2009.40 | Service Options

Providing a new service option to consumers necessitates giving them an advantage by using it; whether the advantage is convenience, speed of service, access to special percs or many others.  If there is no benefit for the consumer, there is no incentive for them to leverage a different service option.  Any well run consumer facing organization will seek out opportunities to provide customer benefits to differentiate their business and increase the top line, while leveraging cost streamlining benefits to improve their bottom line.
Here are a few positive examples observed over the past week:
Hertz – I returned my rental car to the Vancouver Airport very early in the morning and had to drop my keys in the slot.  A sign on the box indicated that rental receipts are available for download on their website within hours.  Based on entering a drivers license or credit card number, the Hertz site provides all receipts over the past 6 months, so I was able to pull all I the statements I needed electronically to complete my travel expenses.  Benefit to the consumer?  Instant gratification, a paperless transaction, no agent to call to request the receipt, and increased convenience.  It also takes effort away from Hertz agents, reducing cost, and making staff available to people that require live assistance.  The consumer gets convenience and improved customer service, and the consumer facing organization can leverage cost savings.
Starbucks – I have been looking forward to this sort of application as the future of retail for some time, and it appears that the future is almost now!  mFoundry is working with Starbucks on a pilot that will allow mobile based payments via 2d barcodes as well as balance checking and other information for Starbucks card holders.  Once again, consumer and retailer obtain benefits from this solution.  The consumer has potential for a simplified transaction flow, shorter queues, faster service, and a novelty factor that suits a segment of the Starbucks clientele.  Starbucks increases throughput with reduced order and tender time, provides a useful and simple customer service alternative, and aligns themselves more closely with their customers by establishing a hold on one of the most important access points – their customers’ mobile device.
5494_128773267062_106593592062_3004057_6437802_nCoca-Cola – I picked up the most recent Fast Company magazine, and read the lead article on Coca-Cola’s David Butler last week. A key component of the article concerns the new Coca-Cola Freestyle soda fountain.   In contrast to traditional self service soda fountains located in Quick Service restaurants, the new footprint boasts a digital LCD interface and technology that shrinks the required raw materials allowing users to access over 100 beverage choices instead of the 6 or 8 generally available today.   The benefit to the consumer in this case is the vastly expanded product selection.  The retailer (and manufacturer) benefit is providing more product selection in the same store footprint, and the capability of leveraging the electronic brain of the soda fountain to ascertain popularity of the beverage options – providing useful and as yet unmined sources of data about consumer preferences in this segment.

2009.22 | Traveling

I traveled from Toronto to Vancouver to visit a few clients last week, so the technology around travel was certainly on my mind. So many innovations have hit travel in the past decade that it is incredible to think how much things have changed.
Check-in Kiosks, Web Check-in, and Mobile Check-in have all streamlined the queuing experience regular travelers know so well. While much improved the area is still ripe for additional innovation. Think about the number of transactions at an airport. Where else do we compact so many transactions into one place in such a short time as a captive audience? What could we do to improve upon an already much improved experience? I had a few thoughts while on the road.
Organization – There are various apps that help streamline the travel experience. There are a few basic options for this today, like Tripit, TravelTracker, or Travelocity. Some tradeoffs are made on these solutions. An online offering means being up to date with changes, it also means $3/MB for Canadians traveling to the US. An offline offering means changes may not be shown on your itinerary. In future releases, it would make life simpler to have a mobile check-in button, or even better, a place to store all of the 2d barcodes so they are not accidentally deleted or lost in email or photo areas of the phone.

air_canada_2d Boarding Pass Generation – On my trip, I used web-checkin and had the boarding pass sent to my iPhone as a 2d barcode. While convenient, there is an opportunity to build on this. For one thing, I  don’t know my credit card number or Air Canada Aeroplan Account from memory, and I certainly don’t know my itinerary number. This dissuades me from using mobile check-in in all but the direst situations, and I’m a bleeding edge mobile user. Typing the last 4 digits or letting the program validate the itinerary number on the device would suffice. Even better, using a program like 1Password to pass the information to the airline check-in could also work, much like Google Toolbar Auto fill. The web is fine at home or at the hotel, but when one is only traveling for the day, or the web is unavailable, using mobile checkin should be a simple option.

Security and Boarding – Nothing seems to make security in an airport more uncomfortable than handling a mobile device with their rubber gloves. A barcode scanner that passengers can scan at Security and Boarding so staff don’t have to handle any devices or boarding passes is a better alternative. This provides consistent processes, improved traveler tracking within the airport, less opportunity for a misread boarding pass, and less effort for staff to interpret the information on the miniscule screen of the latest gadget. An intervention may be necessary and staff can deal with the exceptions, providing better throughput. [Update: 5/27/09 While traveling through Montreal (YUL), there was a scanner to scan my own boarding pass. Progress!]

Flight Services – A truly interactive mobile platform with easy access buttons to get feedback on specific issues and a chat function could provide airlines with an incredible customer management tool including the ability to:

  • allow passengers to notify if they are late or unable to make the flight so that the flight can depart, or a seat can be given for standby
  • send text message notifications of flight changes
  • automatically update itineraries if there are cancellations with all preferences automatically applied, and special messages outlined (free airmiles, lounge access, directions to their gate, etc).
  • report lost luggage
  • provide a platform for customers with problems to voice their concerns and opinions and get immediate feedback

With so many millions of happy travelers passing through airports every year, this provides an opportunity to allay the loud concerns of the few major problems, bringing the attention to those who can make a difference quickly. There are tools to do this today, but they are not well advertised or utilized.moverwallet

Car Rental and Hotel Checkin Hertz’s kiosks and Hyatt certainly go in the right direction. A 2d barcode reader would be ideal so mobile devices can be used instead of a printout. Even better, an NFC credit card used to book the trip could make the transaction wireless and avoid the 2d barcode. I already have an NFC credit card, even if I don’t have an NFC mobile phone, which would be ideal. Why not scan the card for pickup and payment? For hotel, the NFC credit card can potentially be used as the room key as well, so the room could be opened without even removing the card from one’s wallet.

Further down the road, perhaps wifi could be used as it is used with the recent ‘mover’ iphone application. It looks like a mini version of Microsoft Surface. A wallet would show a number of cards sitting on the screen and a swipe of the finger slides the appropriate card towards the kiosk and a pin or signature could be entered on the kiosk.

With all of these solutions, it comes down to two things that drive every self service solution: utility and simplicity. If a solution is useful and easy to use, it will gain populartity and usage. It will be interesting to see which solutions meet those criteria in travel over the next few years and how much more convenient it will become.

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