Self-service technologies, smartphone apps, kiosks, online reservations — these are among the technologies revolutionizing experiences in retail, dining, healthcare, and a growing number of industries.
Customers are more empowered than ever before to shape their experiences with businesses and to demand smooth, convenient processes. Similarly, businesses are enjoying growing revenue and decreased staffing costs. Self-service is making all of these beneficial changes possible.
What is Self-Service Technology?
Self-service technologies (SST) are exactly what they sound like: Technologies that empower customers to complete or manage a transaction or gather information without the assistance of an employee. Self-service technologies offer customers the ability to interact and transact with a business via an interface, independent of direct communication with another person, which ups the convenience of the interaction and gives the customer a greater sense of control over their experience.
Top Self Service Technologies in Retail and Hospitality
Today, the most common kind of self-service tools are in the form of self-service kiosks, which are interactive computer terminals. Typically, they are large free-standing structures that permit customers to conduct services. However, they can also include smaller technologies, such as handheld or table-side screens. Below are some of the most successful types of self-service technologies in retail and hospitality and a rundown on how they impact customers and businesses:
- Ordering Stations
Ordering stations can be both large kiosks or small kiosks embedded right at the table. In fast food settings, ordering stations reduce wait times, shrink lines, and reduce errors in the ordering process. They have been so successful that McDonald’s has replaced their cashiers with self-service kiosks in their locations across the US.
- Hotel Check In/Out Stations
A few hotels are beginning to use self-service kiosks or simple chat features on their websites in order to automate the check-in and check-out process — another opportunity to reduce or eliminate lines and customer wait time.
- Airport Check In Stations
You have probably checked into your flight online beforehand. Self-service kiosks at the airport extend that idea, empowering travelers to check in for their flights, print boarding passes, and check their luggage without waiting in line for an agent to help them. We are all familiar with impatience and anxiety at the airport, and this self-service technology helps reduce staffing needs while streamlining a stressful process for customers.
- Information Kiosks
In spaces where customers might need maps, explanations, or tours, information kiosks are extremely helpful. Think of museums or sprawling shopping malls. These are environments where an interactive map really comes in handy or where an on-demand explanation of an art exhibit might enrich the customer experience. Giving more control to visitors in these spaces improves the overall experience and the likeliness that clients will return.
- Supermarket Self-Service Checkout
There’s nothing new about the self-checkout aisles at grocery stores, but the technology is getting more sophisticated. Spurred on by innovations that Amazon implemented in brick-and-mortar stores, some grocery chains, like Kroger, are implementing handheld self-service devices that help customers shop even more efficiently.
Kroger’s Scan-Bag-Go system, for example, lets customers scan items as they pick them up, placing them directly into shopping bags in their carts, and paying at the end. This empowers customers to bag and organize their groceries however they’d like and avoid lines all while helping reduce the number of cashiers the business needs to bag groceries and operate checkout aisles.
- Ticketing Kiosks
Ticketing kiosks are ubiquitous these days. In movie theatres, they allow customers to see a whole spread of information like loyalty program benefits, showtimes, and seat availability. In the concert business, they offer similar services and with lower fees than online ticket vendors offer. Ticketing kiosks have proven themselves a powerful way to make businesses more profitable, loyalty programs easier to sign up for, and customers happier with the efficiency of the transactions.
Not all self-service technologies are immediately available at the physical location of the business. Instead, some are offered directly online via a businesses’ website or app. Appointment booking software, such as Ombori Grid’s Appointment Booking, offer customers the ability to book, manage, and pay for reservations online. These online tools help businesses manage crowds and remind customers of appointments all while reducing staffing, and they remove one more barrier for the busy customer looking to schedule or manage an appointment.
What Makes a Good Self-Service Tool?
There is no one definition of “good” technology, but businesses that want to optimize success via self-service technologies should consider the following features in the technology they select.Omnichannel Capabilities
The term omnichannel refers to a sales approach that streamlines a customer's ecommerce shopping experience, whether they are on a mobile device, a computer, or in the actual store. Using your phone or computer to pay for a product, find a coupon, activate a rewards program, price shop, or research a product is the new norm, and omni channel products take advantage of that reality:
- According to Harvard Business Review, 73 percent of all customers use multiple channels during their purchase journey.
- The State of Commerce Experience 2021 shows that almost half (44%) of B2C buyers and 58% of B2B buyers say they always or often research a product online before going to a physical store. Even when in-store, they will still go online to continue their research.
Ombori Grid, for example, integrates Web2Touch to make a company’s website and other rich marketing media content available to customers and staff on interactive touch-screens within the store.
Designed in partnership with VisualArt in Stockholm, and first integrated into 3 stores, Web2Touch “enables customers to browse online information while in-store and use the auto generated QR code to do a hand off to get browsed content into their mobile device.
Since the Web2Touch kiosks are online, this facilitates the immediate dissemination of product updates, new deals, or other time-sensitive information across all 60 stores simultaneously.”
“Web2Touch is a deceptively simple tool that solves an important problem of combining the digital and physical retail environments. We’ve seen that today’s customers like using touch-screens, so this gives them all the power of the net combined with the personal aspect of being in a store.”
Ensure Software is Multilingual
Visitors, especially those participating in the retail and hospitality industries, come from all over the world. As a result, many cultures must be considered when developing self-service technologies – this includes incorporating multi-lingual capabilities. Especially in urban areas with diverse populations, good self-service technology will help businesses reach new customer bases by offering services in a variety of languages.
Ombori Grid solutions are focused on offering multilingual capabilities, making them an optimal selection for retail and hospitality companies. The Ombori Store Assistance, which expands the Endless Aisle with Guided Selling and a Voice Interface to inspire customers and help them make informed shopping decisions, functions in multiple languages, including English, German, Spanish, and Chinese.
The Self-Service Technology Should Improve the Customer Experience
The focus should always be on improving the customer experience, whether it be utilizing the technology to expedite services, offer easy access to information, or allow service after closing hours. By focusing on the customer experience, businesses will be able to inadvertently grow their bottom line and reduce lost business for the right reasons.
Benefits of Self-Service Technologies for Businesses
The implementation of self-service technologies should be mutually beneficial. It offers improved experiences to both consumers and businesses, and as they become more common, they will be critical for the ongoing success of companies worldwide. At a glance, here are the benefits these SSTs offer retailers and hospitality professionals.
For the Business
Streamlining operations is a major benefit of self-service technology. Any tool like a ticketing kiosk or ordering station helps reduce staffing needs for the business, saving them money. The employees who might have struggled to manage crowds or correct human errors will be more productive and less stressed with the assistance of self-service technology.
Additionally, self-service technology helps build automatic opportunities to market products. Lastly, the best reservation softwares house multiple features, helping businesses consolidate into one system for reservations, ordering, payment, and email contact.
For the Customer
At the end of the day, the customer experience is the most important. Without a positive customer experience, businesses risk losing return customers, which can hurt their bottom line. Self-service technologies give customers more control, reduce wait times, and add convenience. In restaurants, ordering kiosks mean more accurate orders, and in grocery stores, good self-service technology means reduced wait times. A strong online reservation system helps accommodate the busy customer hoping to make an appointment after closing time. The modern customer expects both control and convenience — luxuries that self-service tech offers.
Self-service technology, to put it succinctly, is the future of doing business in any customer-facing industry. Companies that embrace an omnichannel approach and honor the needs of their busy customers will be rewarded with loyalty, improved revenue, and happier employees.
Andreas is Founder and CEO of Ombori. He is a serial entrepreneur who has founded several companies, starting in his teens. He has a background in cybersecurity, and has worked for companies such as H&M and Nordnet Bank. Andreas is a passionate believer in digital transformation, and is constantly seeking ways in which technology can change the way we work, shop, and live our lives.