Finding success in self-service: Kiosk execs discuss 'How to's'

It's no secret. It's usually logical. But putting it all together and being in the right place at the right time can be the toughest thing in the world.

"It" is success in business and some of its secrets are straightforward — fulfill a need, make your product or service convenient to access, adapt to change, use leading technology, and all the clichés. But how do you take the clichés and turn them into hard-nosed reality?

A panel at the recent Customer Engagement Technology World conference in New York City brought together leaders in several self-service and kiosk sectors to offer their experience in the development of products that have been, or could be, game changers.

Ron Bowers, SVP of business development at Frank Mayer & Associates, organized and moderated the panel "Emerging Trends in Self-Service: Executive Visionaries Speak Out." Bowers and Mayer have been leaders in retail self-service, working with Microsoft, Sony, the coffee maker Illy, BMW and many others.

The four panelists were also leaders in the sector:

Mark DiFraia, director of business development with Billerica, Mass.-based L-1 Identity Solutions, the firm that launched self-service kiosks at a number of driver’s license facilities in Mississippi;

Alex Doumani, vice president of engineering with Coinstar, home of the redbox DVD kiosk and the green coin-counting machine;

Bart Foster, CEO and founder of SoloHealth, developer of the EyeSight kiosk and the health risk-assessment kiosk;

And Tom Tullie, president of ecoATM, the cell phone-recycling kiosk developer that Coinstar took an equity stake in this year.

Bowers asked the executives to discuss the basic need that their product fulfilled.

“In healthcare, the consumer needs to find something about themselves,” Foster said. “You have to put devices where they are. There are health disparities around the country. You have to empower people to help themselves.”

Consumers use the SoloHealth EyeSight kiosk to check their vision status and find a local eye care provider. The SoloHealth health risk assessment kiosk will be located in grocers, drug stores and other retailers and gather more comprehensive health information from the consumer, offer links to caregivers and show ads for appropriate medicines.

For Tullie, the goal was a service that made it efficient for American consumers to recycle cell phones, and to reward the consumer and the retailer providing space for the ecoATM kiosk.

Tullie says cell phones adding up to about $5 billion in value are thrown away. Instead, ecoATM pays a modest price for them and sells them to a refurbisher for a profit. The refurbisher resells them in countries like India, he says.
 
“We had to make it convenient for the consumer and reward them; we pay them. That means they’re not throwing (their cell phone) in a landfill,” Tullie said. “We had to automate the process to bring costs down.”

Automation meant building a kiosk with "artificial intelligence" that could view the consumer's returned phone and put a value on it, much like the Blue Book does with automobiles.

"We don’t know what will come in. But we will pay for it," Tullie said. That meant consumers will visit the stores with the ecoATM kiosk, giving retailers a reason to site the device.

“Everyone wants to feel good about being environmentally friendly. If you (pay) them, they feel even better,” he said.

Bowers asked Coinstar’s Doumani how his firm had determined the best product to offer consumers.

“Test and test often,” Doumani said.

For instance, Coinstar knew it had a good concept for a self-service device in the coin-counting market but it wasn’t certain of the various features it should offer in a kiosk, he says.

“It took about three years from the time of our first test to get (the widely-used model) to market,” said Doumani. 

He advised that providers remember several rules when testing features: It must engage the consumer; the technology has to be adaptable; and you must set a "fail fast" — that is, you must be willing to quickly drop a feature if it doesn’t engage consumers.

For DiFraia and L-1, the primary need may have been exemplary technology as it rolled out its kiosks. It had to be top notch because there was little room for failure.

A license facility is often the "face" of government and a place where all citizens meet, from the guy in the street to the governor, DiFraia notes. At the same time, states are cutting back on staff but consider license agencies as an important revenue source.

"This technology is critical. States are doing more with less," DiFraia said.

Second, while many may consider getting or renewing a license a necessary nuisance, the tech standards are very demanding. That’s because the driver’s license is the default ID for much of the adult U.S. population. 

“We had to have a high-end camera that could meet certain standards and provide facial recognition biometrics … We thought of this as portable biometric enrollment,” DiFraia said. 

This is essential to ensure that no one can steal the consumer’s "face" and use her license for fraud. Along those same lines, any customer information had to be completely secure and inviolate.

For the experts on this panel, certain rules applied for a successful product: It must engage the customer; it must be convenient both for the consumer and the partner – whether that’s a merchant or a government agency; and the technology must meet the highest standards.

Other than that, it’s easy.

(Photo by edwin.11).

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