Will Facebook Salvage QR Codes from the Dustbin of Local Marketing History?

QR Codes never took off in the US. It was an offline to online play that always required too many apps,  took too many steps, was too obtuse and ended up not solving any problems. I once used them to learn the history of the streets a small town in Hungary – the only time I ever really used it.

But Facebook with it’s Messenger ScanCode is ready to replay the story and this time I think that it has a compelling context  which, for me, portends the return of the QR code as an effective small business tool – in the form of a compelling customer communication channel that most, if not all, businesses will want to participate in.

Imagine standing in the aisle of your local grocery store, getting ready to be pissed because they have moved the fish sauce once again. Instead of the endless wandering the aisles in search you point Messenger at ScanCode and you ask: Where is the Fish Sauce?  And the response whether from a person or perhaps even an AI bot says: Aisle 10 half way down.

The client side is super easy, very fast and puts you in nearly instant “Messenger touch” with the business. They simply open Messenger, click on “people” and “scan code”. They instantly are put in touch with the business.

The business side is equally easy. It couldn’t be easier, they only have to take these simple steps:

1– Pop into their Facebook messages page and download their Scancode:

Screenshot 2016-04-14 13.45.41

Screenshot 2016-04-14 15.57.34

2– Post it in store (or use the URL on your website)

Feel free to ping me
Try it. Point Messenger at the above and feel free to ping me

3-Prepare a few canned responses in Settings/Messaging

Click to see more
Click to see more

4– Have a human and/or a bot monitor their messaging channel in Facebook.

And you have in place a customer channel that is already used by 900 million people monthly and growing. You have an app, Messenger, that is on nearly every phone, already used by most consumers and most businesses and a compelling need – creating an immediate connection between a customer and a  business.

I never thought that I would be saying this but it appears to me that QR Codes  (in the form of ScanCodes) might just have been salvaged from the bin of technological abandonment. What had been missing was the ready made platform with enough scale and purpose for this to work.

Its like Back to the Future time for QR codes… or maybe deja vue all over again.

 

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Will Facebook Salvage QR Codes from the Dustbin of Local Marketing History? by

13 thoughts on “Will Facebook Salvage QR Codes from the Dustbin of Local Marketing History?”

  1. Wow. I’ve fully expected Facebook to make in-store beacons the norm for a while now, for all the same reasons, but it makes sense they’d start with QR codes first.

    Now I’m interested which stores use it for actually helping their customers and which stores use it as a terrible bait and switch advertising platform.

    1. @Joe as I thought about use cases the more I thought about these codes having a role.

      Unlike QR codes of the past and to some extent beacons of the present, these are part of a communication platform (messenger) not an information platform (web or app). As such it leads to an answer either via human or someday a bot not just more information.

      This fact of “human answers to a consumer problem/question” means that the platform solves a two sided customer business need that is ever present.

      Whereas beacons and in the past traditional QR codes solve a one sided need of the business – how to market to or perhaps inform the consumer.

      Also as long as some business takes place in the physical world these codes can have a real impact on making customer support go more quickly or smoothly.

      Imagine a code on that confusing medical bill you just received in the mail. You point your phone at it and voila you are chatting with a billing person (or bot) and figuring it out.

      Or better on Christmas Day and your child opens a “some assembly required” gift and as you struggle to assemble and not appear stupid you scan the code and open a chat that saves the day.

      Even if someday beacons get integrated into a communication platform and they are pervasive in the US, these scancodes will still work in the many areas of the world where development is at a lower level. As long as you have a working cell phone you can be in touch with someone. That means putting the the current 2 billion people with smart phones in ready touch with the 125 million businesses.

      Imagine driving down a dirt road in the back country of Kenya and your Land Rover breaks down and the rear drive shaft falls off. You pull out the repair manual and start working (being the well prepared traveler) and start to fix it (true story by the way) and you need help. As long as your cell is charged you can still get in Messenger touch with a mechanic or the manufacturer for some guidance.

      Likewise in a very rural medical emergency.

      The more I think about this in the context of a communications platform with bots/APIs etc the more excited I get. The sharecode is just one level of interaction that works in a low tech world but can be replaced with more sophisticated inputs on the customer side as they evolve.

      Meanwhile the business can integrate Messenger with their existing support tools via the API and ultimately develop functional AI to compliment the whole thing.

      And if they are a business like most small business in the US without existing support tools they now have one.

  2. @Mike you make a lot of good points, and they made me realize how ScanCode’s branding and quality control could make or break its future.

    If I pulled out a Land Rover repair manual and saw a regular QR code, there would be no telling what it would do, unless it was clearly labeled. You could scan it and end up on the corporate site, the nearest dealer’s site, a knowledge base, or the download page for their own app that you’ll never use again. There’s no expectation of behavior or quality.

    Once its clear to consumers that these codes will open up Facebook Messenger, and *only* Facebook Messenger, then the game starts to change. If there’s little to no risk of loading a malicious URL or being immediately forwarded to a low quality sales page, then ScanCodes should have a much higher level of trust right out of the gate.

    Where it starts to get tricky is with how brands use (and abuse) these things. If Land Rover connects me to a pretty sophisticated bot first, and then passes me to a knowledgeable mechanic if the bot can’t handle it, that would be a pretty great experience. But what happens if Comcast’s ScanCode connects me to a laughably poor bot, and then to an outsourced support staff with an obvious language barrier where everybody’s paid on commission to upsell me on the next cable package? I probably won’t use their ScanCodes again, but what happens if every other brand does the exact same thing? Or what happens if most small businesses just use it in a cursory way, like answering every question with “live support is standing by – call 555-HELP today!” Will consumers be forced to keep track of which brands have good ScanCode support, will Facebook’s QA team police the system, or will consumers just abandon ScanCodes altogether?

    I’m a big believer that a brand can take over when consumers expect the product to work on the first try. Macs took over the PC laptop market because people expect less headaches from them. Natural language queries are on the rise because people expect Google and Siri to handle them relatively well. If Facebook wants ScanCodes to take over, they’ll have to make people believe that they’re in for a good experience more often than not. As it stands, I really don’t know how they’ll handle the businesses that misuse and abuse the platform – or if they even will.

    The other question is how they’ll handle data architecture. Who’s going to keep track of where your local grocery store moved the fish sauce? Hopefully some of that info can come directly from the store’s own inventory system, but what about soupy questions that require local staff or brilliant natural language processing, like “do you still carry that brand of fish sauce with the shrimp on the label?”

    For now we’re still living in a world where big brands have to hire outside experts just to see how badly they’ve screwed their Google Local data, so I’ll be pretty shocked when I can expect just about any location for any franchise to respond to questions in natural language about minor changes in their local inventory.

    All that being said, I can’t wait to see what IKEA does with it. Your “some assembly required” example already nailed the use case, which could eliminate one of their biggest negative brand perceptions (that their furniture takes a master’s degree to assemble.) But IKEA also is doing crazy things with customer engagement and technology right now (http://www.ikea.com/us/en/about_ikea/newsitem/040516_Virtual-Reality) which makes me think they could be the first company that really pushes ScanCodes to the limits.

  3. 1- But what happens if Comcast’s ScanCode connects me to a laughably poor bot, and then to an outsourced support staff with an obvious language barrier where everybody’s paid on commission to upsell me on the next cable package?

    Joe, no customer service system is going to make up for those creeps…. but customers don’t give up on all customer service just because comcast customer service is way below standard. Most continue to hope that the experience will be positive and keep trying until they find a company/product that works. And in the case of Comcast they could put their messenger scancode right on the cable box…. it couldn’t get any worse.

    2 once its clear to consumers that these codes will open up Facebook Messenger, and *only* Facebook Messenger, then the game starts to change.

    I agree totally.

    3- The other question is how they’ll handle data architecture. Who’s going to keep track of where your local grocery store moved the fish sauce?

    Right, we have yet to see how the AI bot ingests that sort of data needed to run in that domain. Ideally it can take a simple spreadsheet, be trained by a human and then make a go of it with a weekly upload of locations.

    4- I’ll be pretty shocked when I can expect just about any location for any franchise to respond to questions in natural language about minor changes in their local inventory.

    I would agree that this use case is unlikely unless the franchisor has a great, central system in place and the messaging can easily flow from bot, to corporate and then down to a local person in a seamless way.

    Facebook though was smart in getting Messenger the app off the ground first, making sure enough businesses were listening second (they have been nagging businesses to listen and improve) and then, finally providing an end to platfom that scales from mom and pop up to the big guys…

    As it stands now though its a good solution for many small businesses right out of the box as many are already communicating with their clients through their Facebook messaging feed already and this gives them more capability. It will certainly be useful in the low tech areas of the world. Whether it becomes THE customer service platform, is as you point out, dependent on a lot of moving pieces that may or may not align.

  4. Customers don’t give up on all customer service just because comcast customer service is way below standard

    Definitely not, but I think they can and do give up on approaches to customer service. I’d argue that people have largely given up on international call centers and long phone menus, as much as they can, because we’ve all had bad experiences with them. When I hear a long list of menu options or an extremely strong accent, I brace for the worst or immediately start working on plan B. Even if it ultimately goes well, I might just chalk it up as a fluke.

    I’m just saying that using ScanCodes for customer service could turn into a joke if most small businesses approach it like they approach, say, Twitter.

    Ideally it can take a simple spreadsheet, be trained by a human and then make a go of it with a weekly upload of locations.

    Actually, human assisted machine learning could be the long term answer here. Good point.

    Facebook though was smart in getting Messenger the app off the ground first…

    100% agreed. Microsoft put solitaire on Windows back in the day to teach people how to drag and drop, because they realized getting people comfortable with the platform would get people using it. Facebook has taken the same approach to messenger (along with a lot of other pieces of their platform) which I think gives them a ton of potential for future growth.

  5. Snapchat brought back QR codes to years ago for people to share on cards etc, so Facebook is just copying them.

  6. Thanks Mike. So Location pages can have their own codes? Any Admin reporting (ie: Parent rollup reporting of children)? Do u think there will be add ons, plugins, etc from 3rd party devs? Ie; is this a platform approach by Facebook?

  7. @paul
    The use of any code whether by Snapchat or Facebook is obviously derivative. What is unique in this context is that it is part of a full on platform that scales from the smallest shop in most rural Africa on up to the biggest, technologically hip shop in the US.

  8. @Brian
    Correct every page or person can have their own unique code .

    I do not know of any roll up reports.

    I do think that there will be AI based add ons that are domain specific. If you reference the grocery store idea above, it makes sense for one developer to create the AI bot that responds and that each grocery store then upload their own data for example.

    It is a full on platform that scales well as a CRM for anyone from the smallest to biggest. With its API it could be intergrated further into existing support platforms.

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