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IBM initiative helps improve customer service

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IBM has announced a new initiative to help businesses across multiple industries connect to the present technology-savvy consumer who, according to a new IBM survey, is increasingly self-sufficient. 

As part of the IBM consumer services initiative, the company is delivering new technologies and services, including a powerful self-service kiosk with built-in wireless capabilities and point-of-sale options, a new line of self checkout systems, enhanced systems management capabilities, and a services practice focused on delivering customer-facing solutions.
IBM also introduced the self-service alliance programme, intended to drive innovation and create new uses for self-service technologies through collaboration and standards-based technologies.
As part of its ongoing consumer research efforts, IBM detailed results of a US consumer survey that showed 50% growth in the use of self-service technology in the past year, with 70% of respondents claiming they expect businesses to offer more self-service options.
Among the 1 000 people surveyed, the most stated reasons for using self-service were access to information and services outside of normal business, less time standing in line, ease-of-use and greater privacy for certain transactions.
“Consumer expectations have accelerated rapidly over the past 10 years, like no other time in history, with no sign of a slow-down in sight,” saidys Kevin Kitchin, brand manager, IBM Retail Store Solutions, IBM South Africa.
“Consumers are demanding even greater flexibility and choice, creating opportunities for companies of all sizes to innovate and change the way consumers connect, interact and transact. This new generation of standards-based kiosks and self-checkout technologies will enable business partners to develop entirely new applications and create new connections between businesses and consumers. The future possibilities for self-service technologies are endless.”
One of the first products of this global initiative is the all-new ultra-compact self-service kiosk product line with built-in wireless capabilities and an industry-first 19-inch screen. The IBM
AnyPlace Kiosk wireless capability allows it to be deployed quickly and easily in almost any environment. Enabled by a Sprint Mobile Broadband ExpressCard, or other wireless providers, consumers can connect to the Internet via kiosks inside stores, airports, hotels and more, significantly increasing their options by blending online experiences with the in-person experience.
An IBM strategic alliance partner, Sprint is working with IBM to increase the mobility options for kiosk users.
The IBM AnyPlace Kiosk product family also includes 15-inch models, offering customers instant access to information, innovative services and online commerce with dual video support capabilities like digital signage.  With a rich multi-media format that includes full-motion video, high-quality audio, realistic 3D graphics and advanced infrared touch-screen technology, these kiosks offer businesses an even greater opportunity to help influence consumer decisions and increase employee productivity without requiring any additional real estate. In line with the IBM Green IT initiative, the new systems are powered by AMD high-performance, low-power Mobile Sempron and Turion dual-core processors.
As part of the IBM AnyPlace product line, IBM also introduced a feature that enables the new AnyPlace Kiosk to function as a flexible point-of-sale system. This AnyPlace POS solution leverages the integrated wireless, optional WAN, and range of integrated touch screens of the AnyPlace Kiosk product family.
Another focus area of this global initiative is the new IBM self checkout system which includes groundbreaking software for even greater control and flexibility for deploying self-checkout. The new IBM Checkout Environment for Consumer-Service (CHEC) offers retailers a complete application and toolkit for customisation. It also opens up opportunities for the IBM Business Partner network to customise, sell and implement IBM Self Checkout solutions.
Virgin Life Care – a member of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, is using IBM kiosk technology to meet the needs of consumers in the healthcare field.  The company needed a private, convenient way for its HealthZone members to measure and track biometric data, so they collaborated with IBM to create the award-winning HealthZone system.
The HealthZone programme motivates and incentivises consumers to improve their health by living more active lives. It’s members earn rewards for being active, tracking results and improving key body metrics, such as blood pressure, body fat and weight.  HealthZone members currently use HealthZones at employer sites and at participating health clubs.
“In the past, consumers were typically passive participants in health care. They would visit their doctor once a year, obtain measurements and hope they were healthier than the year before,” says Andrew Pelosi, Virgin Life Care vice-president of marketing and consumer engagement.
“Today, as employers share the burden of rising health care costs, consumers are looking for ways to take control of their health. The HealthZone allows them to do this by providing immediate access to validated health data that can be used to set goals, track progress and make educated decisions to live healthier lives.”
As part of its efforts to extend its leadership across multiple industries, IBM has forged  relationships with some of the world’s foremost self-service integrators, original equipment manufacturers, hardware enclosure firms and independent software vendors.  
Already, 55 partners across 11 different countries and 18 different categories of applications have joined the new IBM Self-Service Alliance programme, which also leverages innovative airline check-in solutions from IBM Global Services.
Other elements of IBM’s Consumer Service initiative include:
* IBM customer facing solutions practice – Leveraging years of expertise in building self-service solutions for customers in the airline, banking and retail marketplace, IBM global business services has created a team of service consultants focused on delivering the next level of innovation for customer facing organisations.  
* IBM remote management agent (RMA) – A component of IBM store integration framework, the remote management agent allows retailers to achieve end-to-end store system management of retail devices and applications along side traditional IT deployment. Retailers can configure and monitor the system remotely, distribute software, track assets and determine and diagnose problems. RMA comes as a free download available on the Web for use with all IBM retail hardware (POS systems, self checkouts, mobile tablets, kiosks and retail printers).
* New Cashless Self Checkout Models – Improved IBM ergonomic design and enhanced features allow retailers the flexibility to match end user payment habits to an individual store. Retailers have the option of deploying cash or cashless models, or both, depending on the purchasing demographics of the store.
* Green design and manufacturing – IBM uses state-of-the-art design and manufacturing processes to help extend the life of its self-service technologies, thereby protecting the environment. IBM self-service systems are built to help companies expand and upgrade for a long life cycle, which can translate into companies disposing of fewer obsolete products. IBM self-service products also contain no paints in their material finishes, using powder coating for metal and impregnated colour for plastic to help reduce harmful emissions that may occur in the painting processes. The IBM worldwide packaging engineering team strives to use materials with recycled content and common shipping methods to help optimise the sustainability of packaging materials.