"The car won't start," my wife calls in during a torrential downpour last night. Thankfully, it stalled as she was pulling out of a convenience store/gas station, so she was safely parked. The husbandly reflex kicks in. "I will be right there." I haven’t a clue why that was going to help. I know as much about cars as I do about sports, which is nil. My wife actually does know more about cars than I do. But here I go into the sheets of rain.
Worse, I had already provisioned her for this very circumstance. I got her a smartphone for emergencies and she has an AAA card as well. But I forget all of this until I am already damp to the knees. Didn’t I buy into a solution for this very problem? I thought I had already purchased gallantry in the form of a cell phone and emergency pick-up service. What good is all this technology if it doesn’t get me out of situations like this anyway?
Frankly, I don’t even bother with the empty ritual of popping a car hood when something goes wrong with a car. Unless there is a green alien goblin in there eating the engine, I already know I have no idea what I would be looking at. And I learned much more from "Ghostbusters" about leveling a dimension-crossing Slimer than I know about a car. The manly thing to do nowadays is to whip out the cell phone and call AAA for the damsel in distress. I try to dial as suavely as I know how.
The point of this rescue tale is the superb mobile experience I got from AAA. What was remarkable about the interaction was their sophisticated use of the very mobile technology they knew most of their emergency roadside assistance callers would likely be using. Before I even got to a person, the call-in system was geolocating me to determine in which region I likely needed help. The live operator -- who clearly was trained in talking people down from panic -- got our coordinates and then asked permission to communicate with me via SMS. They gave me a case number if I had to call back, which of course few people ever write down. But this case number was in the SMS, which she sent to me while we still were on the phone. Best of all, once this texting channel had been opened she told me that I would get an SMS alert when the service truck was close to us.
None of these pieces is hard to do or even extraordinary. What impressed me about the process, including the live operator managing it all, was how AAA already understood how most people are leaning on their mobile devices and how they slipped so neatly into the mobile habits I had already established and the natural uses of mobile technology in this situation.
The point is -- they got my mobile life.
The mantra of 2012 was that consumers are ahead of media and marketing when it comes to device usage. From in-store shopping to tweeting about TV shows, consumers were discovering how best to weave the phone into their everyday lives. Marketers on the whole were playing catch-up. The mobile device is so intimate in such unprecedented ways that its adoption has been peculiar. From the adoption of SMS itself (which wasn’t even invented for consumer use) to ringtone fever and wallpapering home screens, this has long been the case. So when a brand intercepts the consumer in the midst of his or her own adoption curve with the technology, there is a shock of recognition and appreciation. They understand how I am using these things.
We have talked a good line for years about how "personal" mobile devices are, but I am not always sure how seriously -- even literally -- we took “personal” to mean. So far we have talked more about how to be of “service” to the mobile user, how to avoid being “interruptive” on an intimate device -- essentially how not to act like marketers. All of this is well and good. But I don’t think we fully appreciate yet just how different this device is from the “media” that preceded it. In fact, treating smartphones like media is itself a misfire because that captures such a small piece of how we relate to the devices.
AAA made a connection with this customer because it didn’t just “go mobile” -- it actually “got” mobile. It understood even better than I did how my phone could best be used in this situation. It took the opportunity to make me feel even more secure about their brand -- their service -- by their competent use of the technology. This was not a touchy-feely connection, although the human operator played a part. Much of the connection was made simply by watching the technology all work seamlessly and sensibly with the device I had in hand.