I got a great comment from reader Dennis D. McDonald on my post from earlier this week titled "Customer Service and the iPad Effect." In it, I wrote that while companies remain focused on enabling customers to make purchases via mobile devices, they are missing an opportunity to equip staff at brick-and-mortar locations with tablets and other gear so they can provide better customer service.
McDonald, surely a man after my own heart due to his mention of people and processes, wrote:
While I agree completely with the ideas presented here, this is also a double edged sword. We're not just giving floor-walking staff more information, we're fundamentally changing the processes that they and customers have learned to use. Customers may want more than just an easy checkout from any point in the store; some will also need consulting-type advice, and the employee will need to be ready to provide it in a convincing way.
Amen, Dennis. Coincidentally, I enjoyed a recent briefing with business intelligence provider QlikTech during which Erica Driver, the senior director of product marketing, showcased some capabilities of the company's QlikView software that I think would come in awfully handy for employees circulating through stores with mobile devices.
In its last software update, QlikTech introduced associative search capability, which, as Driver explained it, employs a powerful inference engine and robust search technology "hidden" by a simple user interface. It became quite clear to me how powerful this could be for a retail sales associate, based on a demo called TV Finder found on the QlikTech site.
Driver walked me through the demo, which shows how sales associates can quickly search through more than 200 televisions to find one right for a customer. The associate can ask basic questions like "How much do you want to spend?" and "How large of a screen do you want?" and then the software filters the options. When an associate selects a TV, he/she can check availability, review technical specifications with the customer and send it to the cashier for purchase. (Or, I suspect, complete the purchase for the customer right there.) In our demo, Driver and I were able to narrow the number of possibilities from more than 200 to just three in about a minute and a half.
In my demo, we decided I'd be especially interested in a Samsung TV. I was quickly able to call up a list of options by typing an "S" and an "A" in a box just like the one I use hundreds of times a day for Google searches. Presented with two choices, I clicked on a "compare" tab and got a list of price, features and specifications for both models, along with a notice that both were in stock.
A Manager Dashboard offers similar capabilities, allowing managers to quickly view a store's inventory. He/she can also view inventories at nearby stores and run analyses to see, for instance, how discounted TVs are selling relative to non-discounted models.
These kinds of capabilities seem to deliver on BI's promise of offering the right data, to the right people, at the right time. As Driver told me during our briefing, QlikView is "not what you think of when you think about BI." (And I'd venture to say that for most people, BI still means reports compiled using historical data.) QlikView is "a business discovery platform," Driver said, that allows users to "ask and answer their own stream of questions, see what's related and pursue their own discoveries."
Deployments of this kind of technology are already happening. Earlier this month I wrote about a pilot at Starbucks, in which MicroStrategy software will allow managers and executives to access financial and other data relevant to a specific location while visiting that store. They'll use tablets, because GPS capabilities make it possible to quickly deliver the store-specific data. It's not surprising that the buzz for mobile BI, especially delivered via tablets, continues to build.