Technology and Consumers – Reality vs. Promise
Editorial by Al McClain
Here’s the deal…
Transactions that were once full service are now self-service: banking, airline check in, retail check out, customer service on the phone, etc. But are consumers looking for
tech solutions? I believe they want things that make their lives easier and couldn’t care less how the technology works, just that it does work.
On the promise side of the ledger are cool offerings such as these we saw at the NRF convention earlier in the year:
NCR – offers all kinds of kiosks that are smaller and faster, and enable consumers to check in, check out, pay bills, and serve themselves. When you think of the “old model”
of checking into a hotel which inevitably involved a wait in line, it seems inevitable that consumers will gravitate more and more to self service, and be able to customize their
rewards more easily this way, among other benefits. (www.ncr.com)
Mobilelime – is a free service that allows consumers to charge purchases via their cell phones, and get rewards as well. It enables retailers to sign shoppers up to interactive,
cardless loyalty marketing programs. There is no doubt consumer technology is going mobile – the trick is to deal with consumers in what they perceive is a helpful way.
Newgistics – provides intelligent management returns solutions. The process expedites returns for consumers by providing a “SmartLabel®” that includes a template for the
return, along with prepaid postage. This process also enables retailers to better plan for returns and improve fulfillment. Anyone who’s ever had to return an item knows
the process can be frustrating – and consumers remember retailers that give them a hassle returning items. (www.newgistics.com)
On the reality side of the ledger, here are three incidents that highlight what the average consumer goes through on a regular basis.
- Magazine subscription: Business magazine is ordered, and paid for, but never arrives. No customer service phone number on invoice; just website listing. E-mail sent to customer
service generates reply two weeks later saying to call an 800 number. Call to 800 number requires entering account number, which is non-existent because subscription never started.
Company finally fills subscription after telling consumer there is no “proof” that they paid (cancelled checks evidently don’t count). Subscription finally arrives – meanwhile
new offer arrives to same address for half the price of what’s already been paid.
- City parking eliminates “old fashioned” parking meters in favor of centralized kiosks. With the old way, you paid the meter and left. With the new way, you walk across the
lot, stand in line for one of two kiosks that actually works, make note of your space, deposit money, and keep your receipt in case there is a screw up and you get a ticket.
Oh, and remember the kiosk takes nickels and quarters, but not dimes. And, there is no cover while you wait in the snow or rain. And, the process is so complicated that several
people gave up and took their chance on a ticket.
Example #3 involves making hotel reservations and getting tangled up in a maze of a special hotel offer, several customer service numbers, and a convention travel agency, but
you get the idea. Bottom line is a two-night stay in Chicago for a convention at two different hotels, because various systems don’t talk to one another.
So, promise often meets a less than ideal reality. So many things are possible technologically these days, but often the end result isn’t satisfying to the consumer, because
people and systems at the top of the process don’t talk to one another. The magazine company doesn’t ensure its subscription department has phone numbers, websites, mailings,
and customer service reps that form an integrated system. The parking kiosk company and the local government don’t think the whole process through in terms of what it means to
the consumer. The hotel operator doesn’t manage its various offerings and systems to drive customer satisfaction.
Moderator’s comment: Technology can do so many great things, and improving communications is one of them. How do we in the retailing industry do a better
job of integrating our myriad of systems and offerings so that they don’t operate as individual products, but actually improve the end result for the consumer? –
Al McClain – Moderator