Speak to me – NRF recap continued
February 17, 2008
A simple truth that took industry a decade to discover
February 12, 2012

The raise of automation, or why the history isn’t repeating itself

Robert Kosby Robert Kos
Technology Practice Lead

I mentioned a while ago that I would write more about the benefits of and changes in self-service automation. Originally, I had planned to do it in a while, but a little event accelerated the need to share my musings. I was at a local Verizon Wireless store inquiring about my service and decided to pay the bill at the same time. Although there were several associates ready to assist, they directed me to pay my bill at a brand new kiosk and wouldn’t accept my payment at the same counter where I inquired about the service and where they took payments before.

In 19th century England, the Luddite movement destroyed the first steam-powered machines in fear that they would replace people and take away their jobs. Flash-forward to 21st century Long Island. Quite clearly, fear of machines replacing people is not facing Verizon employees. This speaks volumes about the acceptance of automation in our society.

The Verizon kiosk was very nice, took all kinds of cards and cash, and offered a lot of functionality. It was located inside the store, which means it was only available during regular store hours. Clearly, it was designed to complement, not replace the store offering. I am sure Verizon has performed extensive cost-benefit analysis before deciding to deploy such an expensive piece of hardware. Imagine what you can do with a significantly less expensive unit that only accepts card payments?

In our increasingly technology-driven society, kiosks offer a transitional and complementary platform to interact with customers on their terms. Transitional, because the ultimate nirvana is to interface with consumers’ own devices, such as mobile phones, which offer much higher degree of individualization and sophistication. Complementary, because the days where everyone (especially my mother) has and uses a smart device or doesn’t want a real human assistance, are still far ahead and the kiosks are here to stay.

Kiosks also provide a great venue for retailers to tailor the way they interface with consumers. Everyone knows that retail personnel training is challenging, expensive and doesn’t always yield desired results. Kiosks, on the other hand, will always send the right message. Kiosks can influence choices by providing the same intelligent suggestions as e-commerce sites. Kiosks can reinforce brand messaging and shape consumer behavior. When not in use, kiosks can act as digital displays for various types of advertisements. Last but not least, kiosks can offer additional money-making services (such as bill payment, gift card sales or ring-tone downloads), which can offset their deployment and maintenance costs.

Not to mention that kiosks don’t call in sick on Sunday morning after a party the night before…