A recent car rental experience made me consider the value of video customer service. After getting in a very long line at the rental agency, I saw people using video kiosks to get their cars. Since self-service is a big part of what I do, I asked the woman who was greeting customers if I could try the kiosk. Her response? “Those are the same as the people at the desks.” In other words, the video kiosks didn’t offer people a faster experience, didn’t reduce their time in line, and didn’t appear to provide any cost benefit for the company.
The customers who got on the kiosks (I wasn’t among them), picked up a phone handset and had a conversation with a live agent, who talked them through the process, checked their licenses, and the kiosks scanned their credit cards. Great for a new rental, I thought, but how does that help customers like me who already have a reservation? Why can’t I use a kiosk just as I do when I check in for a flight? Looking online, some arguments say that airports have TSA to check your identity. But after I picked up my car, I had to show my rental contract (ticket) and driver’s license (ID) to a representative before I could drive off the lot. How is this different from a TSA check? In addition, technology to scan driver’s license barcodes and charge credit cards exists today.
The kiosks seem to make for some uncomfortable user experiences as well. The black telephone handset, the two-way video screen, and the credit card scanner combine to create awkward moments where the user is trying to hold the phone while digging through his or her wallet to get a credit card or holding the phone with one hand while inserting a credit card with the other. I suppose having video agents on standby may reduce the number of live agents at the rental location, but in the time I was in line only about half of the kiosks were manned by a video agent. Plus, the video agents were not handling multiple conversations as a chat agent would.
If you read this column regularly, you know that I’m a strong proponent of self-service. And unmanned self-service kiosks like this play have a great role in serving customers where agents are not available and/or in remote locations where a brick-and-mortar presence isn’t tenable. For example, the Postal Service has been successful in placing mail kiosks at remote locations for stamp vending and mailing services. The car rental agency also has remote video kiosks, which are ideal for customers who don’t have an airport or rental facility nearby. And they don’t require the commitment of a membership. Anyone with a license and valid credit card can rent a car. That’s a great application of the technology.
Kiosks are hugely beneficial in offloading simple transactions and enabling agents to help customers with more complex issues. When they are used strategically to accomplish these tasks, they can be a boon to business. But adding complexity to the kiosk experience detracts from kiosks’ ability to provide quick and easy service. Does adding video agents improve the customer experience enough to justify the cost? I’m not sure. We need only look at kiosk success stories to see where they add real value – at gas stations, supermarket checkouts, bank ATMS, at movie theatres for buying tickets, or airports for checking in.
I remember when video became available in the contact center in the 1990s and everyone speculated about the future of the video agent. In the years since, we haven’t seen a boom in the number of video contact centers. Did video kill the radio star? For mainstream applications, I don’t think so.
Elaine Cascio is vice president at Vanguard Communications Corp.
Elaine Cascio is a vice president at Vanguard Communications Corp. (www.vanguard.net), a consulting firm specializing in customer experience, self service, contact center processes, operations and technology.
Edited by Maurice Nagle