 2 percent of its customers signed up for the payment option, said the store's manager, Debbie Britton.

"I think it scares people," Britton said. "They're more confused about the whole system. Some of them say, 'Well, now the FBI can find me.'"

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