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How Self-Service is Enhancing the Personal Touch

February 16, 2021 2:50 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

Reposted from Retail Customer Experience

Self-service automation can improve efficiency, but in a retail environment, the human touch is as important as ever.

What many retailers are learning is that self-service technology cannot only help support a humanized environment; it is necessary to give consumers the choices they are looking for.

These were the takeaways of a panel presentation, "How, When and Why to Add Self-Service Kiosks" at last week's Self-Service Innovation Summit.

The coronavirus pandemic has encouraged some retailers to hasten their introduction of self-service options, although not at the expense of not having employees on hand.

Coronavirus accelerates change

COVID-19 caused The Hudson Group, which operates stores in travel facilities, to accelerate its use of automated self service, said panelist Ruth Crowley, vice president of merchandise and brand strategy, The Hudson Group. This past summer, the company introduced personal protection equipment vending machines in 27 airports and the Houston Space Center.

"It doesn't mean we lose touch with the customer," Crowley said. The company makes sure associates are on hand to help the customer at the kiosk.

"What we have tried to do is humanize the elements of the experience," Crowley said. One way they do this is through the use of an app that allows the customer to make a purchase even before they arrive at the airport.

Crowley said customer expectations are higher than ever. "They want what they want when they want it," she said.

Consumers want choice and control

Saladworks, a fast casual restaurant chain, began adding a robotic salad maker, known as "Sally" — which allows guests to select from 22 toppings and serve themselves a fresh salad in less than a minute, said panelist Eric Lavinder, chief development officer at Saladworks.

"With food, you have to be convenient, you have to be accessible and you have to make it easy," he said. "The biggest thing is putting healthy food in more places."

Lavinder said the company also has a guest engagement program that allows it to interact with customers on personal level and learn their tastes and habits.

"It's really about learning the customer. You can give them better consistency," he said, as well as up-sell them. "They (consumers) also want choice and control. To me the technology is a necessity."

Technology boosts customer engagement

The Ontario Regiment Tank Museum in Ontario, Canada, repositioned its digital concierge avatar, Lana, to provide contact tracing information and screen visitors before they enter, said panelist Jeremy Neal Blowers, executive director. They added facial recognition that allows Lana to know if you are a visitor or a staff member. A staff member requires a daily COVID screening.

The contact tracing allows the museum to send information on all visitors to the health department, Blowers said.

The museum introduced Lana in 2019 to recognize and engage visitors when they enter the museum. They wanted to welcome visitors to make check-in seamless and answer common questions about the museum.

For the museum, Lana actually enhanced the human interaction, Blowers said, since it gives the volunteers the chance to talk about the museum and not deal with mundane transactional tasks.

In addition, high value customers (regular visitors or donors) have the ability to opt in at the concierge to a higher level customization, Blowers said. The facial recognition can offer special things for VIP visitors.

"It creates a consistency because it is an automated system," he said for the technology.

Convenience, convenience, convenience

The Wooster Red Sox, the minor league team for the Boston Red Sox, will have self-service kiosks for selling tickets and for automated food concessions at its new ball park, said panelist Matt Levin, the company's senior vice president and chief financial and technology officer.

A fan will go in, take something from the shelf and take it to the self-serve kiosk to pay. They plan to allow a fan to do it from their mobile device too.

Levin said an even more personal experience will emerge as his company gathers more data on shopper behavior. If more shoppers are looking for candy bars, for instance, they can relocate that product in the store.

"This gives us the means of redeploying some of our human assets to help be better ambassadors for our fans," he said, echoing Blowers. "As opposed to somebody being a cashier, we can now utilize that body to actually create meaningful dialog with our fans and help them with the kiosk."

"It's not about having the technology replace the human capital but it's actually using the human capital to help the customer with the technology and beyond to help them find targeted experiences," he said.

Throughput metric is a crucial metric, Levin said. "We only have them for a limited amount of time," he said. Having to wait in line for a hot dog causes people not to order food.

Offering both a contactless and staffed approach is the best of both worlds, said panel co-moderator Mark Thomson, director of retail and hospitality solutions EMEA at Zebra Technologies.

The panelists agreed that the use of apps will increase since it enhances the customer relationship.

"This is the only way forward. It's not going to revert back," Crowley said, noting that research has found that 66% of people are more comfortable engaging with an app. "To engage with people in a more holistic way, you have to do this."

"Once you open your mind to the customization and the automation, it's amazing," Blowers said. "I'm sure everybody here is working on more ideas." With the virtual concierge, they will recognize a foreign language and personalize the experience. They could also deploy a concierge at an exhibit as opposed to just the entrance.

"All of us here are really just the tip of the iceberg on where it is going," he said.

Count on challenges

Which isn't to say the journey will be easy.

"Technology is not cheap to deploy, and some things are going to be wrong," Lavinder said. "We do a lot of research and spend a lot of money. Everything we do is not exactly perfect. You have to be willing to invest in the infrastructure and technology because you don't know what you don't know and you don't know what's going to work and not work. You have to invest the time in technology." In addition, you need to be willing to fail sometimes.

"I don't think it's ever going to replace live stores and live people," Lavinder said. "It's on their terms, and how they want it."

Co-moderator Richard Thompson, director of global OEM sales at Zebra Technologies, said that going forward, there will be more collaboration among companies on technology.

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