If you don’t serve your customers, somebody else will

When escaping to the snow for a weekend, I’ve often watched the procession of buses arrive at food and petrol service centres that you see along the major highways, and think about all the willing, cashed up and hungry people getting off the bus, in search of food – quickly – before they were summoned back to the bus to continue their journey.

It was like each of the food and retail outlets were like fisherman trying to catch as many people as possible in their net before they got caught in somebody else’s net.

It’s a dramatic image, but it really just highlights the challenge faced by all retailers, particularly in quick service, high volume and convenience retail.

Recently, I’ve been working with a customer who faces a similar challenge – how to serve people quickly and effectively, particularly in times of peak demand. To complement their personal service, they have implemented self serve kiosks which also allow for product scanning and credit card payment.

Self service kiosks are very effective at managing sales, particularly during peak times, but implementing a kiosk solution requires consideration and planning.

The first thing is to understand the value of your customers’ time. Everybody is time poor these days, but pulling in for petrol and snacks when you are on a road trip, or people dashing into a food court at lunch time are examples of where people’s time is extremely valuable. It heavily impacts the customer’s decision making process. If they can’t get what they want quicky, they will go somewhere else, or not purchase anything at all. Business lost.

To assess the viability of a kiosk solution, you need to understand your drop-off rates – people who join your queue but leave because they don’t want to wait, or people who come into your store and then exit without buying anything. You can do this through observation or by installing a camera and running analytics software. Your peak times should be the focus. Once you calculate the business – and profit – you are losing, based on an average purchase, you can then determine the break even point or payback period of installing a self-service kiosk solution. And depending on your particular business, you may be losing your high margin products.

With technology now permeating most businesses, it would be hard to find an example of a business that wouldn’t want to be associated with technology, but as part of your planning process, you should consider whether ‘self’ service’ and ‘kiosks’ align with your brand. For some brands that are more traditional or that focus on personalised service it may not be the right option.

You also need to ensure you are getting a quality solution which includes both hardware (commercial grade components and toughened glass) and robust software. Any downtime will mean a loss of sales. Particularly if you are installing a fleet of kiosks in different locations, you may consider outsourcing the management of the kiosks so you can focus on your core business – processes, production or inventory availability and personal service. Remote management allows for remote login by your support provider, monitoring and health checks and proactive problem resolution.

Think about the role of digital media across your whole space. Kiosks are excellent for self service, product search, transactions, etc, but you may want to complement this with digital signage which can attract customers, convey information or entertain them if they are waiting to be served.

A benefit of having self-service kiosks is that you are focused on customer service and have streamlined your processes. The catch is, you need to make sure you can deal with the demand created by the kiosk. For example, you don’t want to facilitate the ordering of food, but not have the processes or staff to deliver efficiently. You could be doing damage and risking repeat business. But actually, having kiosks allows you to move staff from customer service to other roles, like food production, re-stocking or cleaning.

After careful planning and consideration, my customer now has an explicit strategy to roll out self-service digital kiosk as a way of increasing sales and profit per store.

One way to think of kiosks is as a complementary channel to personal service. In an ideal world, everybody would like to be served by a person, but if there’s a queue that’s five people deep, the kiosk starts to look very attractive.

Written by Stephen Hughes, GM at In Touch