Friday, February 25, 2011

Solving the Mobile Payment Problem

I don’t know about you but the idea of transmitting my credit card data from my smartphone to a receiver in order to avoid using my credit cards does not sound like a good idea. I know about the encryption and all the steps to secure the transmission but I still have a big concern about someone snagging the information.

That said, I like the idea of being able to use my smartphone to pay for purchases at any checkout counter. Seems to me the technology to do this already exists to a very large degree and is quite secure.

Let me see if I have the requirements correct. Each credit card needs to be able to be uniquely presented in an electronic form. Some proof of ownership needs to be provided such that no one else but the phone’s owner can access the credit card info. The merchant needs assurances that the electronic card being presented is valid. Impact on the existing infrastructure needs to be minimized as many merchants cannot afford to replace existing cash registers. I think that about sums it up.

My idea to solve this problem involves barcodes. To be specific, 2-dimensional barcodes. Imagine approaching the checkout counter of your local supermarket or department store. The clerk scans all your items reading the UPC barcodes affixed to each item. Once all items have been scanned, the clerk tells you the total and asks what form of payment you would like to use. Out comes the smartphone and a credit card locker application is opened. The desired credit card is selected, the appropriate password is entered and a barcode is displayed on the screen of the smartphone. This barcode is then scanned by the merchant’s scanner and all the necessary credit card information is identified. The merchant then looks at the small photo accompanying the barcode to verify that the person presenting the barcode is the same as the person in the picture. The transaction is then continued as normal.

The beauty of this model is that there is no transmission of data to worry about. The barcode is password protected on the smartphone and the photo, programmatically connected to the barcode, provides verification of the validity of the customer. Most smartphones have screens of sufficient size that both the barcode and the photo can fit on the screen at the same time. The customer can create as many different credit cards for their “locker” as they desire so there is no limitation nor waiting for the bank to issue any sort of special codes. The scanners that most merchants use today are able to read barcodes other than UPC codes once they have been updated through software.

So what would it take for this idea to come to life? IBM and NCR agreeing to an encoding standard for the barcode along with the necessary software updates to their current equipment. Once this defacto barcode standard is published for all to adopt, the only thing left is for the smartphone app vendors to build “lockers” in which to create and store the barcode info. I would guess the entire process would take less than 12 months to develop and deploy.

Keep in mind that some airlines already accept electronic, barcode-based boarding passes that have been sent to the customer’s smartphone prior to being scanned by a gate agent at the airport. All I want to see is the same type of technology to be applied to my credit cards.

So what do you think? What functionality have I missed? What security issues are not addressed that would cause you concern? If you were a merchant, would you want more assurances before accepting a smartphone-based barcode? Post a comment NOW and let’s see where this can go.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Making Every Contact Center Resource a High Performer

Today, contact centers around the world are spending hundreds of millions every year in an effort to measure the performance of their employees. Quality Monitoring (QM), Infomarts, Datamarts, Key Performance Indicator (KPI) tracking and Speech Analytics are just some of the forms and names representing these products. Without these types of reports, managing the contact center staff would be quite a challenge.

Sadly, most companies have no idea that all of the investments they have made to produce performance reports only tell half the story. Companies all over the world are making decisions today based on having only 50% of the available information. Why is that?

We have just seen the Super Bowl between the Jets and the Packers. Imagine you are the coach of the Packers. You keep detailed stats about each and every play in every game and practice session. At the end of any game, you compile all the play statistics and look at how each player performed. Businesses collect much of the same type of “performance” data each and every day about their “players”.

Major sports teams know, however, that the performance reports are just the beginning of the analysis process. The successful sports teams take the performance reports at the end of each game and develop training plans for each player in order that they correct their “errors” before the next game. A continuous performance feedback process is a vital part of every successful team. Every contact center needs to adopt this strategy; convert the performance results into an actionable training program.

The Skills Assessor product from Silver Lining Solutions is a unique product designed to take the performance measurement results and combine them with the results of knowledge measurement or assessment tests to create a complete picture of each contact center resource. That’s the missing 50% -- connecting the performance measurement tools to a set of knowledge measurement tools and then locate all the correlations that exist between the 2.

Just as each position on the football field requires specific skills, so too do the various tasks in the contact center. Want to know the skill requirements needed to make the ideal quarterback, wide receiver or nose tackle? The coaching staff know and they drill and drill their players in order that every player is the best they can be at their position. Contact centers need to do the same.

Silver Lining refers to this skills requirement as “Skills DNA”. Using the Skills Analysis tool included with Skills Assessor, the ideal skill set, or Skills DNA, for each task can be formulated, compared to the measured skills of all the current staff and validated by the performance results. Contact center agents coming up short in the measurement of their performance can quickly be identified and scheduled for additional training so that they too can be the best at their position.

Skills Assessor is the tool to tell you why the high performers are high performers and what to do to bring the rest of the staff up to that performance level. Skills Assessor is the tool for the Enterprise to build a world class customer service delivery model with high performers in every position.

So how many high performers do you have in your company? Isn’t it time to add knowledge measurement to your existing performance measurement systems? Without both measurement systems, high performers are more accidental than predictable. Do you want to operate your business by accident?

For more information about Skills Assessor from Silver Lining Solutions, visit their web site: SIlver Lining Solutions

Friday, February 04, 2011

20 Years of Electronic Calendars and Time Zone Shifts are Still a Problem

Maybe it’s the wave of new technology that has me bothered or maybe it’s the real lack of innovation that seems to be largely ignored or maybe it’s something else. All I know is that I still cannot put appointments into my Outlook calendar, travel across the country, change my time zone and have the appointments stay where I put them.

Now I know many of you will tell me that there are ways to tag an appt with the time zone so that when I shift the Windows setting, the appointment ends up in the right spot. I know all about that. The problem is that when I am in Oregon and planning meetings in various cities during a week long trip around the US, I do not want to think about which time zone is involved. I know I will be in New York on a specific day and my meeting is at 10:00am. Why can’t I put the meeting in my calendar for 10:00am and have it stay there? For 20+ years, no one has solved this really simple problem.

It is so simple, if I had the money to build and market an Outlook replacement, I would patent my idea. The solution takes a single bit. That’s right. A single bit that is either a 1 or a 0. The bit is the TZTrack bit. If an appointment when entered into my calendar needs to hold its position regardless of time zone changes, I set the bit to 0. If I want the appt to track the time zone, I set the bit to 1. In the user options page, the user is given an option to set the default for this bit so that only exceptions involve changing this bit.

The beauty of this idea occurs when I arrive in NYC from Oregon. I change the time zone for my laptop and smartphone (what an ironic name considering how stupid they are but I digress). When Outpost, my name for the really useful e-mail/calendaring program, recognizes the time change, only those appointments with the TZTrack bit set to 1 shift. Conference calls for example need to shift automatically. Meetings I have set are left alone as the TZTrack bit is not set. All I have been able to do with both my phone and computer is change the time leaving the time zone alone. Yes, I know that means manually changing the conference calls but there are fewer of them than the meetings so less work wins.

So how hard would it be for someone to add a single bit of data to each calendar item along with some simple logic to examine the TZTrack bit before shifting appointments en mass? Yeah, I know. “Pretty simple but there are bigger issues that need addressing.”

I do not know how to reach the iCal standards board but I would happily switch to Thunderbird from Mozilla if they were to adopt the TZTrack bit idea. Hell, I’ll forgo seeking a patent on the idea if someone will build an MS Outlook add-in that provides this feature. I’d ask Steve Ballmer to do it but he is too busy trying to figure out why Windows Phone 7 doesn’t do half of what Windows Mobile 5 does including Cut & Paste.

In the meantime, if you know how to configure stand-alone Outlook 2007 to not move appointments when I change time zones, I am all ears.