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The Age of Self-Service

How self-serve is becoming the new normal

Over recent years self-service technology has become increasingly ubiquitous, with the Covid-19 pandemic further fuelling its growth, and Indigo is excited to be a part of this journey. Self-service reaches many areas of our daily lives, including online banking, cash machines, restaurants, petrol stations, supermarket checkouts, and self-check-in at airports and hotels. For the most part, we are reasonably comfortable with the concept. As reported in 2021 by Gartner, 67% of customers favour self-service over speaking to a person. But, of course, the self-service experience isn’t always as smooth as it might be. Moreover, it can be very frustrating when it does go wrong, and we will say more about that later. At Indigo we are always learning how to make the front-of-house and reception user-experience as satisfying as possible, observing what works well (and what doesn’t) in other sectors. Here are some of the observations we’ve made and research we’ve done recently – let us know if you’ve had any particularly good (or bad!) experiences using any of the technologies we mention – of if you’ve got any other examples to share. We’d love to hear from you!

Amazon expand Just Walk Out stores

Self-service technologies are improving continually. A recent example is the roll-out of ‘Just Walk Out’ technology in Amazon Fresh stores. In such a Just Walk Out store, customers enter the store using a credit card. They then do their shopping while technology tracks the items they take or return to the shelves recording them in a virtual shopping cart. When a customer leaves the store, the system debits their credit card with their purchases and emails a receipt to their inbox. The technology is based on Amazon Go which has demonstrated its reliability over several years. It uses a combination of computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Amazon is now providing Just Walk Out technology to other businesses while other developers are also creating their own versions of the technology. Have you visited one of these stores yet?

Tesco and Morrisons trial autonomous shopping

Other supermarkets trialling similar autonomous shopping experiences include Tesco and Morrisons. In the Morrisons trial, customers download a smartphone app to link to a credit card and use it to enter the store. Cameras then monitor their purchases, and their credit card is charged when they leave the store. The Tesco version isn’t quite as high-tech. Its autonomous store system uses technology developed by Trigo. Instead of tracking customer purchases with cameras, shoppers must scan the item, a system already available in many stores. However, rather than paying for their items at a checkout station, shoppers are charged automatically as they leave the store. How do you feel about engaging with a shopping experience like this?

The downside of self-checkout

Whether or not autonomous stores will have a future on the high street, self-checkout certainly does. However, as we have said, when the technology doesn’t quite work how we expect it to it can be frustrating. Anyone who has used a self-checkout counter will have experienced the “Unexpected item in the bagging area” admonishment meted out publicly, suggesting you are either a thief or incompetent. The system then grinds to a halt until an attendant turns up, logs into the machine and fixes things. Unfortunately, self-checkouts are also believed to encourage theft. Supermarkets report losses from stores that offer self-checkout from 33% to 147% higher than stores that don’t. While many of these losses are due to accidental theft, most of them are due to deliberate shoplifting. How do you think that can businesses mitigate against customers abusing the trust implicit in self-serve technology?

New technology eases the pain

All these problems are addressable by improved technology. For instance, using cameras to monitor goods customers checking out their purchases can reduce theft. Self-scanning can be replaced in its entirety by systems like Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology. When it works well, self-checkout provides multiple benefits to both the customer and retailer. Customers can checkout and pay for their purchases much faster; this can be particularly beneficial at peak shopping times when long queues form at conventional checkouts. Self-checkout counters occupy considerably less space than traditional checkouts; thus, stores can deploy more of them. A higher density of checkout facilities is even more significant when floor space is at a premium. Employees are also freed up from operating the tills to spend more time improving customer experience in other ways.

Self-serve in hotels, airports, and reception desks

Although we have focused on the grocery and supermarket sector, there are many other areas where self-service is impacting. For example, hotels that offer self-check-in and checkout to their guests can eliminate front desk queues, and employees have more time to spend on more valuable tasks. In addition, self-check-in at airports is significantly faster than conventional check-in and much safer than long queues at check-in desks. Many other businesses are replacing full-time receptionists with self-service reception stations freeing up resources and improving efficiency. Have you found any of these systems beneficial in your business? Or as a visitor or customer?

Public touch screens remain a health hazard

A significant problem with most of these self-service systems is that they mainly use shared touch screens, which are ill-advised during the current epidemic and are likely to remain hazardous into the future post-epidemic. We have experienced the potential devastation a new coronavirus can wreak; we need to be prepared for the next one.

There is some scientific evidence to show that public touch screens can play a significant role in spreading coronavirus and other pathogens. For example, if an infected person coughs, sneezes or even breathes on the screen up to some hours before you touch it, there is a distinct risk that you could become infected too. In addition, while QR and barcode scanning can perform certain functions, reducing the need to touch a screen, unfortunately, these are often limited and inconvenient.

How do you feel about using touch-screen technology in a post-Covid world?

Indigo as a self-serve technology for shared office reception and front-of-house

Indigo is a touch-free digital receptionist which employs a hybrid of facial recognition and voice-enabled software. As it is entirely contactless, it is a far more hygienic solution than standard touch screens. Indigo is highly featured and includes an integrated booking system, events management, and business directory. Natural Language Programming enables informative questions and answers, while the facial recognition system enables personalised conversations. Many tasks can be fully automated, and of course, it can work 24/7. Furthermore, Indigo costs a small fraction of what you would need to pay for even a part-time receptionist, so can reduce staffing overheads, and free up front-of-house staff to work on higher value tasks.

If Indigo catches your imagination, and we firmly believe that it should, why not book a demo in your office space? We know that you will be impressed. There is nothing quite like Indigo on the market. It is a unique solution that combines many exciting self-serve features in a coronavirus-safe environment.

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