Monday 1 August 2011

The future of customer interactions is yesterday


One of the interesting aspects of the rise in mobile devices is how these are reinventing established ways of doing things.

Things that we've been used to for decades have suddenly been made accessible and interactive by being combined with mobile devices like a smartphone.

Take the payment cheques for example.

This was a technology waiting to die. The thought of filling out a piece of paper to make a payment to someone else that then took days to transfer between accounts was an idea rooted in the last century. We're much cleverer now - allowing payments via a tweet or a simple bump of the phones. One of the most popular innovations however is remote deposit of cheques whereby customers can pay in a cheque simply by taking a picture of it. Banks such as US Bank, Chase and USAA have introduced it, with USAA originally pioneering this back in 2009 and now introducing the service to the iPad2. Having processed nearly $4bn transactions in just 2 years, this reinvention of an old technology has proved a hit with customers.

Taking this one step further, start-up have introduced a solution which allows a customer to make a payment by simply taking a photo of their payment card.

Another innovative use of the smartphone was demonstrated by Tesco in Korea when they transformed outdoor media from being passive to interactive. Recognising that people didn't always have time to visit a store, but had to make time to stand, waiting for a train, they decided to bring the store to them. Using outdoor media within the station platforms that mirrored store shelves, customers were able to add goods to their virtual basket by taking a snap-shot of items they wanted. These were then delivered that day so that orders made on the way home could be enjoyed that evening. With sales reportedly increasing by 130% and registered users up 76%, this cross-over from old school media to new media struck the right note with customers.

This can also be applied to loyalty interactions between customers and a brand.

Startup Punchd is looking to change how traditional paper-based punch card promotions work. Moving the card to the smart-phone and replacing the punch with a QR code - and in the process they are revitalising punch card loyalty programmes. Recently purchased by Google, this start-up is offering retailers a cost effective (free) solution for tracking and rewarding customer frequency. Better still, they are then utilising this data to provide retailers with reporting and the opportunity to target communications, something the paper based solution alone could never provide.


Another start-up has done the opposite of Punchd and used a paper based solution to create a cutting edge loyalty programme. Blitzly uses paper cards with unique codes on them to let retailers reward customer purchases. Aiming to create loyalty for smaller retailers who don't have the POS infrastructure in place, the Blitzly solution is both simple and elegant. Each retailer is given a set of cards which are uniquely linked to them, this then allows Blitzly to track customers by retailer, providing reporting and insight for the business and ensuring that only points earned at that retailer can be spent there.

It's not just silicon valley start-ups however they are using the mobile phone to augment traditional customer interactions.

Within the Nectar programme for example, the standard paper coupon has been moved onto the smartphone. This not only allows customers to see all of their coupons in one place but also provides a means of having more up to date coupons based on current behaviours. The usage of coupons is further simplified by not requiring the customer to present them at the time of purchase and instead, simply opting in when they see it.

Sears are currently testing the integration of QR codes with traditional catalogues to let customers get more information such as product videos. This combination of offline media with online content is something loyalty programme catalogues could also utilise.


Although some solutions such as QR codes or Punchd need an app installed which typically isn't there by default, this doesn't deter many customers. In a campaign run by Australian product coupon specialist Letterbox Deals, they reportedly saw 25% of customers using a QR code to submit their entry for a deal - for a campaign that went to 1.3m Sydney households. Even more interesting, 60% of customers who entered via the QR code downloaded a QR reader for the first time.

Sometimes using offline solutions, whether it's printed catalogues, unique printed codes or paper punchcards can be the most effective choice to reach customers. However, combining these with online technologies such as smart-phone/tablet technologies can bring a different angle, increase speed of response and allow ongoing tracking of those interactions.

Article first published as The future of customer interactions is yesterday on Technorati.


Anonymous said...

It's indeed not just silicon valley start-ups. Stampfeet in London UK is doing the same thing with local businesses:

Mark Sage said...

Thanks for the update - Stampfeet looks pretty interesting too!

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