Commentary

The Physical Restraints on the Mobile World

There’s still some serious distance between the mobile and the physical worlds.

On a recent trip through Dallas, I experienced yet another disheartening disconnect.

As background, I must confess that I’m a diehard check-in user of Foursquare and have been since the app launched a few years back.

I used to get a charge out of earning a new badge for hitting a certain number of check-ins within a category, like road warrior kudos for passing through so many airports within a designated timeframe.

As the app has evolved into more of a local exploration and finding engine, so has my usage. I still catch the check-ins of my friends and family members who also still use it but it also acts as a personal, historical travel guide.

Since I travel a lot, the app serves as a permanent cookie crumb holder of places I’ve been. On a second visit to a particular city or country, I can easily review the specific places I checked in, like a coffee shop or restaurant, as a reminder of where to go (or not) again.

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But this is not about Foursquare. It’s about the disconnect between worlds.

On a recent trip through Dallas, I checked in (both at the front desk and through Foursquare) at the Hilton Dallas Fort Worth Lakes Executive Conference Center, about 15 minutes from the airport.

I had stayed there before and Foursquare knew that, even if the person at the front desk didn’t.

The next day, I had to catch an early flight, so I headed down to the lobby for the hotel shuttle to the airport. I arrived at 6:15 a.m. and was informed the shuttle would leave at 6:30 a.m.

On my Foursquare check in that day, I received a “Loyalty Special” offering me a free buffet breakfast for my multiple check-ins at that hotel. “Thank you Hilton and Foursquare,” I thought.

With time for a quick bite before several hours of flying, I headed to the restaurant. Here's how it went:

6:16 a.m. “Hello, may I seat you?”

 “Yes, thank you. I have a coupon for the buffet.” (I showed her my phone screen with the coupon.)

 “I don’t know what that is.”

 “It’s a coupon for the buffet breakfast, on Foursquare.”

 “I don’t know what that is.”

6:17 a.m. “Have you heard of Foursquare? Someone at your hotel created this deal with them.”

 “I don’t know what that is. I’ll go ask my manager.”

6:19 a.m. “My manager said to take it to the front desk.”

 “But that defeats the purpose of the coupon on the phone. Look, it says right here on the coupon “Share this Special with Your Server to Redeem.”

 “Let me go ask my manager again.”

6:22 a.m. “My manager said if you take it to the front desk, they can give you a coupon for the breakfast.”

 “But this is a coupon.”

 “We can’t take that kind of coupon. You need the one from the front desk.”

 “May I speak with your manager? Is it the hotel manager or the restaurant manager?”

 “Oh, it’s the restaurant manager. I’ll go get her.”

6:24 a.m. “I told my manager and she will be coming.”

6:26 a.m. “Do you know when your manager will be coming?”

 “I’ll call her again.”

6:27 a.m. “Hello, I’m the manager. Can I help you?”

 “Yes, have you heard of Foursquare?”

 “Yes.” (“Success,” I am thinking)

6:28 a.m. “I have this loyalty coupon for a free buffet breakfast, see it on the screen?”

 “Yes, you have to take it to the front desk to get a coupon.”

 “Look, it says right here: Share this Special with Your Server to Redeem.”

 “Yes, but you have to take it to the front desk to get a coupon.”

 “But that sort of defeats the purpose of this coupon on the screen, doesn’t it?”

6:29 a.m. “I can go with you to the front desk, if you want.”

 “No, but thank you. I no longer have time for breakfast. I have to catch the shuttle to the airport.”

11 comments about "The Physical Restraints on the Mobile World".
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  1. Ian Beacraft from Arc Worldwide / Leo Burnett, August 22, 2013 at 1:35 p.m.

    It's maddening how often scenarios like this play out. No matter how interesting the technology (and I'd argue there's still a lot of room for Foursquare to mature) the biggest bottle neck is always people - in this case I'd look past the server and manager and look at their marketing and management teams. Why wasn't there education around their marketing initiatives? Why didn't they think through what the experience looks like for the consumer? Why didn't they look past the tactic itself to see how this effects the overall experience? I think this is the problem a lot of marketers have when working with multiple digital and mobile channels - they lose sight of the bigger picture and drop the ball on the customer experience. Tactics do not a strategy make.

  2. Brian Hayashi from ConnectMe 360, August 22, 2013 at 1:48 p.m.

    Years ago, I created the first national network of search engines for traditional malls. One of the first things we found out was that the #1 source of frustration was to be told that a store was open, and when the shopper got there, to find out it was actually closed. The lesson was that integration between online and offline takes sustained effort: as I read your article, it was equally easy to imagine that the restaurant had stopped offering a buffet as it was to think that the restaurant simply stopped honoring the offer. Someone -- I'm looking at you, Foursquare -- should take the effort to make sure the deals are current, period. I have to believe that this disconnect is a major driver behind Foursquare's decline.

  3. Kern Lewis from GrowthFocus, Inc., August 22, 2013 at 2:05 p.m.

    This disconnect is not new. Years ago (and Brian I mean decades back), when we young marketers at American Express wanted to roll out cooperative offers with our merchant partners, the hardest part was always making sure both Amex and merchant customer service reps understood the deal and could deliver on it without having to pass the cardmembers on to their supervisors. Physical POS and phone were the only channels to worry about back then, yet it still seemed so hard to keep the cats corralled!

  4. Pete Neumann from Findology Interactive Media, August 22, 2013 at 2:51 p.m.

    Fun story....about how stubbornness cost someone a free breakfast.

  5. Chuck Martin from Chuck Martin, August 22, 2013 at 3:43 p.m.

    Very great points, Ian, thanks. This is exactly the kind of issue we see repeatedly at retail.

  6. Chuck Martin from Chuck Martin, August 22, 2013 at 3:46 p.m.

    Thanks Bryan. In this case not only was the buffet very open, there were only a few people in the restaurant (it was pretty early in the day). But your point is well taken.

  7. Chuck Martin from Chuck Martin, August 22, 2013 at 3:48 p.m.

    I guess you could look at it that way, Pete, though I was more interested in researching the mobile offer linkage to the customer experience. I could have easily just paid for the breakfast.

  8. Chuck Martin from Chuck Martin, August 22, 2013 at 3:49 p.m.

    Right, Karen, this is an age-old problem, now exacerbated by mobile. Will be interesting to see how this gets mastered by various businesses.

  9. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 22, 2013 at 8:46 p.m.

    Retail personal training costs and retailers do not like to pay especially since the turnover is quite high. So this is not a communications problem, it is a management problem probably at a higher pay level than at retail location level, maybe even at a regional level. It is deeper than mobile or 4square.

  10. David Carlick from Carlick, August 22, 2013 at 8:47 p.m.

    Funny story. Not so mobile-centric, but have you noticed the difference in checking into hotels that you have booked online through brokers like Hotels.com over the last decade? Used to be much like your FourSquare experience -- systems not talking. Now, seamless.

  11. Chuck Martin from Chuck Martin, August 22, 2013 at 8:52 p.m.

    Thanks, Dave. I actually could see it coming as soon as I showed the person the screen shot. Maybe that's where this will all lead, eventually, as you described. One can hope. Thanks for the comment.

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