The One Way Employees Sabotage Self-service

I stood in front of the airport self-service kiosk, navigating my way through the airline’s check-in procedure.

The airline employee behind the counter greeted me and we exchanged pleasantries as I continued checking in. It's a procedure that's burned into my memory from countless flights.

And then, she committed an act of unthinking sabotage.

She stepped from behind the counter and, without asking, started pushing buttons on the kiosk for me.

I wasn’t going slowly. There wasn’t even a line. I’ve done this too many times to count and I don’t need any help.

Her intrusion was annoying. It slowed me down. I had to tell her to back off so I could complete the process.

Let's imagine I really did need some assistance. This well-meaning, smiling employee still got it all wrong. The one thing you should never, ever do in self-service is push your customers’ buttons.  

The proliferation of self-service kiosks is amazing. A recent WhaTech report estimated that interactive self-service kiosks are growing at a rate of 7 percent in North America. The same report predicted the value of transactions conducted on these kiosks will reach $1 trillion in 2014.

These kiosks provide a double benefit when done right. The customer saves time because kiosks eliminate waiting in line and can actually speed up some transactions. The company saves money because they don’t have to hire costly employees.

Sometimes, employees are needed. Customers might need a little training or encouragement to learn how to use a self-service kiosk.

Other times, employees intervene simply because they can. They genuinely desire to help their customers but don’t understand how to do it correctly.

Whatever the situation, the one thing employees should never do is operate the kiosk for the customer.

There are a few good reasons why:

  1. It can be annoying to the customer.
  2. The customer is disempowered when the employee operates the kiosk for them.
  3. Customers won't learn how to do it themselves, defeating the purpose of self-service.

Self-service done right is faster and easier for customers. It gets slower and more annoying when a button-pushing employee gets in the way.

Employee can still play an important role in helping their customers use self-service kiosks. They just have to be taught how.

Here's an example:

The Portland Airport unveiled self-service kiosks in 2005 to allow passengers to pay for parking. The kiosks were a huge success in part because helpful, friendly employees were stationed near the machines to help customers learn to use them.

Parking employees were carefully trained to never push a customers’ buttons. They were given a three-step service process to follow instead.



The first step is to ask customers if they’d like assistance. Never assume they need or want your help.

Portland Airport parking employees took it a step further by inviting customers use the kiosks to save some time. They explained that customers could pay for their parking at the kiosk rather than waiting in line for a cashier at the airport exit. This embedded a clear customer benefit inside their offer of assistance.



If a customer would like some help, guide them through the transaction using verbal directions and pointing to the appropriate buttons. This approach incorporates all three basic learning styles into a mini-training lesson on how to use the equipment.

  • Auditory: the customer hears your verbal directions
  • Visual: the customer sees the correct button for each step in the process
  • Kinesthetic: the customer does the transaction themselves



The final step is to encourage the customer. Making sure they have a pleasant self-service experience is key to getting them to do it again.

These tips can mean the difference between self-service kiosks taking off or being neglected. My local post office provides a great example.

During busy times, a postal employee is stationed in front of their self-service kiosk. He or she invites people over to try the machine, but this same employee frequently sabotages the process. The employee takes over each customer's transaction, shooting out rapid-fire questions and pushing buttons before the customer really understands what's going on.

Confusion and anxiety are apparent on most customers' faces. The self-service kiosk isn't a pleasant experience for them. 

This spills over to slower times. There is almost never someone using the kiosk when I go to the post office. People would rather wait in line because it's less stressful.

Meanwhile, I breeze over to the kiosk and complete my transaction in less than a minute. With nobody there to push my buttons, using the kiosk is a breeze.