Consumers want self-service, but they also want to speak to an employee when necessary, according to the keynote presentation during the Self-Service Innovation Summit. The degree to which a customer wants an employee involved varies significantly among industries.

Consumers are more comfortable with self-service than ever, but when they’re making a transaction, they need to know two things:

  1. The transaction is reliable.
  2. A helpful, competent employee is available if they need help.

These were two of the key takeaways at the keynote session of the inaugural Self-Service Innovation Virtual Summit. E.J. Kritz, director of training and insights at ath Power Consulting, presented the findings of his company’s groundbreaking survey during his session titled, “The Future of the Self-Service Industry.”

The self-service space is growing, Kritz said “and the opportunity at hand literally cannot be missed.

“We’re having this conversation because of the degree to which self service has become part of the mainstream of consumer life.”

“We’ve been curious about how much consumers want to help themselves, and further, does the industry — all of you — have the same views as does consumers or, to some degree, are your ships passing in the night?”

Krtiz’s company research produced four main themes.

  1. Trust is in the balance, and you better listen to what your customers are saying.
  2. People still matter, and self-service actually requires superior staffing.
  3. Choice is critical. Respecting the customer preference for self-service versus human interaction is not up for debate.
  4. Reliability is non-negotiable. “Respectfully, we still have a ways to go in many areas before we’re ultimately there,” he said.

A balancing act for retailers

Kritz offered examples of companies that are employing self-service and paying careful attention to what consumers have told them. Under Armour, the sports, footwear and casual apparel retailer, is testing its “direct print” shoe, for example. The consumer can try on a shoe before being directed to a kiosk to design it. An employee then guides them through the process before their shoe gets inserted in a direct print machine for their design to be embossed on the shoe.

“And customers can leave an Under Armour store in 10 minutes with their custom designed Under Armour shoe,” Kritz said.

Under Armour is also working on connected fitting rooms, which have RFID chips to relay what products the consumer has taken into the room, which allow consumers to communicate with team members while in the fitting room.

The research found hospitality is a major area where consumer preference for self-service varies greatly, Kritz said. While 45% of consumers prefer ordering from a person at a fast food restaurant, that number hits 73% when dining at a traditional sit down restaurant.

“While self-service is on the rise, it would be irresponsible for anybody to think that people aren’t still at play,” he said.

He believes that for many companies, the interplay between self-service and employee service has been a challenge. He offered the example of one of his favorite airlines, JetBlue.

Kritz has found its self-check-in kiosks efficient, but he is disappointed that its remaining employees are “by far not A-plus players,” he said.

“Personally, I’m still looking to be delighted when I travel.”

The degree to which a customer wants an employee involved varies significantly among industries, he said.

What role for employees?

Transactional activities like buying a movie ticket are areas where consumers prefer self-service. It is important, however, that the machines are reliable and that a well-trained employee within ear shot is available when needed.

Has the coronavirus pandemic changed the demand for self-service?

In some instances it has, he said, but the need for employees remains important. He offered the example of interactive teller machine, an ATM that includes a personal interaction.

Nearly half (46%) of banking customers would prefer using an ITM to a live teller after the pandemic has run its course, he said.

Another example is curbside debit-card replacement, an idea deployed by TD Bank, which Kritz said, would not have been thinkable a year ago.

A customer can schedule a pick-up time using the TD Bank app, confirm details over the phone and then pick up their debit card curbside the same day.

For hotels, Kritz prefers the Hilton check-in app that allows him to make a reservation and order a digital key. In cases where he needs an employee’s help, he has found that Hilton has highly trained employees.

In a situation where he needs help getting a room key, Kritz said he would not want to rely on a kiosk. He referred to Hilton’s employee response to such situations as “recovering with flair.”

“Ultimately, Hilton has offered me choice. I’m not forced into doing one thing or another. Consumers will thank you for offering them options,” he said.

CBD retailer embraces self-service

A company called Hemp Fusion helps weary travelers purchase CBD products at the Atlanta airport using a self-service kiosk.

“The kiosk delivers a personal experience by asking questions to travelers,” Kritz said. “The traveler can actually get a personal product that meets their need.”

The CBD space and recreational cannabis will be a fascinating area to watch when it comes to vending, he said.

Vendors must listen to customers

While consumers are becoming more accepting of self-service, vendors cannot rush into it without considering everything customers are looking for.

Sixty percent of consumers said making a transaction self-service is at least moderately important, compared to 90% of vendors who believe it is at least moderately important.

“We believe there is still enough of a gap in the perception of device reliability between consumers and vendors,” Kritz said. “Even with that gap, there’s room for improvement.”

Only a quarter of consumers said that vending options work very well. Such a finding supports the need for a staff member to assist during a self-service transaction.

“Moving forward, we cannot recommend strongly enough that vendors and businesses use our four key study takeaways when generating and executing a strategy,” he said.

“People, the right people, still matter, and self-service requires superior staffing.”

The full report from ath Power Consulting is available at the Networld Media Group online store.

It is also available on premium content on ATM Marketplace, Kiosk Marketplace and Vending Times.

For those who purchase the report during the Summit (today and tomorrow), a $100 discount is available along with a free consultation from Kritz’s company using the code ATH100.

About Networld Media Group

Founded in 2000, Networld Media Group is a leading business-to-business (B2B) media communications company specializing in digital media, associations and events in the tech, banking, retail and food service industries. Online properties include,,,,,,,,, and Annual events include the Fast Casual Executive Summit, the Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit, the Bank Customer Experience Summit (BCX), the Interactive Customer Experience Summit (ICX) and the Self-Service Innovation Summit.

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