A self-service kiosk gives customers access to information through an interactive computer terminal. They can be used for a wide variety of services, including accessing menus, inventory, travel plans, and more. They can also be used as self-service checks for queuing and to actually place and pay for orders.
When someone thinks about a self-service kiosk, a free-standing station likely comes to mind. However, self-service kiosks can also be based on tablets or other smaller technology. They can sit on tables at restaurants or line shelves at retail establishments. Today, self-service kiosks are helping businesses interact better with their customers, making the customer experience even more streamlined and productive.
As their use continues to rise, self-service kiosks do not appear to be on the way out any time soon. In fact, by one report, the self-service kiosk market is expected to be over $30.3 billion by 2026.
A Brief History of Self-Service Kiosks
Self-service kiosks are starting to pop up in more and more places simply because they make the experience between the business and the customer better. When compared to customer service generally, the concept of self-service is actually relatively new.
The first self-service shopping experiences appeared in the UK in the 1950s. Before this transition, individual workers would get inventory items as requested, instead of allowing customers to browse the shelves. The first “self-service” technology was likely the automated teller machine (ATM), invented in 1967. Technology to support self-service kiosks didn't become available until about the 1990s.
Today, you will see various versions of self-service kiosks across a wide range of businesses. They are used in airports to allow travelers to check-in for their flights. They can be seen in grocery and retail stores for users to check out items and pay for goods. You can even see them in retail stores to price-check items in various locations throughout the store. No matter where a self-service kiosk is used, the goal is always to make customer interactions faster and easier.
The Benefits of Self-Service Kiosks
The benefits of self-service kiosks will vary based on the industry in which they are utilized. Benefits of this technology will often include:
- Decreased wait times for customers or passengers
- Increased efficiency (and related profits) because more people can serve themselves in a shorter amount of time
- Less human interaction with staff, so your team can do other things
- Multi-service functionality (one system can provide information and take payments, for example)
- Give customers more control over how they interact with your company (improving customer experience)
Today, companies are also interested in decreasing interactions between their staff and customers to reduce potential exposure to COVID-19 and its variants. They also help decrease waiting in close-quarters lines because they move people through faster—both great benefits to address COVID-19 concerns.
Addressing Concerns with Self-Service Kiosks
Companies and customers alike often voice two major concerns when they implement self-service kiosks. While there may be other drawbacks based on the type of kiosk used, companies must consider these main issues before implementing a self-service kiosk.
Lower Staff Needs: Will Self-Service Kiosks Replace Team Members?
Many people take issue with the idea that a self-service kiosk is specifically designed to take the place of a human. Self-service checkouts, for example, are doing precisely what a check-out worker would do. That decreased human interaction can have a negative impact on some customers because they want to see a smiling face help them with their purchases.
However, in most situations, self-service kiosks help supplement existing staff rather than completely replace them. Companies will always need a team to do things that self-service kiosks cannot do. Answering very specific questions, stocking shelves, and busing tables, for example, cannot be done by a self-service kiosk. Businesses also need team members to assist with problems related to self-service technology.
Self-service kiosks often allow businesses to reallocate staff, so their skills are used in a more efficient and effective way, but they generally cannot wholly replace your staff.
Usability and Function: Self-Service Kiosks Must Be User Friendly
If the average customer cannot use the self-service kiosk effectively without much assistance, then the entire purpose of having this technology disappears. Functionality and usability are absolutely vital in self-service technology. Users who must spend 10 minutes teaching themselves how to use the technology are more likely to become frustrated with it and avoid using it.
If you are going to use self-service technology, you need to invest in services that make sense for your business. They should be user-friendly and augment your client’s experience rather than make it harder to get goods and services.
Software or hardware failures are also a big concern as well. The technology needs to be reliable, so it can serve customers. This is particularly true if companies have allocated team members to other locations, and they are not well-equipped to handle requests or questions that the kiosk would typically handle.
How Self-Service Kiosks Are Being Used Today
Self-service kiosks are most often seen in the retail setting. This technology can be very helpful to assist customers faster, which will often have a direct impact on the company’s bottom line.
Self-service kiosks that you might see in the retail space may perform the following functions:
- Provide general information to customers (digital/interactive signage)
- Check out or payment processing
- Weigh and label products (such as produce or bulk items) for check out at another location
- Provide directions or locations to find specific products
- Set up in-store appointments or consultations (such as with a makeup artist in a department store or with the on-site nutritionist in a grocery store)
These units are usually POS kiosks, or “Point of Service.” They free up staff time to assist with other items in the store and help provide enhanced customer service. They can be used any time the store is open, or they might only be put in use at peak times to assist with long wait times.
Self-service check-ins are becoming more and more popular in the healthcare industry. These self-service kiosks cut down on the interaction between healthy staff and ill patients, which not only helps stop the spread of illness generally, but it keeps the healthcare team safe as well.
Checking in with a kiosk also allows clients a bit more privacy. Instead of loudly telling healthcare workers about their prior illness and family history, they can quietly fill out a form with a self-service kiosk.
Ultimately, self-service kiosks can be very helpful to cut down on the significant demands that staff is experiencing in the healthcare industry today. Instead of checking in patients, staff and nurses can help patients directly. Incorporating self-service kiosks can assist with long wait times and allow hospitals and other healthcare facilities to serve more people faster.
You are likely to see a couple of self-service kiosks in various fast-food chains, such as McDonald's, KFC, and Burger King. This technology helps large restaurants address the enormous volumes of people that move through their location every day. By receiving and processing orders faster, they can serve more people and increase revenue.
You might also see smaller versions of these self-service kiosks on individual tables at sit-down restaurants as well. These devices show menus and prices, but they also allow customers to order right from the kiosk and pay there as well. While this technology is still catching on in this type of setting, in the long run, it will likely help increase efficiency and accuracy when placing and making food orders.
In addition, studies now indicate that customers will order 20% more from a kiosk than they might order from a waiter or waitress. The potential rationale behind this finding is that the kiosk is not going to judge how much you order, but your server might.
Self-service kiosks are commonly seen in airports, train stations, and bus depots. Passengers can get departure times, print tickets, and even check in their own baggage. They can also get quick responses to frequently asked questions. Allowing a kiosk to do these simple tasks frees up staff to work on more complicated projects or assist passengers who may have more unique needs.
While some banking transactions are more complicated and require the assistance of a live person, many transactions can be completed through self-service methods. Getting cash, transferring funds from accounts, and checking balances are all easy, quick tasks that a kiosk could take on. Again, having a person help with more complicated transactions will fit most client needs and make service for general customers much more efficient.
Using Self-Service Kiosks the Right Way with Ombori
Ombori believes that self-service kiosks should augment the customer experience, not be a hindrance or replace customer interactions with other humans. When used correctly, self-service kiosks can supplement existing services to make wait time shorter and service better. Ombori can work with you to create a solution for your business. Learn more by contacting our team.
Björn is Chief Experience Officer of Ombori Grid. He spent the early part of his career in the music business before moving into retail design and video production. His passion is for creating unique and memorable retail experiences that excite and delight customers. He spent 6 years at Visual Art in Stockholm before joining Ombori in 2018.