I spend a lot of time thinking about customer service. If you read these words regularly, you know that customer service is so important an idea around here that we’ve gone so far as to erect The Answer Guy’s Customer Service Wall of Shame … a wall you don’t want to find your picture hanging on.

So here’s a customer service question: why aren’t bar-code scanners used to improve customer service?

The question’s been on my mind quite a bit lately, as I’ve discovered that one of the apps on my Droid that ought to be among the most useful is rendered a constant irritant because scanners don’t work as well as they should and stores are not only failing to do anything about it, but are practicing bad customer service in wanting to not try to help customers, and even lying to their customers instead of doing customer service.

My retail-store loyalty cards, as displayed by KeyRing, almost never scan correctly. I say “almost”, because while I’ve yet to see KeyRing work with a table-top scanner, it does work—sometimes—with hand-held “pistol” scanners. I suspect that the problem here is more about the reflection generated by my Droid’s screen than the scanners, so there’s not really anyone to call to task for the issue; eventually, scanners will be able to read bar codes from the shiny screen of a SmartPhone.

When I try to use my digitized loyalty cards I encounter three scenarios regularly:

  • The employee at the register manually keys in the number of my card
  • The employee at the register tries to key the card in manually and fails (or refuses to do so and claims the store doesn’t make that possible), and then tells me that I should have kept the original cardboard tag instead of trying to use KeyRing
  • The store has a policy: no digitized versions of their loyalty cards, because it’s “a security concern”

Let me address that last example first: I’ve only encountered it once, at the ShopRite of Succasunna, New Jersey. It’s totally ridiculous even before I tell you that I’ve never been asked for identification to use the physical card version and that if you don’t have your card the folks at ShopRite of Succasunna are happy to manually key in your phone number, again, without identification. The only reasonable translation? “We don’t want to take the time to manually key in a 12-digit number”. Wow. I suppose that’s a lot harder than the ten digits in a phone number.

It’s customer service at its worst. I’d put ShopRite of Succasunna on the Customer Service Wall of Shame, but after I gave the folks at ShopRite of Little Falls a break on this horrible customer service story I might be overdoing it if I went that far.

Scenario Number One, of course, is the best response.

Scenario Number Two happens way too frequently. In particular, it keeps happening at several Duane Reade stores in Manhattan, which would be annoying enough if it was consistent, but it isn’t. At some Duane Reades, the pistol scanners work with KeyRing, while at others they don’t. And while that might be attributable to hardware issues the fact that employees at some stores key the numbers in manually and at others claim that there’s no way to do so means that the Duane Reade employees who refuse to perform this very simple customer service task are lying. I don’t know whether they’re instructed to do so by their managers or are lazy, but either way lying to customers is never a good idea. Ask Nissan of Manhattan.

I wouldn’t even have thought about this topic today had I not read this article. The question posed is whether QR (Quick Response) Codes work. Do QR Codes Do Anything Useful? Are QR Codes a Good Idea?

Coincidentally, there’s a long piece at CNN today about QR Codes.


If you used your SmartPhone to scan this image from your computer screen you’d see that this is a QR Code that will take you directly to the SEO Consulting and Search Engine Optimization page at Answer Guy Central. Of course, there’s no reason to do that; you can just click the link.

But what if we ran advertisements for Answer Guy SEO Consulting in places where “click to do (whatever)” wasn’t possible? QR Codes just like this one are starting to show up on bus stops and in magazines, and from all appearances the prevalence of QR Codes is only going to keep rising. The question is: do they work?

So far, it’s a trick question.

If by “work” you mean “get you more traffic to your (website? video)” , then the answer is yes, of course QR Codes work. If the answer is defined in terms of traffic but measured by counting number of visitors against the cost of the QR Code-based campaign and extrapolating a cost per acquired visitor in order to measure success, my guess is that QR Code campaigns don’t work, for a simple reason: scanning a QR Code requires A) that you have a SmartPhone, B) that you’ve got an App in your SmartPhone for scanning QR Codes and realize it, and C) that when you encounter a QR Code you care enough to bother. Too complicated.

On the other hand, if success is measured in terms of engagement, QR Codes could be successful.

I know that few people who encounters the “SEO Consulting and Search Engine Optimization at Answer Guy Central” QR Code are likely to use it. And I know that anyone who does either did so out of pure curiosity related to the A, B, and C criteria above being satisfied or is already as engaged as the QR Code can make them; they want information about how good we are at Search Engine Optimization.

QR Codes won’t really work until they are used TO ENGAGE YOU.

Get someone started on a scavenger hunt. Give them a coupon that brings them into your store, and do it in a way that can only be accomplished by using the QR Code (or at least seems that way). Those are engagement.

Whether it’s a supermarket scanner for bar codes or a SmartPhone reading could-have-found-that-anywhere QR Codes, scanners, once they capture information, can do a lot with that information. Marketing? Customer Service? Data Mining? Yes, yes, and yes.

And your job isn’t just to find those uses; it’s to make sure you don’t let uses slip through your fingers, or worse, hurt you.

That, my friends, is business change. Need help uncovering your business change? Contact Me Here.

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