The Digital Signage Insider

Experts weigh in: 6 rules for maximizing ROI on your self-service kiosk network

Published on: 2005-12-05

Recently I came across an article from CIO Magazine entitled "6 Simple Rules for Successful Self-Service," which, as you might have guessed, outlines some of the most critical things to get right when deploying a self-service kiosk project.  Because it's now the end of 2005 and I still see people failing to heed these basic rules when planning their projects, I thought I'd draw some additional attention to them.  In turn, my hope is that 2006 will see more successes, and fewer failures, in an industry that is still sometimes met with skepticism because people have had bad experiences trying to use kiosks in the past.

RULE #1 - Provide a Benefit to Customers
Self-service has to make something faster, cheaper or better for customers, says Sam Israelit, a Bain & Company partner and retail IT strategy expert. "If it doesn't do one of those three," he says, "you're wasting your money."
Mr. Israelit makes an excellent observation.  We talk so much about the ROI of building out and owning a kiosk or digital signage network that we sometimes fail to think about it the other way around.  We should really be asking, "why would a customer invest the time and effort in learning how to use this thing?"  Interactive kiosks shouldn't just be about enabling self-service, they should be about improving the customer service experience.  It's no wonder that many of the examples of a successful kiosk project in this article focus on airline check-in kiosks.  While you might find the occasional disgruntled user here or there who had bad luck using the machines, most people can't find enough good things to say about them.  In fact, my own totally informal survey of airport visitors during this busy Thanksgiving travel season suggests that the vast majority of people love the extra convenience that the machines provide.  And people who didn't use them still appreciated the fact that the kiosks shortened the lines to talk to an attendant.  (As a brief aside, airport visitors also seem to find it odd that anybody would be interested in their kiosk experiences at all :)  So the next time you're planning a kiosk project, stop for a moment and ask, "what's in it for them" right after figuring out what's in it for you.

RULE #2 - Make Transactions Intuitive
The simpler the transaction, the easier it's translated into an intuitive self-service process. "The secret of self-service is four words: Don't make me think," [Summit Research's Francie Mendelsohn] says. "If the interface is confusing, people are not going to stand there and figure it out. They're just gone."
I fly on JetBlue a lot.  And I'd say that 19 times out of 20, I use their kiosks to check myself in.  What do I love about them?  Well, first off, they're darn cute.  The company that did the mechanical design of those units nailed it.  But what I really like is the fact that I typically only have to touch the screen three times to get my boarding pass.  Insert credit card, touch "OK" three times, get boarding pass.  How much easier could it possibly get?  I think Francie's comment above is extremely accurate.  As a reasonably tech-savvy person, even I won't be inclined to use a kiosk if it takes me more than a few seconds - one or two tries at the most - to figure out how it works.  (OK, maybe I do actually try to use every kiosk that I come across, either because I want to get the full self-service experience, or because I want to see what the competition is up to.)

RULE #3 - Show Customers What to Do
Ideally kiosks should be so intuitive that customers can figure out how to use them on their own. But just because you're offering self-service doesn't mean you should leave customers to fend entirely for themselves, especially when you launch a new system. [Hilton's Robert Machen, Vice President of Corporate and Brand Solutions, and Chuck Scoggins, Vice President of OnQ Technology Customer Solutions] say that one of the main reasons Hilton's first kiosks didn't take off was that the hotelier didn't do enough to educate guests or help them when they ran into trouble. "Our original approach with kiosks in 1997 was: 'This is self-service. It should be like an ATM, where you set it out and it works 100 percent of the time'," recalls Machen.
Well, I agree with that last sentiment - it would be nice if kiosks worked 100% of the time.  But the reality is that they're also complex systems that present a custom interface to the user and can offer any number of functions, from basic web browsing to complex self-checkout.  No amount of self-help in the form of video tutorials or printed instructional signage will ever obviate the need for friendly and educated staff members to help customers when they need it.  And unfortunately, this is still one of the biggest points of failure that I've seen when it comes to kiosk projects.  Getting corporate buy-in for your kiosk project shouldn't be a problem if you can show ROI - ROI for the company, that is.  But getting and keeping buy-in from the actual staff is harder, because you have to show a ROI (of sorts) for the staff and their customers.  In most cases, the staff should see the kiosks as a way to improve customer service while reducing their workload.  But without proper instruction and training they might instead be wary of it, either from a job-security standpoint, or because it is a new technological "black box" that they will be responsible for.  Customers, likewise, need to have a reason to use the kiosk, and they need to be treated to a positive experience every time they do so.  In cases where it's not possible to have live staff within shouting distance, it can help a lot to have a toll-free number to call in the event of problems - especially for sensitive transactions like bill payment.

RULE #4 - Choose the Right Locations
The location of a kiosk can have a lot to do with its success. Hilton has found that from 20 percent to 30 percent of guests use self check-in at hotels near airports compared with 10 to 12 percent of guests overall. The company concludes that people who fly are accustomed to using kiosks and like to have that option at their hotel.
Thankfully, WireSpring is seeing fewer projects where this is still an issue, so hopefully people have started to catch on.  No matter how good your kiosk solution is, there will be some places where it simply won't work as well as you'd like it to.  Even subtle variations in the user base (e.g. an "over 55" age group versus an "over 65" group) can have a dramatic impact on how - and if - your system gets used.  And despite the best intentions, there's little point in trying to force a round peg into a square hole.

RULE #5 - Beware of Legacy Systems
Investing in self-service technology can be a bad idea if your technology is outdated or if the data needed for self-service transactions isn't integrated. "If you work largely off legacy systems, [integration] can be a significant challenge," says Israelit. "It may require you to upgrade overall systems, and if so, the economics may not make sense."
The staggering number and complexity of legacy systems out there allow huge multi-billion dollar companies like IBM Global Services to exist, so there's no question that trying to integrate them into new self-service platforms can be a challenge.  Actually, if you're really lucky it will only be a challenge.  If you're planning a kiosk or digital signage project that requires you to integrate with a legacy system - be it for inventory, property management, price management or something else - call in the experts and get that part of the project outlined and budgeted first.  You may find that your super wonderful self-service kiosk idea requires tens of thousands of dollars of custom programming to get integrated with your legacy systems... and it's much better to know that sort of detail while you're still in the budgeting phase of your kiosk deployment, and before you start actually building the systems.

RULE #6 - Take a Test-Drive
US Postal Service (USPS) CTO Robert Otto recalls when customers first began using the postal service's APC kiosks, and it was possible for them to get their fingers caught in the heavy door to the package drop. This problem was identified during the pilot phase and the USPS modified the door before rolling out to its first 2500 locations.
Hmm, can you say "liability?"  One has to wonder who the lucky person was who first "identified" that problem.  However, it is an example of a common (albeit typically less traumatic) problem - meshing your ideas about how a kiosk should work with your customers' ideas about how they want to use it.  Some common examples: You think the "exit" button should be on the top right.  Your customers all look for it on the bottom left.  You think that the obvious place to place a magnetic card reader is on the top of the unit.  Your customers look for it on the side.  You think that the application should beep and whir every time a user presses a button.  Your customers... well, you get the idea.  Like any other user-facing project, it's important to get feedback at multiple points during the development process, starting at the very beginning of the design phase.  When you have a working demo, try it out in a small focus group, even if that only includes friends, family members and coworkers who aren't familiar with the product.  Even if you're using the world's best remote management software for kiosks and digital signs, it's always easier to make changes to your systems before you've deployed them.

After you've deployed your network, review these six rules periodically to make sure that you're not missing any areas for improvement.  Those aforementioned airport check-in kiosks have all seen revisions and upgrades over the years, with the goal of improving the customer experience while keeping the interface simple enough to make sure that it remains a self-service application.  Down the road, you may find that adding a new function or widget can improve the value of your system - to the store staff, your end-users, or both.  Likewise, as customer demographics change over time you might find that you need to add or remove kiosks in certain locations to meet the usage demands.  And finally, of course, just because you've trained your in-store staff once doesn't mean that they'll stay that way.  Ongoing refresher courses will be necessary to keep existing staff and new hires up-to-date with your self-service platform.

So thanks again to Alice Dragoon at CIO for publishing her excellent article.  I know that these rules might seem elementary, but they can all have a tremendous impact on project success, so they deserve to be repeated, again and again, until everybody is following them.


0 # RedSwimmer 2009-03-24 01:42
I can relate to Rule #3. I recently put several kiosks in county jails and it's like we just couldn't make them intuitive enough. The key turned out to be using a lot of big pictures because no one was reading the text instructions. -Andrew [[ /self_service_kiosk.aspx|Self Service Kiosk]] Design by
+1 # Bill Gerba 2009-03-24 14:39
Hi Andrew, Thanks very much for the feedback. I agree, using strong, distinctive and illustrative visual elements is one of the most effective ways of improving usability, particularly for audiences that might not have the benefit of good educations. Keep up the good work, and always feel free to share any best practices you might come across.
+1 # data scientist trai 2016-09-15 11:41
great article , Your post is very informative and helpful for us to improve my knowledge and skills.Data Scientist Course in Hyderabad

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