I visited the Henry Ford Museum this weekend, and can’t recommend it enough. The museum provides an incredible view into the progression of technology from the industrial revolution to the near present. The museum houses an incredible collection of cars, bicycles, trains and more. If you haven’t been, you need to go.
Some of the most interesting displays to me were those pertaining to retail. They have an entire 1940s diner called Lamy’s – including an NCR cash register and vending machine, a full neon sign from McDonalds from the 1960s, and even a complete hotel room from an iconic Holiday Inn from the 1970s. Studying history does a great job of reminding us of our roots, and for providing context for the present, and visiting this museum certainly did that for me. While on one hand, it reminded me that we have come very far, it also indicated that we may have lost some very engaging and exciting elements of self service solutions and the retail experience.
What brought the experience component to my mind was the Mold-A-Rama machine I encountered near the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile on display. This retro vending machine made a plastic molded toy of the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile before my eyes in about 1 minute. It was a delight to watch! It had sixties styling, impressive looking gauges, and a bubbled window to display the inner workings as the machine made the toy by injecting plastic in a mold. You could even watch the toy pushed by a little metal rod as it fell into the little drawer for pickup. The toy is delivered still warm into your hands for the low price of 2 $1 bills fed into the machine.
There was also a cigarette vending machine in Lamy’s Diner (See the National logo at the bottom in the image) that had awesome styling and great kinetic feedback. Having a mechanical handle directly under the item of choice that you pull gives the experience a tactile and direct feedback that involves the user more than a touchscreen of items or a button that feeds to a circuit into a magic box. It was a throwback to my youth and the mechanical experience of the gumball machine and the pay telephone.
I was reminded of how commonplace the transactions via self service have become over the years. Since self-service has become so ingrained in our society, we have become so accustomed to these machines that they have become invisible. This invisibility is certainly a missed opportunity to connect with our collective customers and bring them a new and pleasurable experience instead of a chore.
Today’s consumer is certainly more sophisticated than the targeted customers of these machines, and life is more complex (age verification on the cigarette machine, anyone?), but there is still an opportunity to build on today’s self service experience.
As of late, I am aware that numerous vendors and retailers alike are working on ways to engage our collective customers while providing them the speed of transaction and ease of use that they have come to expect. One great example I recently highlighted is a vending machine in Japan that utlizes a large screen on their vending machine that replicates the look and feel of an older model machine with product behind the window.
Another excellent example is a new ATM design made through a partnership of organizations, including my employer NCR. Have a look at the video and watch the animation on the screen of the ATM before the cash is dispensed. For some reason this small change to the interface puts a little thrill into the transaction that our human nature cannot resist.
Engaging our customers is always the right thing to do. We always need to be learning, and new ideas come from surprising places. Let’s hope we can learn from the past to make tomorrow’s self service not only a useful experience, but a pleasurable and exciting one as well.