2012.26 | eCommunication with Customers

On a recent visit to my local Esso station, I tried to use my convenient and well used SpeedPass on my keychain to prepay for fuel, and the pump did not respond.  It turned out that the SpeedPass reader on my pump was faulty.  I then did what most customers would do in such a situation.  I drove 10 feet to the next pump, pumped my gas and left.  I wasn’t planning on going into the station as I was in a hurry, and past experience has dictated that using the intercom box is not really very productive in explaining the details of a problem, and as a customer I’m not keen on troubleshooting a gas pump payment module issue.

Unfortunately for the gas station, that SpeedPass reader will probably stay faulty until a customer speaks up, the system captures the problem itself and reports it automatically, or someone notices that nobody is using the pump.  That means potential inconvenience for many clients – even worse, inconvenience for loyal Esso SpeedPass users, until the unit is repaired.

In looking at really innovating retail solutions, it’s often the simple combination of current solutions that allows for a breakthrough.  An electronic suggestion box could be an example of a really simple solution that could drive value for a retailer.

More often than not, customers who are waiting in a queue pull out their mobile device to pass the time.  Why not allow them to help retailers by providing the simplest way possible to do so.  More often than not, people are willing to help, but don’t have the time, or don’t want to talk to an actual person.

Why not identify each pump with a 2D Barcode along with a sign that says “Problem?  Help us out by reporting it!”  When the customer takes an image of the barcode, it can present them with multiple options via a mobile website, one of which could be ” report a problem”.  Customers could walk through a simple decision tree validating the store address, the pump number, and identify the particular issue impacting the pump.   The issue could be reported to store staff electronically and quickly and the pump can get back on line quickly to maximize usage and customer satisfaction.  Combining this functionality with a retailer app could even allow identification of the reporter to allow rewards for helping out.

This idea is easily extendable from a fuel station to any other sort of service business – a restaurant, coffee shop, stores – anything.  Why not update the suggestion box to something more becoming of today’s technology based society?

A recent report by Ofcom indicated that people are texting on their mobiles more than talking. My life experience with friends and colleagues agrees with this study – I find more people are interfacing via text versus via voice – be it SMS, IM, BBM, email or any other e-communication medium.

Retail applications need to take advantage of this change in cultural norms and leverage text and electronic based communications to mutual benefit to retailer and consumer. Nobody wants to go through an IVR or wait on hold anymore unless there is no choice.

There are some examples of using electronic interfaces that have caught on in the internet world – like LL Bean, or bell.ca, but I’m not aware of any text assistance or mobile web interfaces to help out customers that are actually at a physical store.  Closest I have seen is Rogers texting you on crossing to USA to check out roaming packages or perhaps the help buttons in some retail stores like Target (pages someone to see you)

Let me know in the comments if you have encountered any real world examples!

Full Disclosure: I work for NCR Corporation which offers a mobile payment solution for gas pumps.

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