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Just about everyone knows what a kiosk is. But not everyone understands it to mean the same thing. Is there a problem with this?

Some in the kiosk industry don’t see any problem with the fact that definitions of the term vary. For the person interested in having a kiosk that can allow people to check into a building without having a clerk check them in, finding an interactive machine that can assist with this task isn’t too difficult. For the person selling self-order kiosks to restaurants, the average restaurant decision maker will have the right understanding of the term, “self-order kiosk.”

But technology is creating new uses. And as new uses emerge, companies use the term to apply to new functions, particularly in their marketing material.

A recent, informal reader survey, conducted by KioskMarketplace, indicated that the majority (70.6 percent) think the industry sufficiently understands the term “kiosk” as “self-serve interactive kiosk,” but a similar majority (68.6 percent) also believe the general public and the audience the industry markets to does not sufficiently understand the term.

Nearly half of the respondents (46.1 percent) think the problem is “marginally important” while 41.2 percent think it is “very important.”

The 102 respondents included kiosk operator/merchants, manufacturers, distributors/resellers and “others.”

Can we agree on a way to describe a kiosk?

KioskMarketplace proposed the following description of a kiosk: “It requires no human interaction, it helps the user do something that otherwise would require a human, it is computerized, it is interactive, it has a digital display.”

Almost half of the readers, 42.6 percent, did not think this description sufficiently defined an interactive kiosk. Many took issue with saying the kiosk requires no human interaction.

When asked what should be changed or added to this description, more than 60 percent of the readers offered a suggestion. There was not much uniformity in the suggestions, indicating it will be difficult to achieve consensus on a description.

Suggestions included: assisted self service; offers a product or service; requires little or no human interaction; easy and fast to use; intuitive and programmable; and may have auditory or visual interface.

A 63 percent majority agreed the description provided does not distinguish between vending machines and kiosks and that achieving the distinction is important.

Kiosk manufacturers, developers and operators interviewed differed on the seriousness of the issue.

Industry viewpoints vary

Tyler Bush, marketing manager at U.S. Payments, a provider of bill payment kiosks for utilities, thinks customers understand the concept of a self-serve kiosk. Most of the companies he calls on are first-time users of bill payment kiosks. In approaching potential customers, he generally compares the bill payment kiosk to an ATM or a Redbox DVD rental kiosk.

Brian Sipusich, NCR Corp. product manager for kiosks, said the issue has not come up for his company. Internally at NCR, he refers to the hardware as the kiosk and the software as consumer self-ordering.

“Customers recognize that they have a need for a kiosk, and then they come to us and help define what’s a kiosk to them,” said Tim Henschel, senior manager of public relations for NCR.

Asked if the need to define the term becomes problematic for companies writing requests for proposals for kiosks, Sipusich said it has not been a problem. Proposals focus on the features the company is looking for.

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Educating the public about new kiosk functions

As new functionalities enter the market, however, customers need to be educated about what kiosks can do. While industry executives don’t expect a term to communicate everything about a product’s capabilities, some believe new functionalities call for a better definition.

Michael Ionescu, president of Ionescu Technologies, a kiosk software provider and operator, said that when he was giving demos of kiosks to government officials a few years ago, about half of them did not have a clear idea of how flexible and unique interactive kiosks can be until they saw it live.

“What I define as a kiosk may be very different from what other people define it as,” Ionescu said. “At one point you could be saying that the definition is so broad maybe there needs to be new terms for all this stuff.”

Retailers are deploying pickup lockers where customers come and enter a pickup code on a touchscreen to get merchandise they ordered online. The locker is often referred to as a kiosk.

Asked if he considers automated delivery pickup lockers kiosks, Ionescu was uncertain. While the customer receives instructions from a touchscreen to enter information to access a locker, “When you hear the ‘locker delivery of packages,’ it doesn’t really strike me as a kiosk,” he said. “Right off the bat, it doesn’t fit the definition. (But) depending on how it’s set up, it could be.”

Simon House and Nathan MacKenzie, owners of a software and marketing company that recently expanded into the kiosk business, echoed Ionescu in saying about half of their potential clients have an inaccurate understanding of what a modern self-serve kiosk is capable of. Their company, Calgary, Canada-based Storm Kiosks, builds and operates retail kiosks.

House and MacKenzie said many people today think a kiosk is a mounted I-pad. “There are a lot of them (mounted I-pads) around, but that’s not what we’re into,” said Mackenzie.

“For customers, just the word ‘kiosk’ is very vague,” House added.

A lot of people who encounter the need for a retail kiosk have no idea what’s needed to have an effective, reliable system, House and MacKenzie said. Many people don’t recognize the amount of expertise required.

“I think the definition of a kiosk is evolving,” said Esther Lombardi, marketing and sales associate at Ideum, a provider of hardware and software for kiosks, digital signage and interactive services. “I don’t think it’s necessarily the static functionality that it may have been in the past.”

“Users are expecting more dynamic use case scenarios for products in general, but particularly for this kind of technology, they want to be able to accomplish more than one thing with a product,” Lombardi said. “It’s becoming a more dynamic and diverse platform for content and interactivity.”

Ideum has found it important to be flexible in its product terminology as the different interactive technologies are overlapping. The kiosk part of the company’s business is growing.

“Customers are becoming open to the idea that they need something that is dynamic that their end client can check in and interact with, but they also want something that’s more flexible, so they’re demanding more from their products,” she said.

“We have customers who frequently call our products different things,” Lombardi said. “If they want to call it a kiosk, we’ll call it a kiosk.”

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