How contactless technology, self-serve kiosks rejuvenate amusement space| Self-Service Innovation Summit 2021

A panel of amusement industry experts describes the need for data on guest activity and the benefits of self-serve kiosks as the industry rebounds.

David Berney of UST Global listens to Peter Mergola and Steve Klohn of Main Event Entertainment. Consultant Kevin Williams, on the video screen, joined remotelyi.

The consumer’s embrace of contactless transactions jumped at a record rate in the past year. To many observers, the most impacted industries are retail and hospitality. Less obvious but arguably undergoing equally significant change is location-based entertainment.

While amusement facilities largely went dark during the early days of the pandemic, these industries are rebounding, as evidenced by the turnout at the Amusement Expo International at the Las Vegas Convention Center in July.

Many amusement machine manufacturers used the downtime to introduce new technology, focusing on removing friction for guests and employees. As a result, a number of family entertainment centers are reaping the rewards.

Attendees at the Self-Service Innovation Summit last month got an inside view of how these entertainment venues are adapting new technologies during a session, “Hot New Amusement Vending Technology — How Frictionless Experience drives Footfall, Profitability and Customer Delight,” moderated by David Berney , digital innovation and transformation at UST Global, a digital transformation solutions provider.

Consultant Kevin Williams describes the different types of frictionless technologies entertainment venues are deploying.

Pandemic accelerates change

Panelist Kevin Williams, director of the KWP consultancy and The Stinger Report and a Vending Times contributing editor, said the amusement industry has been slow to embrace frictionless technology compared to some industries, but the pandemic has driven the need to control the experience and limit touchpoints .

“The touchscreen capability, the e-payment capability have really been hoisted upon them only in the last few years,” said Williams, who joined the panel virtually from London. “Frictionless touchscreen operation has swept the hotel/restaurant industry and it’s now sweeping location based entertainment.”

Frictionless falls into a few areas, Williams said. One is payment. Another is the ability of the guest to customize their experience. Still another is the operation’s ability to see that the guest is being served and having a good experience, which requires having the data to know what guests want, how they want it and what is going on within the facility.

Dual focus: customers and employees

Panelist Peter Mergola, digital experiences leader at Main Event Entertainment, a family entertainment center based in Dallas, said his company focuses on the customer experience. But focusing on the customer experience requires also focusing on the employee experience.

“There are times when someone else’s needs comes before the customer’s,” Mergola said.

For example, Main Event Entertainment asks guests to enter their bowling parties’ names on a list, which can cause friction for the guest. But for the entertainment center, asking for this information up front has great value as opposed to when the party gets to the bowling lane – at that point, asking for the information holds up the next party. Hence, a balance is needed between serving the needs of the customers and the employees.

“If the employee — we call them team members — is not your highest priority, your guest experience will never exceed your team member’s experience.” said panelist Steve Klohn, chief information officer at Main Event Entertainment.

“Not all friction is created equal, not all frictionless is created equal, and there’s a balance and a harmony in between that…it’s a science,” said Klohn.

Which comes back to Williams’ earlier point about data: Data is necessary to achieve this balance.

“You’re seeing the digital technology revolution has migrated across the whole stream and we now need to take data… apply it to the facility and the entertainment experience and monetize it,” Williams said.

The ‘minimum wowable’

Mergola said the facility must decide what is the “minimum wowable” experience. Then it is necessary to get data on that experience and make physical observations of customer use, then modify it to “minimum wowable version 2.”

Main Event Entertainment once made the mistake of trying to “eat the elephant in one bite,” Klohn said. It wanted a “best in class product.”

“We never could get there because that’s an impossible task,” he said. So they came up with a minimum viable product, then gathered data to allow them to enable more experience.

The vision of the strategy begins at the leadership level, Klohn said.

“It’s a tough sell for some of the funding on some of this stuff,” he said. “The hardware and software is not cheap.”

Technology pays off

David Berney of UST Global asks Peter Mergola and Steve Klohn of Main Event Entertainment about evaluating guest experience technology.

Introducing smart cards was very difficult when it was new, but it ultimately succeeded.

Deploying self-serve kiosks paid off immediately. The locations with kiosks did more volume than ever.

At the inaugural kiosk installation, the revenue size and crowd size would have caused a line out of the door, Mergola said. After the kiosk was added, there were no lines at any time throughout the day, except for a few pods of families who engaged with the kiosk within a couple minutes.

Main Event Entertainment previously had guests walk up to a desk and say what they wanted to do. When you install self service, you are asking the customer to do some work, Klohn said, “but you’re really allowing them to be in control of their own destiny…It needs to have the guise of ‘these are your options, what would you like?”

Klohn said a kiosk takes a third of the time as a human for a transaction.

Honoring the guest experience

“It’s just a shopping cart checkout experience and that’s what you leave your guest with as they continue their journey,” Klohn said.

This “shopping cart” experience is different for the guest than what Kohn called a “transaction” experience.”

“We want to ‘offboard’ our guest,” Klohn said. “We want that offboarding specifically into the experience they came there for to begin with. They didn’t come here for the transaction. They came here for the experience.”

“That (transaction) is not a phenomenal experience to leave your guest with,” he said. “Add a piece of flare to it at the end.”

The digital format also reduced some of the employees’ work, Klohn said, and it has allowed the team members to “truly be brand ambassadors.”

One surprise was the number of guests who wanted to use cash. After introducing the self-serve kiosks, 18% of all transactions were in cash.

The importance of guest data

Personal questioning of the guests is also necessary to determine success, Klohn said.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to spend a ton of time on those (data) flows, and specifically put those ‘wow’ moments in there, because if you just get hung up on revenue…you will miss,” Klohn said. “You’ll miss bringing your brand to life.”

“Statistically you can really start to tell what screens are working and what are not,” he said. “Let the data guide you on those.”

Customer habits change

Williams said the industry must recognize how much audience habits have changed. Drop-in traffic has fallen and private groups are a bigger part of the business.

“People are going first online to select the entertainment,” Williams said. “The one thing that will stay with the guest the longest is the last interaction with the facility.”

“We cannot just let the guest ‘come, play go,'” he said, adding there are CRM platforms to help engage and customize the experience and encourage the guest to return. He said these are essential to driving future revenue.

“The guests need to be taken by the nose in many cases and encouraged to understand, and once they understand, they’ll get it,” Williams said. “There will be those individuals who still need human interaction.”

The panelists stress the importance of using technology that guests are already familiar with as much as possible.

“Every place we can take and leverage an Amazon checkout experience or a Facebook tile type view where it feeds top to bottom and left to right, we leaned in on that exclusively,” Klohn said. “They’re used to these major platforms they use all the time in their functional lives.”

Williams said flexibility is also an important factor to consider. Different audiences will want different experiences at different day parts.

“We’re not a social media facility, we’re not a metaverse facility, we’re a physical entity entertainment outlet,” he said. “The audience is there, they just need to be presented and entertained correctly.”

Photos by Willie Lawless.


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