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The Green Sheet Online Edition

March 25, 2019 • Issue 19:03:02

How can we improve self-service?

By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC

If you've ever felt awkward interacting with kiosks, you're not alone. Last week, I tried to order breakfast at an airport. Few stores or newsstands were open at 6 a.m., but I found a coffee place. After ordering, I was directed to a nearby stand of kiosks to complete my transaction. The POS screen displayed 4 payment options: cash, credit, mobile payment and debit card. I chose the credit card option, using a PIN pad. When I went back to the counter, where my coffee was waiting, and sad to say cooling, no one looked at my receipt.

As I sipped my coffee, I watched others navigate the new payment landscape. Some appeared confused. One woman mistakenly entered an item twice. I wandered over to help her and together we figured out how to void the duplicate and continue her checkout process.

When I ordered a cheese Danish at another counter, a clerk bagged my pastry and handed me a printed ticket to take to a kiosk. Each time I tried to check out, the kiosk displayed an error message. When I returned to the counter, the clerk discovered my ticket had a zero price-point. She corrected the error, enabling me to pay the $3 and complete my transaction.

In either of these scenarios, I could have walked away without paying for the coffee or Danish. And as I looked around, I observed several people doing exactly that. I could only imagine how much more breakage might occur during high-traffic times.

Order, pay at kiosk

How can we make self-attended technology more efficient for merchants and enjoyable for customers? Self-attended technology may be in a nascent stage in the United States, but Jeff Fortney, senior vice president of business development and partnerships at TouchSuite LLC, said it's never too early for common sense. In his view, it would remove friction and just make sense to make the kiosk the only place to order and pay.

"If you order at the kiosk, you pay at the kiosk," Fortney said. "Otherwise you're giving away food."

Automated systems are designed to reduce wait times and optimize efficiencies, Fortney noted. SaaS-based solutions allow for quicker activity, but solid Internet connections are not always available at airports. The key to success is the way each terminal connects to the main station. It's critical for business owners to see all transaction activity in real time across an enterprise.

Strict security requirements and other challenging aspects of today's airports are tough on airport business owners. On top of that, they pay someone $15 an hour to take orders and collect money. They can streamline the process by having customers order on a screen, then walk up and pick up their food, Fortney stated. Noting that the server needs to see if the customer has paid, he said, "If it's on that screen, start making your sandwich, but only after you have seen that approval."

Instant society, ghost restaurants

Fortney expects that the yen for faster service may at heart be a generational thing. As a baby boomer, he said, he enjoys sitting at a counter at a diner or coffee shop and chatting with people. But the other day, while dining at a counter, he looked around and saw everyone on their phones.

As he reflected on changing hospitality trends, Fortney said boomers and Gen Xers tend to value quality of service more than speed, the opposite of millennials. His son prefers take-out and delivery apps to people when he orders food. "Most young people don't care about missing out on human interaction because we've become an instant society," he said. "I think if my parents looked around, they would wonder why everyone is moving so fast."

A Bouncepad blog post, titled "Ghost Restaurants: The new virtual dining trend," observed that millennials are dining "out" in record numbers but prefer to eat at home. By using mobile apps and online ordering, they can have "good quality food in the comfort and convenience of their own home," Bouncepad noted. "To accommodate these people, restaurateurs are redesigning restaurant dining.

"Focusing exclusively on delivery, these new-style eateries have been labeled 'ghost restaurants.' These ghost restaurants have no storefronts and offer no direct interaction between the customer and staff. Orders are made through an online site or app and then delivered straight to the customer's door."

Kiosks with benefits

Fortney pointed out that kiosks have benefits. For example, at sporting venues, fans can order and pay for food at kiosks and have it delivered to their seats, he said. This way, they can spend more time enjoying the game. And kiosk venues typically result in fewer wait lines, he added.

Kiosks are great for QSRs and fast casual restaurants, anything that requires moving a large number of people, Fortney said. The success of these businesses depends on moving the greatest number of customers in the least amount of time. He has seen double drive-through windows at QSR locations that minimize wait times by enabling customers to quickly move to an open lane.

Cloud-based solutions have made self-service solutions more affordable for small and midsize business owners and have proven to be flexible and easy to manage, Fortney added. Merchants appreciate the ability to make menu changes on the fly and introduce surge pricing during high-traffic, high-demand times. For instance, most baseball fans wouldn't mind paying a few extra dollars for a hot dog at the World Series game.

"I would not be surprised if kiosks begin to penetrate the fine dining vertical," Fortney noted. "If there is a need for customization, kiosks will come into play as they have in every other environment where people need something quickly."

Perhaps you've seen artificial-intelligence bars where robotic arms seamlessly mix cocktails. In "Table Tap's Self-Service Technology Drives Sales and Customer Engagement," Bouncepad bloggers describe robotic servers that give customers complete visibility into the amount of beer they've poured, which helps them track their bar tab. And according to Bouncepad, these turnkey systems "are easily rolled out into any business' existing environment." end of article

Dale S. Laszig, senior staff writer at The Green Sheet and managing director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content development specialist. She can be reached at dale@dsldirectllc.com and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.

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