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One of the most critical components in ensuring the success of any self-service project is an understanding of the behaviour patterns of intended users. This article discusses the self-service value chain and how we can ensure that the European self-service industry continues to grow.
Field research that I conducted in March 2012 with 879 UK retailers saw just 4 percent of UK retailers using self-service kiosks as part of their customer engagement technology mix. This provides opportunities for businesses to introduce kiosks. Self-service is a great opportunity to provide a positive customer experience within this sector, and indeed in all sectors of customer facing transactional environments.
However, any organisation wishing to utilise self-service needs to fully understand the value chain that they are a part of. The strategic importance of its structure and the relationships that are formed are critical to any business model. It is the interplay of these competing elements that make up our industry, and learning from one another is a vital component in the continuous improvement and evolution of the self-service value proposition.
End User Experience
Beginning with the component manufacturers and sheet metal formers, their contribution is seemingly so far removed from the end-user experience that it seems of little importance. In a world where the success or failure of the user experience is driven by actual usage, it would be illogical to ignore the importance of what the kiosk looks like, the materials used in construction and the integrated technologies. We are part of an aesthetic age in product design, where form, colour, texture and technology are provoking an emotional response from the user. The visual impact of a kiosk can be so emotive that frequently we find ourselves focussing more on the look than any other success factor. Designing for manufacture versus designing for interaction are not key contradictions, but more interrelated elements to focus upon. The end result will be pieces of hardware that respond to the aesthetic imperative that exists in consumer technology whilst successfully fulfilling a customer need.
For the kiosk suppliers in the value chain, learning from these companies helps to position a range of products that are tried, tested and successful. The great dilemma is whether to go with what we know would work or to go with something new. Daring to be different is a great positioning strategy that can differentiate a product. Form factors are changing, be it size and orientation of the screen or the adoption of new transactional tech. But deeper than this, for the kiosk supplier, there are other disruptive technologies entering the marketplace that force design changes. The consumer led surge of interest in tablet technology cannot and should not be ignored. Designing and selling products that respond to its portability and design aesthetics is important if you wish to demonstrate a credible range of technology that will encourage end-user engagement.
The independent software vendors and kiosk resellers in the value chain are the new elephants in the room. Once looked upon as a self-service side industry, software is now seen as a critical component in delivering success. It is one thing to design a fantastic kiosk that draws the attention of the end-user, but once the fingertip touches the screen, how well the service is delivered through software is the difference between a completed transaction and an aborted engagement. The smart phone and tablet have introduced and educated end users as to what this touch experience should be like. Developers know only too well how important it is to deliver interactive platforms that ‘feel like a tablet’. Prior knowledge in web development and now app creation all feed into the design and implementation of a successful user experience. In the eyes of the kiosk user, the bitterness of poor software design lingers long after the sweetness of a good-looking kiosk has been forgotten. Furthermore, if the highest form of advertising is personal recommendation, do we really want the disgruntled end-user telling their friends and family to avoid using it?
Next in the value chain, the kiosk host companies would wish for a rich, engaging experience for their customers. There is no return on their investment if usage is low and where success is measured in £/sq. foot, giving over space to a suite of kiosks often takes a case to be built by internal stakeholder groups.
The double whammy of successful e-commerce ventures and a lengthy global recession have permanently changed end-user purchasing habits. Shoppers are visiting stores less and making lower value purchases when they visit. Research by Motorola in 2011 indicated that 39 percent of store walk-outs were directly attributed to smart phone price checking. The challenge is to replicate the on-demand access to information we have in our mobile phones through kiosks with the aim of delivering a clear conversion to sales. Better that it is a touchscreen experience delivered by the host rather than the visitor, right?
Companies with a clear strategic intention to provide in-store on-screen purchasing demonstrate an ability to adapt to these consumer shifts. Furthermore, the location and volume of units in the kiosk deployment can reveal the importance that the host business attributes to this service method. Kiosks in an ‘off the beaten track’ location will by virtue of their position see lower usage. Often the customer does not see the ‘lonely kiosk’ as part of the shopping experience and will make an incorrect assumption that either the machine is for staff use only or worse still that it is broken.
The responsibility for continued growth comes from the reliability and usage of these existing kiosk estates. Regrettably, prior experience can leave the patron avoiding these kiosks (see the shift away from self-service in IKEA USA). The majority of self-service host companies are motivated by either the operational cost saving that a kiosk can offer with lower overheads and extended uptime or the extension of good or service via the endless aisle concept. In either case the look and feel of the experience is an extension of their brand and nobody wants a PR disaster on their hands. Where there is no kiosk patronage there is no business case and if the customer turns away from technology the project will fail.
Therefore this end-user group occupying the final tier in the value chain is critical to self-service project success. Away from our respective businesses we are all part of this user group and have a greater insight into the user experience than might be the case in other industries. Our use of the technology shapes our attitudes to what we know will work. Where our experience has been less than satisfactory, we are afforded the opportunity to ‘design out’ these anomalous elements in our own solutions. Successful self-service projects learn from current examples and build on prior knowledge.
An often overlooked element in the end-user group experience is the attitude to technology in general. Not every kiosk is designed to be used solely by the tech savvy generation of smart phone users. Field research that I conducted in April 2012 with 614 kiosk users identified 40-somethings as the largest user group with over 50 percent of this group also owning the ‘pocket kiosk’. However, where the self-service solution is to be used by those with less exposure to touch technology, apprehension can be a great barrier to uptake. The end-user may be the elderly passenger at the airport check-in or the fraught parent, simultaneously fighting to control wandering toddlers and completing a ticket purchase. These are only two scenarios in which the intuitive self-service process must respond to the customer’s level of attention and ability. Designing for interaction must strike a balance between perceived usefulness of the kiosk and the actual ease of use. Where there is a manned alternative, the self-service option must be compelling enough to convince the user that it is worth the effort. Furthermore, through design, it must deliver a solution that offers a greater benefit than the effort it takes to use it. Simple, engaging and effective self-service projects are most likely to see a higher success rate when patronage numbers are the key measurement of success. Learning from the customer – whoever they are is critical to success.
For the self-service industry in the UK and indeed Europe as a whole, ensuring that a holistic value chain dialogue remains open is the key to ensuring that our industry grows. The art of co-opetition can develop solutions that position Europe at the very heart of self-service innovation. This partial congruence of interests has the potential to deliver to each of us the opportunity of sustained growth and commercial viability well into the next decade. Analysts forecast that self-service will grow significantly between 2012 and 2017. To close ourselves off simply creates opportunity for others that do appreciate the signals and signs in the industry. Do we really want to miss out on the positive impact that growth in revenue will have on our respective businesses? At Box Technologies we do not wish to lose the ground we have made. Therefore we leave our doors open to all participants in this value chain and warmly welcome others to join and contribute to our self-service community of practice.