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Better self-serve execution can beat the consumer 'cringe factor'

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At a time when more consumers are shopping online, recommending that brick-and-mortar retailers install self-service kiosks will often be met with a cringe. Customers tend to view kiosks as an inefficient task and not as part of the overall rush of the shopping experience.

Kiosks do nothing to the customer experience — at least not negatively. It’s not like you’ll be leaving customers to their own devices. You’ve got people on the floor. Nor is the technology all that difficult to master. Sure, there’s a bit of a learning curve, but most of the tech is relatively intuitive.

Where the apprehension really comes from is in execution. Many kiosk manufacturers focus on cost and manufacturing efficiencies, placing little to no emphasis on experience architecture — where the physical meets the digital in design and engagement. They also confine themselves to arbitrary, predefined physical aspects that limit the flexibility of the technology and dampen the user experience.
Improving perceptions of the self-service kiosk can be accomplished in one of two ways: making the technology an extension of the retailer brand or advancing the design beyond the traditional kiosk station. It also wouldn’t hurt if the kiosk experience were consistent with that of a retailer’s web and mobile experience.

Unfortunately, the industry has been relatively slow to move the needle since the kiosk’s introduction. As you’ve probably guessed, the ATM was the original model. It was expensive, clunky, and almost exclusively focused on the needs of the financial institution. Take a drive past any bank, and you can see how little it has changed over the past 30 years.

When kiosks moved from withdrawals to payments, they were usually single-use and not a far cry from ATMs — with one exception: security. With old-school card swipes that read all three tracks (and sans encryption, no less), the transaction was a very risky handshake at best.

Don’t get me wrong: The retail space loves the idea of self-service. Technology, design, and security enhancements have led the more operationally minded merchants to embrace the kiosk. McDonald's, for one, has not only integrated the tech into many of its restaurants, but it also continues to look for ways to improve the experience, going so far as to use suggestive selling and to develop plans to add AI-powered software to its apps and kiosks.

With the cost of kiosk technology coming down and the cost of labor going up, it seems we've reached an inflection point of massive enterprise investment. Kiosks are an opportunity to create a brand presence that augments — or even replaces — the retail footprint, and you can do it without the high costs of operating through a retail space. This offers greater flexibility and control of the interaction between customer and brand.

One of the biggest disconnects can be traced back to the fact that the kiosk isn’t seen as part of the customer journey. Currently, the tech is used as more of a "one-off." It’s a disjointed experience from the rest of a retailer’s interaction with customers. It should be an extension of the brand experience, not just a convenience.

The key here is a design-centered approach that combines the multiple needs of consumers with a brand’s touchpoints. If a retailer were to view the technology from a different perspective, it would see the potential — from traditional directory and wayfinding to couponing and queue busting. The opportunities are virtually endless.

Besides, retailers are always looking for solutions to staff and resource allocation issues. Self-service kiosks could be the answer. And with 60% of fast food customers saying they’d visit fast foot restaurants more often if these establishments offered a self-service option, according to Tillster's "Self-Service Kiosk Index," there’s no reason the technology should still be seen as just a bonus.

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