How businesses can tap smartphones to improve service

With so many customers carrying smartphones, there are several ways a business can plug into the most personal of devices to enhance service.
Written by Howard Lo, Contributor

In tech-crazy Singapore everyone has a smartphone. Aunties, uncles, bankers, and students can be seen punching away at gorilla glass screens on the bus and taking photos of food at restaurants.

As the owner of Standing Sushi Bar, I've been thinking about what scenarios are unlocked if all of one's customers are toting mini-computers in their pocket. Devices that can browse the Internet, broadcast to social networks, and store information. Is there something a business owner can do to improve the customer experience by utilizing customer-owned smartphones?

Here are some ways a business can utilize the smartphone:

- Provide more information. With access to the Internet, a business can put up additional information the customer may find useful. At my restaurant, we have a menu that does not have any pictures. However, I've made the menu available online with pictures for each item. A QR code on the printed menu brings the diner to the online menu where they can view the accompanying pictures.

- Instant feedback and communication. Customer feedback is key for improving the business or knowing what is going well. With a smartphone, a business can create instant feedback opportunities while the customer's impression is still fresh. If somehow one could latch into the customer's social media accounts, then the business could extrapolate feedback based on comments made on Instagram photos, twitter updates, or Facebook status messages. In a restaurant context, this might involve scanning what the customer wrote about a food item after posting it to Instagram.

- Maps. Google is already working on this... Imagine being able to navigatie mammoth shopping malls with your own map. No need to stop by the information desk to get a map or try to memorize a route from the stationary directories. Just whip out your phone and find your way to the food court.

- Location-based information. Similar to finding your way around, the business can find out when you are around the vicinity. Walk by a shop and get information or promotions without even having to step foot inside the store. This might turn out to be intrusive for some, but I could see a lot of people opting in for these features--just look at the adoption of Foursquare.

- Personalization. With all the information you carry around on your phone and all the data that can be gleemed from Facebook and other social media sites, there are many ways in which a business can provide a personalized customer experience. Imagine coming into a restaurant where the restaurant knows you don't eat raw fish, you like meat, and whisky is your favorite drink. The digital menu (now delivered straight to your phone) would be personalized to show you the food and drinks that it thinks you will like the most, and minimize the items you likely wouldn't be interested in.

Utilizing the smartphones of customers has great potential. It can help the business become more efficient, improve the customer experience, and increase the customer connection as they're interacting with their most personal device--the phone.

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