RFID at Your Service

RFID systems can be used to greatly improve customer service, if companies could get past their fears of bad press.
Published: July 31, 2006

I was doing an interview with a radio station in Ontario, Canada, last week. First question the host asks is: “So RFID is mainly for tracking people, but now Wal-Mart is starting to use it in its supply chain, right?”

I said no and began to explain the many uses of RFID—electronic payments, security, authentication, access control and so on. One of the great things about RFID is that it can be used in so many different ways, but that can also be a problem. Why? Because its to get businesspeople to understand just how many different ways RFID can be used. And it will be hard to get consumers to understand that RFID could be used to improve their lifestyles in many different ways.

I love the story we posted last week on the car dealership in California using RFID-enabled lock boxes to make it easier to track keys for test drive vehicles (see Car Dealership Finds RFID the Key to Increased Sales). By putting car keys in lock boxes attached to the cars, salespeople don’t have to walk back inside the office to retrieve keys. They can spend more time with the customer and the dealership can better track who has which test drive vehicle out at any given time. The system increased sales and security at the same time.

There might come a day when companies discover the big return on investment in RFID systems is in increased sales and improved customer satisfaction. Mobil pioneered the use of RFID for faster transaction when it introduced Speedpass in 1997. But it’s not just faster payments. RFID tags can be used to store customer preferences for faster service when used as part of an opt-in loyalty program. For instance, I rent cars a lot and each time I go to a new outlet of my preferred rental car firm they need to type in my preferences all over again. If these aren’t easily accessible from a central database, they could be stored on an RFID tag.

Prada pioneered the idea of having real-time access to inventory in the back of its stores using RFID, which I still think is a great idea. The store associate never leaves the customer’s side to go look whether this particular item is available in the requested sizes and colors. He or she simply reads the RFID tag on the item and calls up the current inventory status, which is displayed on a touch screen. More time with the customer means better service and more sales.

Many retailers are concerned about bad press if they introduce RFID in a consumer setting. That’s sad because there really are a lot of opportunities to use RFID to improve customer service. With the right security precautions and privacy policies, RFID can be a real asset when serving customers.