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Locating customers for service

September 14, 2013

LBS (Location based services) have been touted for the past couple of years as a significant customer service enhancement tool with companies like Foursquare often grabbing headlines about their initiatives in this area. While the emphasis has been on building up a repository of adherents via a "check-in" based system, a recent Pew research report  suggests a changing of tack by the established players in the field and hints at the varied opportunities that may lie ahead for marketers.

The foregoing report by appears to underscore the growing importance of LBS and notes that "smartphones have brought real-time location data into many aspects of Americans’ lives. Some mobile services use the smartphone’s location to offer directions, targeted recommendations, or other location-specific information to the user. Other services incorporate a location “layer” into other types of functions, while still others exist specifically to share the user’s location with friends or the general public." 

Heretofore, Pew's surveys "tracked two types of location-based services: those that use people’s whereabouts to provide location-targeted information and geosocial services that let users “check in” to certain locations or share their location with friends."   However, an amalgamation of those aspects and a de-emphasis on "check-ins" has led to the focus shifting to influencing customer thinking based on their location.

Besides the somewhat self-evident opportunities present for in-store (whether retail or restaurant) sales these GPS enabled platforms, which includes many social-media sites including Facebook, present a window of opportunity into the future for operational efficiencies. For instance, it is hard not to envisage a day in the not too distant future when customers proximity or not to the service provider results in optimal allocation of resources such as staffing and materiel.  Apart from optimizing services the potential for cost savings is considerable.

Examples of the foregoing could include the airline industry, where carriers could start offering seats to standby passengers who clearly are not in the vicinity of the gate and enable on-time boarding, thereby saving fuel. Hotels could sell rooms on sell-out nights knowing that a no-show really will be one and restaurants, most of whom have even less leverage than hotels for billing no-shows,  could cease holding tables for customers who are nowhere in "sight"; the presumption in all cases being that customers sign on to a platform that enables tracking. Privacy issues, always at the forefront of customers and many organizations, as pointed out by another Pew study, are no more than what currently prevails  even if it ends up being an unsatisfactory acceptance of the reality of the internet era. In the end, the potential gains in customer service and productivity likely will outweigh those concerns.

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