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How Self-Service Can Become More Human

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We all long for the day when we will naturally interact with machines so seamlessly it feels human. Iconic films like “I, Robot” and “Avatar” depict a future where man and machine coexist. Remember Sonny? In “I, Robot,” he continued to learn from his interactions with people and became more and more humanlike. And this isn’t far off — advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are shaping the self-service industry today and are foundational to our future of creating humanlike machines.

There are many faces to self-service.
Let’s break down self-service by industry, but first let’s agree on a standard definition. In a recent study conducted by Kiosk Marketplace, readers defined a self-serve kiosk as “an interactive, self-serve device provided by a venue, not the user, that helps the user do something that is informational and/or transactional that streamlines, automates or eliminates wait or cost.”

Each industry uses self-service in different ways. In retail, there are gift registry and inventory kiosks; in entertainment, ticketing and gaming kiosks. Hospitality uses kiosks for self-service check-in and check-out, and financial ATMs and bill-pay kiosks have been used by consumers for decades.

There are so many uses for self-serve kiosks across multiple industries, and the market continues to grow. The global kiosk market is expected to reach $30.8B by 2024. Self-service is mainstream, yet there’s a great opportunity to be disruptive and make machines more human.

Make it personal and win them over.
The first impression a customer has with a kiosk is a glowing screen. Clearly this is different than being greeted with a friendly smile when a real person is assisting us, but there are often inconsistencies in service because every human being is different.

The other day I was at my local home improvement store shopping for paint. The attendant was excellent; he helped me decide on the right paint for my project. He asked a few questions and made some great recommendations. Ready to take on another project, I returned a week later and was greeted by someone new. She was nice, but not very helpful. She didn’t ask any questions. I struggled to remember which type of paint I had previously purchased. In the end, I had to pick a paint and hope for the best.

Now imagine how a self-service kiosk could improve this experience. Just as the first person asked me a few questions, so too could the kiosk. Because I’ve done this online, I’m comfortable having a conversation with a glowing screen. I might even prefer it because I can get an answer faster. The kiosk can make recommendations and offer to save my information and send it to my email. How convenient, right? Again, something I do online so I’ll gladly opt in.

While machines get a bad rap for being cold and impersonal, they do make it easier to deliver consistent experiences. By entering an email, the conversation starts again, and this time it knows more about me and can keep learning and make relevant recommendations. For me, it might suggest more paint rollers because I probably used them up on my last project.

What role does user interface (UI) and user experience(UX) play?
Everything I just described would not be possible without a well-designed UI and a thoughtful approach to UX. When creating a self-service experience, you should always start with discovery, then move to design and development. There are two important things UI/UX architects should do in the beginning: define a few personas and create journey maps.

Create user personas and journey maps.
We use personas to get to know the user and understand their behaviors, preferences, strengths, weaknesses, frustrations and desires. I like to use a template to help guide the conversation, but I discourage sending it in advance to the users you are interviewing. You want to have a conversation and keep it casual. You’ll learn more this way. The better you know a user, the closer your design will get to the human-like experience they crave.

If you’re looking for user persona templates, you can download them here.

When you take a step back and look at the big picture, you can see the path a customer will take on their self-service journey. It starts with awareness and ends with advocacy. Composing a matrix helps organize the experience and illustrating behaviors helps define the necessary steps. It follows the user’s thinking and reasoning and shows what they are doing in a diagram. User journey maps help with user flow and allow the design and development process to work seamlessly to create more human-like experiences.

Take care of your machines, and they’ll take care of your customers.
Last but certainly not least is monitoring and managing your self-serve kiosks. I can’t stress enough how important this is for a good customer experience. If a machine is out of order or if it fails in the middle of a transaction, it’s pretty much game over. If this repeatedly happens, it will chip away at customer loyalty and likely drive customers to your competition.

Self-service kiosks are incredibly complex machines with hardware and software that need constant monitoring. Fortunately, most kiosks are what we call IoT-enabled devices. When a network of kiosks is hooked up to an IoT platform, operators can monitor them in real time and perform remote management. It gives an operator real-time visibility into what’s currently happening on the kiosks and can predict what will occur in the future to help mitigate issues before they strike.

Technology has come a long way, but we probably won’t find Sonny walking around in our homes anytime soon.

As seen on Forbes »

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Steve Latham, founder, and CEO of Banyan Hills Technologies, is an Internet of Things expert and strategic technology leader. He founded the company in 2013 to impact the world through technology and a deep commitment to social responsibility. He has a strong track record of leveraging cloud-based technologies to optimize and accelerate business strategy and is highly regarded by his peers for his deep industry knowledge in Retail, Entertainment, Healthcare, and Financial Services.

Latham has successfully led architecture, implementation and delivery for one of the largest self-service, retail exchange kiosk systems in the world. Earlier, he served as CTO for the Entertainment division of NCR, where he helped orchestrate a successful divestiture of the business to Redbox for $125M. Prior to NCR, he held various technology leadership positions at Harland Clarke and led the consolidation of their e-commerce platform to a unified product offering for its customers. Latham serves on the board of directors for various businesses and academic institutions providing technical leadership.