The good old counter that we stand in front of to deal with our favorite companies is probably going away. It should. Counter service has been a staple of retail business for many, many years, but new technology and new thinking about customer service are ushering in a new vendor/customer dynamic that does not involve a big piece of furniture in between the two.
At the Apple Store
I went out to buy a phone a couple of days ago, and I met this new counter-less dynamic twice. First, at the Apple store, a friendly representative met me at the door and we casually walked into the store while I explained to him what I wanted. As we stood by the big table where all the iPhones are, he pulled out his own iPhone and checked the inventory to see if they had the phone I wanted. They did, he put in a request for one, and another Apple employee walked up with it a couple of minutes later.
Then my credit card came out, he slide it through a card reader that was built into the side of his iPhone case, and the deal was pretty much done. It was a completely different experience than standing at a counter.
Smartphone card readers are becoming more common and available. Square has sold thousands of its little white card reader that you plug into your phone. A matching app running on the phone is used to run the charge and get sign-off by the customer. Card-reading phone cases like the one the Apple rep used are now widely available to businesses small and large, from the likes of Swipe It, Innerfence and Verifone.
At the Verizon Store
Then I went over to the Verizon store to buy service for the iPhone I bought, and something very similar happened. A Verizon rep met me at the door with a tablet. She logged me in, along with the info about what I wanted, and soon another rep was there to help me. I stood on the floor with that rep for awhile, showing him the phone I bought, and discussing my service plan options. However, we had to take our places in front of and behind the counter to do the actual activation, payment, etc.
Hotels catching on
A few hotels around the world have discovered that checking in a guest using a tablet in the lobby is a far better experience than the front desk check-in. Think about the experience of checking into a hotel. A uniformed person behind a counter stands there and demands information of you, then, if all their demands are met, they decide what room to put you in. Its not a fun experience, especially if you are tired after a long day and just want to get to your room, and especially if you have to wait in line.
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