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Text Melody Tan

Photography Joseph Nair

The first bubble tea shop in Singapore to implement self-service kiosks, KOI continues to navigate digital possibilities while staying true to its ethos of handcrafted drinks

KOI is a familiar name for any bubble tea fan in Singapore. Since its arrival in 2007, the bubble tea chain has opened 57 outlets across the island and regularly sees long queues forming for its menu of over 30 beverages that can be customised with toppings and other condiments, as well as with varying amounts of ice and levels of sugar.

Singaporeans’ love for bubble tea might seem to be eternal. However, KOI Cafe Group’s senior director of Corporate Affairs, Mr Cavin Lau, who has worked for the company for seven years, recalls a time when – in his words – “the bubble burst”.

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KOI’s outlet at NEX was the first to implement self-service kiosks.

This was in the early 2000s during the emergence of the first bubble tea wave. Not long after, customers began to lose interest in the drink, and standalone bubble tea shops closed one by one. For KOI to go beyond a passing fad, the company had to find ways to stay ahead of the competition and remain at the forefront of customers’ consciousness.

“The industry cannot sustain itself for more than five years – it’s a cycle we have to break through,” said Mr Lau. “We realised that if we wanted to make it beyond five years, we had to improve our customer service and ensure quality control. That’s when we introduced loyalty programmes to enhance customer experience and put digital processes in place.”

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Customers can personalise their drinks easily using the self-service kiosk.


To improve overall customer experience and maintain product quality, KOI Thé Singapore introduced self-service kiosks. Customers who use these kiosks are given the option to select drink combinations, learn about seasonal promotions, manage their loyalty status and make payments on their own.

The kiosk software includes beverage recipes, which KOI staff can refer to at a glance. This has minimised the duration and intensity of staff training, as staff no longer need to memorise the various recipes – a crucial consideration, given that 65 per cent of KOI’s employees are part-timers.

Today, 15 KOI outlets have self-service kiosks, as compared to each outlet having just one point of sale (POS) machine in the past, which was used to record sales transactions. The result? Shorter queues and increased sales, as bubble tea orders can be placed more quickly. Getting customers to place their own orders via the machines has also reduced the likelihood of human errors resulting from a manual taking of orders.

KOI employees have welcomed the new technology. After successfully launching a pilot at its NEX outlet in 2017, KOI is in the midst of rolling out self-service kiosks at its remaining outlets.

Since the kiosks now take over basic tasks such as the ordering of drinks, Mr Lau explained that his company can focus on retraining its existing staff to provide a higher level of customer service. For instance, staff can be trained to interact more with customers by addressing queries about the menu or making tailored drink recommendations.

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Long queues at a KOI outlet without self-service kiosks.

The increased efficiency in drink ordering and the faster collection time have led to more satisfied customers, said Mr Lau. Through the self-service kiosks, both staff and customers can track the progress of an order while it is being prepared. For instance, if the kiosk data reveals that a certain aspect of drink preparation is taking too long, rectifications can be introduced by the operations team to minimise waiting time.

Said Mr Lau: “This is data that I didn’t have in the past. This data can be utilised to benefit other departments and operational segments, which we hope to continue improving on in the future.”

According to him, customers have also become more familiar with and open to trying different KOI beverages, as the self-service kiosks feature enticing graphics of KOI’s entire menu on the machine interface.


Digitalising via self-service kiosks and loyalty programme has given Mr Lau a better understanding of what his customers want and what KOI can do to serve them better. Instead of relying on verbal feedback, the company now receives detailed digital data on which condiments are more popular at different locations and on customer preferences, such as having fewer pearls or less sugar.

With the self-service kiosks, Mr Lau cites the example of even being able to calculate the percentage of sales that will increase if a seasonal topping is relaunched.

In addition to this, the kiosks give a more accurate picture of how much bubble tea is being ordered at any one time, which allows KOI’s kitchens to anticipate demand and reduce wastage. “Tea baristas at KOI have to know what is coming up, as they prepare the ingredients and tea on the spot. Our tea is meant to be served within three hours – anything outside that time is poured away,” said Mr Lau.

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KOI staff are able to update kiosk information, such as when ingredients run out, on the fly.


Another digital step KOI took was implementing an integrated human resource (HR) system at the end of 2017, to ease the workload on staff.

Said Mr Lau: “There are thousands of permutations for beverages, including those with less sugar, less ice. Those permutations meant that it took time for staff to memorise the formulas, even after we engaged vendors to create calculations on the POS machines to ease training.”

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KOI staff use a mobile app to clock in for work.

As training materials were written on paper, it was also easy for short-term staff to make a copy and then share the material with KOI’s competitors after they quit.

Today, all KOI staff use a mobile app where they can perform functions such as logging in and out of shifts, checking work schedules, applying for leave, receiving e-payslips and undergoing training.

Explained Ms Tang Mun Yee, a store manager who has been with KOI Singapore for four years: “You can track your learning process. If you’re at level one, you can see things such as standard operating procedure videos and training cards for each outlet. The app has quizzes before you can go to the next stage.”

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Store manager Tang Mun Yee (left) with a colleague at the shop counter.

Supervisors can also use the integrated HR system to recommend employees for promotion or allocate needed manpower to outlets.

For Mr Lau, KOI’s dedication to quality control and drive to continue growing are the twin goals of its digital journey, supported along the way by digitalisation efforts such as HR systems and self-service kiosks. The company’s adoption of digital solutions is helping it to gain new insights about its customers and its handmade beverages every day.

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