Decades ago, self-service was largely defined by one, often lackluster offering: vending machines. We would carefully feed a bill into the designated slot, punch in the code for our desired drink or snack, watch the machine whirred to life and push our selection forward, and then often watch in dismay as it got stuck against the glass on its journey down to the basket for retrieval. In this sense, vending machines were hardly a luxury offering. Instead, they served a distinct (and limited) purpose and were often reserved for moments in which we had no other food or beverage options to explore.
Today, however, the self-service landscape looks entirely different – in fact, it’s taken on a life of its own. First, our vending machines received a significant makeover, shifting away from a cash-only payment model to accepting digital forms of payments. In time, vending machines also began to offer non-traditional products, including electronics, high-end beauty supplies, and even gourmet cakes and desserts. Slowly, the digital revolution took hold, and self-service became its own retail segment as many consumers began to show a preference for online shopping, self-service kiosks, cashless payments, online customer service, mobile functionality, and personalized digital experiences. For the first time, new technology like AI and machine learning gave brands the ability to connect with consumers based on convenience and relevance, enriching each transaction or touch-point with data-backed personalization without the human touch.
If you ask me, self-service technology isn’t simply a movement or a segment of digital evolution; rather, it’s the future of business as brands look to keep up with customer demands in a scalable manner. And in the world of hospitality, specifically, the self-service era is now well underway.