Kiosk technology is universally accepted as the new standard in customer service in many areas of day to day business in virtually all developed countries. Drink machines where one inserted coins to get a can were the forerunner of this technology relying on simple coin acceptors and an electromechanical easy release mechanism to drop the can into the retrieval tray. The new phase of technology really started with the rapid acceptance of ATM’s introduced by the banks. The general public quickly understood the ease and convenience of not having to queue or wait for service for simple day to day banking transactions and even more rapidly came to appreciate the 24 x 7 service these kiosks offered. The banks also appreciated the offloadling of significant labour costs in providing over the counter services for balance enquiries, cash withdrawals and transfers. The uptake of this technology has grown at an amazing rate and is commonplace in our lives on a daily basis. We see information kiosks, automatic self serve petrol stations, airline self check in and internet kiosks as being always there.
With our motel kiosks starting at under $10,000, how did we live without them?
Motel and Hotel Kiosks
Check Inn Systems is a pioneer in the design and introduction of kiosks for motels and hotels and have found the “Sorry, No Vacancies” sign usually means: “I’m tired, I’ve been up since 6am, it’s now after 10pm, I’ve gone to bed and I really don’t have the energy to get up at 1:32 am and argue with you about room prices while trying to sell you a room. Please go away.”
All motel and hotel owners agree that hospitality is a service industry. We are all here to service the needs of our guests and provide them with maximum simplicity and convenience during the check in and check out procedure as well as maximum comfort during their stay. Coupled with this is the need to protect the motel and hotel operator with maximum safety and convenience. The acceptance of Check In and Check Out kiosks is growing rapidly as managers realise that kiosks do not replace humans, they provide an extra level of service and convenience that is appreciated by the client whilst providing bonuses for staff. Some of the advantages include
- personal safety for staff – especially women – working late at night
- rapid customer service at peak times for check in and check out
- maximise revenue by ensuring full 24 x 7 operation
- immediate secure payment of the full asking price of a room (no-one argues with a kiosk to obtain a discount)
- minimise the need to sit at a desk during quiet periods
Weekend and holiday rates are now such that staffing costs have become a major issue. Long hours are a given in this industry, and despite assurances of “I don’t mind the hours, I’m here anyway,” long hours build tiredness over an extensive period and are a major cause of the rapid turnover of motel properties. I believe mechanisation can remove much of the long boring `chained to the desk’ feeling and can free up leisure time for motel owners and managers – not just during the night, but also in quiet periods, such as the long summer Sunday afternoons when a day with the family would be preferred.
Over the years, functionality and flexibility of kiosks have improved tremendously over the early models. The first kiosks worked only by dropping physical room keys or printing a code for a combination lock that had to be manually entered. Current kiosks cater for standard room keys, combination locks, proximity locks and interface to Ving, Saflock and Onity door locking systems to automatically write room cards. They also interface to property management systems such as RMS to provided a fully integrated environment for the motel or hotel owner with all transactions being visible in the one management system.
Other currently available options include the ability to accept EFTPOS, credit cards, cash and vouchers as well as allowing prepaid options. It is now technically possible for a client to view a clients web site, book a room, arrive, order breakfast, collect a room key or room card, pay and check out without manager or operator intervention but allowing full visibility of the process at all stages.
It is also possible for a single receptionist employed by a motel or hotel chain to monitor and assist clients at multiple physical locations through the use of this technology.
Our first solution of credit card-only acceptance remains a viable option today for those customers who want the lowest cost solution. Whilst valid and viable – it has the limitations of all Internet gateway solutions today and that is that all these transactions are classed as “MOTO” Mail Order Telephone Order, and are classified as low security non “card present” transactions. With these transactions, it remains the responsibility of the merchant to prove the validity of these transactions which can be challenged – and often are – by less than honest customers or customers with a `bad memory.’ Any merchant who accepts over the phone credit payments will, depending on industry, have experienced issues with these – sometimes months after the services are provided.
Our direct dial and secure internet fully integrated EFTPOS module provides a collection facility that is much more secure.
Kiosks, by their very nature, are often in less than secure unattended environments. Physical toughness is a primary requirement. Units need to be weatherproof and vandal resistant to a high degree. The author believes there is no such thing as vandal proof due to easy access to such modern tools as chainsaws, angle grinders and the like. The best we can do is to make it as hard as possible for the average vandal to penetrate the unit while making repairs as easy as possible.
All our kiosks have the look and feel of toughness through the use of industry leading construction techniques. Models include pedestal mounting, wall mounting and flush (through wall) mounting models.
Our flush-mounting, steel-fronted models are the most rugged, utilising 3mm mild steel or stainless steel on all exposed surfaces and are designed for prolonged unattended outdoor operation.
Cash is particularly vulnerable to vandalism. For this reason it is highly recommended that as a deterrent to vandals, the cash acceptor is presented as highly secure and preferably separate from the main kiosk. We offer this option for our unattended Kiosks and have designed the cash acceptor to physically resemble a safe totally separate from the main Kiosk body. Fully integrated options are of course available for more secure locations.
Access to room keys or cards is carefully guarded against through the use of careful internal kiosk design, so devices such as hooks cannot be used to retrieve keys. Another major deterrent is the visibility of and warning signs for video cameras. Our kiosks have the option of either a stand alone or linked video camera that is attached to the current motel or hotel security tape logging machines or can use IP link technology to allow remote viewing in cases where the Kiosk owner may be operating a 24-hour attended premises elsewhere. Remote contract monitoring is also an option with 2 way voice communications.
Low Cost KeySafe Option
For some of the smaller properties including B&B’s and eight to 15 room motels, there is a real need for a method of issuing keys to clients without incurring the cost of the fully automated machines. Managers of apartment style units, real estate agents, especially with holiday letting properties, have the same needs. A common solution has been the `security doormat or flowerpot’ or even leaving the room open. Some agents or property owners even went to the trouble of a safe with combination lock that held all the available property keys!
Working with my design team, we came up with a unique modestly priced KeySafe concept that holds four to 24 keys, customisable for up to 256 keys. It is based on the principal that the property manager or cleaning staff would load the available room keys during the day and would key in the clients mobile phone number as the combination to each room. The client, on arriving at the property, has only to press in their mobile number followed by the # key, and the key to their room drops out.
This is a very simple viable solution that provides a high level of security for the guest and the property manager. We recommend a direct dial telephone be located near the unit to bring the customer service level up to almost the quality of fully attended premises.
As banks, airlines and other service industries are discovering, customer acceptance of automatic purchase and payment technologies has been remarkably rapid and we only have to review the banks reported profit performance to see the enormous benefits for adopters of this new technology.
Manager, Check Inn Systems