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Kiosks touch more self-service areas

August 03, 2007|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — At airports, supermarkets and big-box retailers, "customer service" in recent years has meant self-serve -- aided by touch-screen kiosks.

As digital kiosks become more user-friendly and capable of handling more complicated tasks, healthcare providers, fast-food chains and other businesses say trading face-to-face encounters for face-to-monitor transactions improves service and saves money.

Yet the complexity of human decision-making and service expectations in different industries means any possible self-serve revolution is more likely to be a gradual transition.

"Every time you see a door, there's an opportunity for a kiosk to be deployed," Juhi Jotwani, director of marketing and strategy for retail stores at Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM, likes to tell her staff.

Opportunity is knocking: IBM's kiosk orders have quadrupled in the last four years.

An April report by consulting firm Summit Research Associates Inc. estimated 800,000 customer kiosks, not including ATMs, would be installed in North America by the end of 2007 and hit 1.2 million by 2009.

North American consumers in 2007 are forecast to spend more than $525 billion at self-checkout lanes, ticketing kiosks and other self-service machines, including postal kiosks, according to IHL Consulting Group. That figure could reach nearly $1.3 trillion by 2011.

NCR Corp. products process more than 23-billion transactions annually and about 40% of the Dayton, Ohio-based company's $6.1 billion in 2006 revenue was from self-service hardware, software and services.

Consumers now accustomed to ATMs dispensing cash and self check-out aisles in supermarkets and home improvement stores expect self-service options in other parts of their lives.

Mike Webster, NCR's vice president and general manager of self-service, is targeting the healthcare market.

The Heritage Valley Health System in southwestern Pennsylvania said check-in and registration times dropped to two minutes from nearly 10 since it began using NCR products last year.

The change cost Heritage Valley $750,000 over four years, and David Carleton, the company's chief information officer, is pleased with the return on investment.

McDonald's, Burger King, Subway and others are testing kiosks and although technology providers predict widespread adoption by 2010, restaurant executives seem unconvinced.

Airlines that use check-in kiosks are reaping upsell rewards on upgrades for first-class or aisle seats. It costs airlines more than $3 a customer when agents check them in versus as little as 14 cents each with a kiosk, Forrester Research analyst Henry Harteveldt said.

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