Self-Service Shouldn't Make Customers Feel Cheap

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Earlier this year, we blogged about retailers' efforts to boost their online sales by blurring the line between customers' virtual and bricks-and-mortar experiences. Even sites like eBay, which have no "bricks," are trying to give their sites more of a real-world look and feel.


Now IBM is trying to promote a similar trend with self-service devices, says ZDNet blogger Larry Dignan. Its new high-end kiosks, called AnyPlace, feature an AMD processor capable of handling full-motion video and 3D graphics, improved touchscreen technology and nice big screens (up to 19 inches).


Part of the product line-up is a point-of-sale terminal that can serve double duty as a kiosk -- which could come in handy for retailers interested in using POS terminals for advanced functions like customer surveys. And nice timing, considering that experts say some 100,000 outdated POS systems will need to be replaced over the next three years.


Though retailers and other businesses have long promoted kiosks' ability to improve customer service, by speeding transactions and giving customers more control over the process, IBM says it won't work if the technology appears cheap. While self-service can help companies shave costs, customers are less likely to be receptive if they feel that cost-cutting is the primary objective.


While this makes sense, we can't help but wonder if a snazzy user interface and flashy graphics are all it takes to sway consumers. (Then again, iPhones do appear to be selling like the proverbial hotcakes.)


IBM has conducted research that shows a rise in both customers using self-service options and those that expect companies to offer more of them, Dignan writes.


Among the retailers that have been successful with self-service is Home Depot, where self-checkout kiosks have sliced checkout times by 35 percent and allowed the home improvement chain to deploy more employees on the sales floor rather than in cashier lanes. Among the other businesses currently experimenting with kiosks are fast-food restaurants, hotels (trying to build on business travelers' fondness for airport kiosks) and doctors' offices.