Protect Service Margins With Kiosk Printers
Don't let an unwise kiosk printer choice eat up your service and support margins.
Hardware maintenance and support issues are a sure way to erode reseller service margins and lose customer trust. As a result, when VARs are selecting kiosk printers, reliability is a priority. "If I had to hang my hat on one product feature, it would be reliability," states Patty McCarthy, director of marketing for printer manufacturer Star Micronics (Edison, NJ). "Every kiosk printer manufacturer publishes its MCBF [mean cycles between failures] rating, and VARs should take that into account when selecting kiosk hardware."
Thermal printing has been making inroads in the kiosk printer market for some time because end users appreciate the higher speed and reduced noise levelcompared with laser printers. VARs find that thermal printers also require less maintenance because there are no ribbons or cartridges to change, and thermal printers support much larger paper rolls. As a result, thermal printers can run unattended for longer periods of time.
Terry Cooper, OEM manager for kiosk printer manufacturer Telpar, Inc. (Lewisville, TX), warns that the largest available paper rolls aren't always the best choice. "People with unattended kiosks say they want the maximum amount of paper. While it isn't the largest available, we find about 1,150 feet of paper to be the most acceptable. That comes in an 8-inch roll that weighs about 8.5 pounds. Adding 2 inches in diameter to the paper roll will double the paper length, but it also increases the weight to between 16 and 20 pounds. Some studies show an employee can get hurt stooping to pick up something as small as 10 or 12 pounds." If the customer is performing routine maintenance such as changing paper, the ease with which it can be done could be an issue.
Technology is also allowing proactive maintenance that will keep a kiosk up and running. "Some units are shipping with maintenance counters that track how much paper has been used," says McCarthy. "Then it will check the amount of paper against the activity registered on the main computer and notify the customer when a paper change or service call is due based on the number of transactions." This feature accommodates unexpected peaks and valleys in kiosk usage, ensuring lack of paper doesn't stop consumers from using the kiosk and eliminating unnecessary trips to change paper.
Print Quality Reduces Support Calls
Improvements in print quality are providing end users with the flexibility they desire without increasing support issues for the VAR. One area of improvement is the ability to print legibly even on small paper. "An attractive market is providing legibility in the 3-inch and 4-inch paper applications," says Cooper. "When you improve legibility at that size, the user doesn't have to rotate text sideways in order to get their message across. It can be done, but most customers don't want to expend the programming expertise necessary to change the orientation." If the process of designing a receipt that is both small and legible becomes too complicated, it will likely result in additional support calls for the VAR.
"Raster drivers with a reduce feature have really made a difference in applications like Web kiosks," agrees McCarthy. "A printer with reduce functionality can take an 8.5-inch by 11-inch image and print it at high resolution on 4-inch-wide paper." The ability to provide small but highly readable images is appropriate for Internet kiosks, hospitality applications, and train stations for printing large format images such as maps, directions, and Web pages.
Not only do the latest kiosk printers make it easier to change the look of a receipt or other document, they also make it easier to change the paper size. McCarthy says new models are available that, in some applications, allow the user to change the paper width without changing the printer. As a result, VARs can meet the changing demands of customers quickly and relatively painlessly, minimizing the amount of downtime needed for modifications.
Reduce Wear And Tear With Document Presenters
There are lots of things a VAR can control about a kiosk. Unfortunately, the consumer using the kiosk isn't one of them. Some kiosk printers let consumers see the document or receipt as it is being printed, but both Cooper and McCarthy warn that is unwise. "If a consumer takes that paper before it's ready, you have a service call," says Cooper. If a customer tries to tear it off too soon, the paper can be thrown out of alignment and the hardware can be damaged. That is why both industry experts say presenters are a must.
A presenter holds the entire receipt inside the kiosk until it is printed and cut. Then the presenter holds it out to the customer. "Customers that have used presenters are happy they made that choice because they aren't constantly calling out service people to fix printers," says McCarthy. "If a document comes out and isn't taken by the consumer, some printers can pull it back in and shred it. That prevents sensitive data from being compromised and eliminates litter at the kiosk location."
With so many IT products becoming commodities, revenue from service and support contracts is the main source of income for many VARs. Choosing the right kiosk printer can reduce the expense of providing service and support and add to a reseller's bottom line.