Automation in the mall

AUTOMATION and efficiency are, in the minds of the institutions that promote them at least, two words that go together in the world of modern business.

Banking provides the classic example of the move towards greater automation of services, with the big banks closing branches and cutting staff to replace them with automatic teller machines, and the use of telephone and computer banking systems.

It appears now that customer service is also going this way.

Increasingly customer inquiries are being greeted with a computerised voice and/or screen, which attempts to deal with customers’ needs quickly and efficiently.

Computerised directional services are a good model of automated customer service and are becoming increasingly popular.

Satellite navigation devices, for instance, have been introduced into vehicles, and can direct a driver to a chosen destination more efficiently than a street directory.

Recently introduced to Perth, Mall Information Systems provides another example of a faster way of providing customer service.

MIS is responsible for the bright information terminals that have surfaced in the Carillon Arcade and Floreat Forum shopping centres over the past few months.

Involving a network of large plasma screens placed around a shopping centre, with a keypad at the base, the system contains the details of all the shops in the arcade.

The business is about providing fast information and more visual impact for retailers, according to owner Glen Tompkins.

Once a particular shop has been identified, details and directions are given, with retailers having the option of attaching a video advertisement.

Mr Tompkins said small computer terminals and large signs outside arcades were obsolete.

While people have been used to electronic customer service terminals for some time, Mr Tompkins believes his system is different.

“A few years ago there used to be these little kiosks all over the place that were very hard to work and always broke down,” he said.

“If you could work it, because the software was pretty hard, you had to go through a touch screen, and you had to go down four or five different sections to get to where you want.”

With exposure to more than 14 million people each year in the Carillon arcade alone, the technology has attracted interest from other businesses in and around Perth.

Mr Tompkins’ figures show that, since the system was installed in March, the terminals have sustained more than 58,000 hits.

And the system’s capacity to display video advertisements of retailers and services located away from the shopping centre is also of interest, with the current trend towards brand awareness through visual identification.

But despite what would seem a natural inclination towards automated services in today’s fast-paced world, people still question whether customer service should be going the way of favouring computerised systems over people.

While acknowledging that customer service officers can be efficient with information, Mr Tompkins said people could lose track of arcade developments, and sometimes lacked detailed information.

He believes the advantages of a computerised system lies in its accuracy and autonomy.

He also noted that MIS has the added advantage of a video advertisement for a shop, which, with around 100 screenings per day, gives the business more exposure than could ever be offered by a customer service counter.

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