Shell’s big QR code experiment

Shell QR code

When I called in to a Shell station in Reading on Saturday to fill up my car with fuel, I noticed this banner attached to the side of the pump I was using.

“Fill up and go here with our speedy payment service,” it says. “Powered by PayPal.” And there’s a big QR code in the middle of the sign.

It’s called Fill Up And Go and the usage idea is simple:

You’ll be able to use it through the Shell Motorist App. Select a pump on the forecourt, enter the maximum amount you wish to spend, then scan the QR code or punch in the ID number at your pump, all from inside your car. The App then releases the pump for use and you can then fill up and go. When you’ve finished, a receipt will be automatically sent to your phone.

As it says, you use it with the Shell Motorist app for iOS or Android plus a PayPal account, the only payment method you can use. Shell says you can also use PayPal’s mobile app to pay for your fuel purchase. There is a transaction range: £20 minimum, up to £150 maximum (with the price of fuel these days, that maximum doesn’t seem too low).

Station LocatorShell announced this new service earlier this year, saying it was being tested and would roll out later in the year. Shell says it’s the first fuel retailer to offer such a service across the UK. The Shell station in Reading where I saw the banner is one I use pretty regularly, with my last visit about ten days ago. So the sign has appeared within the past week.

I’ve been using the Shell Motorist app for some time – to track loyalty points and see offers, etc – but hadn’t noticed reference to this new service until I looked for it.

And the app does mention it, with the Shell station locator map for my immediate area showing a station not far from my house that is participating in it. So that’s my destination when I need to fill up again, probably within a week or so.

I want to try it out, to see if it is a convenient and easy way to pay for fuel as Shell expects it to be. When it comes down to it, that’s what it has to be – convenient and easy – for it to gain consumer acceptance, especially when it comes to a technology like QR codes that you can’t say has had a warm reception, never mind gained universal consumer acceptance.

Much of the criticism is about how QR codes are presented by those who implement them, often in ways that are simply lame or even mind boggling. But there are great examples of imagination alongside the mistakes (some of the latter potentially brand-damaging such as what happened to Heinz recently).

In the case of Shell’s QR code experiment, I think it’s imaginative and likely to appeal to people who want greater convenience and ease of use when performing a task as mundane as filling up your car with fuel. No more walking over to a cashier and offering a card for payment, or fiddling with a pay-at-the-pump card system (although I can’t recall seeing one of those at a Shell station) – with the new Shell service, you just complete the transaction with your smartphone whilst sitting comfortably in your car.

Use of mobile devices is prohibited on most petrol station forecourts in the UK. But using this new Shell service should be dead easy from the driver’s seat. Then you get out of the car to fill your tank, get back in the car and drive away when done, with the payment receipt automatically sent to your phone.

I wonder how it could evolve in future. Maybe petrol stations could revert to the service ethic of yore when you had someone who came out to fill your tank while you stayed in your car. You’d add perhaps 10 percent to the cost as a service charge. A small price to pay for the convenience and comfort. Could be quite a service differentiator.

Perhaps something along the lines of what Shell reportedly started offering a few years ago.

shell-forecourt-service

But first things first. I’m looking forward to trying it and adding it to my list of imaginative uses of QR codes, not to the lame list.

Story-telling the intranet

Congratulations!

Sometimes, the workplace of the late 1990s seems to me a little like today rather than over 16-18 years ago when I think of disruption and change driven largely by developments in technology. I say ‘largely’ as shifts in people’s behaviours also play a huge role in workplace disruption and change, as do corporate and national cultures, attitudes and leadership.

Disruption and change are not only about technology.

Such thoughts came to front of mind this weekend when a major sort out in the home office turned up a pile of business and tech journals from the latter part of the 1990s including a copy of Conspectus magazine from January 1998 that contains a feature article I had written in the autumn of 1997 about the roles, impact and potential of intranets in the corporate workplace, with a focus on self-service employee benefits management.

The late 1990s was a time when an intranet was still, relatively, an embryonic communication and functional tool in most organizations, never mind the notion of employee self-service. Those that were developing intranets tended to be large organizations with budgets and the willingness to travel new roads. While many intranets of that era were a great deal about employee communication – and more often than not, owned and run by the IT department – quite a few organizations were investing in the development of functional intranets that offered self-service opportunities for employees in things like employee benefits enrolment and management.

A little like what we see all around us today with social media, internal social networks and of course highly-evolved intranets (take a look at today’s intranet from companies like Igloo Software, for instance – utterly unlike what you’d have seen in 1998).

At that time, I worked for William M. Mercer in the UK and part of my job was to help multinational and large-national clients see what tech was coming to the workplace and how we could help them prepare for it. (Even then, as a consultant I always looked on the bright side.) And so I wrote my piece for Conspectus with a predictive short story as the scene-setting introduction to a topic that many people were writing about at that time.

I figured as everyone else was writing pretty dry stuff about intranets focused on the technology in the here and now (then), let’s look at what is very likely in the near future where the forthcoming new millennium was capturing many imaginations (mainly worries about the potential imagined effects of Y2K), and write a story.

While it does seem a bit Space: 1999-ish even to me reading it today – I may well have been influenced by that 1970s sci-fi TV series – it does contain some realistic predictions of what we have today: ubiquitous workplace video-calling and touch screens, for instance, as well as attitude.

Here is that short story; see what you think:

Monday December 6th, 1999. Time: 8:10am. Elliott Green, human resources manager, arrives at his desk and puts his laptop down. It rings. Cursing mildly, he opens it up and fumbles in his pocket for his ID card.

The laptop rings again as Elliott slips the card into it and watches the screen light up to display a request to confirm his password. The computer rings once more as he keys in the password. A dialogue appears saying “Incoming Call from Marie Page.”

He touches the “Accept Call” button on the screen; up comes a live video picture of Paige, the human resources director. Her name and the legend “Encrypted – Secure Call” appear beneath the image.

“Hi Elliott, good to see you. Hope I’ve not caught you at a bad time?”

“Good morning, Marie. No, not at all,” replies Elliott. “Go ahead.”

“Ok, I just wanted to remind you that the new secure employee-access module of the interactive flexible benefits system goes online today. I’ll be at the consultants’ till early afternoon, so would you make sure that the announcement to everyone goes out at 11 as we agree?”

Smiling, Elliott says, “No problem, I’ve taken care of it.”

“That’s great, thanks,” says Marie.

“By the way, the results from the final pilot test are excellent. I’ve put the video-doc report in our private message area on the server. If you want, you can listen to a quick overview on the audio-call system. Just dial star-789 and follow the voice prompts.”

“Ok, thanks, see you later,” says Elliott, and disconnects.

Elliott touches the “Access System” button in one corner of his screen. It expands into a display of icons, buttons and message listings. Scanning the screen, he quickly sees the button he wants: “The Employee Source.”

As he touches it, he recalls the meeting, two years before, when the idea of fully automating the company’s HR information structure throughout the whole global organization had first been mooted.

No-one believed we’d do it by the new millennium, he reflects: all of it, linking HR databases in 20 countries that employees can access as well, from wherever they are.

That set the scene for the case I made in the overall article for building an intranet and the role it plays in employee communication, engagement and employee self-service in benefits management (the latter a pretty new concept at that time).

A sidebar in the article outlines important considerations from the point of view of a communicator. Written in 1997, I think they’re still valid today, whether for an employee benefits website as the article discusses or for almost any other employee resource where access to and content from is via a digital network:

Six Steps to an Employee Benefits Website

  • Build your sound business case. No matter how good your idea seems, it must show clear financial advantages and demonstrate how it will help achieve your company’s overall business objectives.
  • Involve the IT department (1). Your IT colleagues can be the most valuable ally within your organization if you discuss your ideas with them at the outset of your planning.
  • Involve the IT department (2). The planning and operation of an employee benefits website is very much an IT issue; the design and content is broadly your issue. Recognise that your website will likely be successful when developed as a joint project.
  • Get people’s opinions. Ask employees what they’d like to see on the website. Ask a few rungs above and below you on the management ladder. Consider all the views. Identify the stakeholders. Keep everyone informed of what you;re doing.
  • Be clear about design and content. Above all, your website is a communication channel – it must attract, interest and stimulate visitors into the desired action. Don’t short-change on the “look and feel.”
  • Talk to your external consultants. Find out what other organizations are doing – what tips and tricks you can learn, and how to avoid the pitfalls.

You can see the complete article as it appeared in Conspectus in January 1998 in a scan from the journal as a Scribd document, embedded below. Look out for two screenshots showing an HR intranet via Internet Explorer 4 and the Netscape Navigator browser (remember that?) in Netscape Communicator 4, the versions in use in late 1997.

Much has changed. Yet not much has changed.

Key to the Virtual Door by Neville Hobson

How ready are you for #Mobilegeddon ?

Tuesday April 21, 2015 – that’s tomorrow – is a date that will mark a milestone of sorts for any business with a website on the public world wide web.

It’s the day when a company like Legal and General Group will start to see its ranking in Google search results begin to be influenced by how friendly its website is when viewed on a mobile device rather than on a desktop or laptop computer.

Unfortunately for Legal and General, their website is not very friendly at all. Here’s what it looks like on my Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone running the Android operating system:

Legal & General website as seen on a smartphone

It’s the regular desktop website formatted for how it would appear when you visit on a desktop computer and interact with a mouse, but squeezed into the small screen of a smartphone where taps and swipes with fingers rule the roost, not clicks with a mouse. And note you’re seeing a screenshot that shows the website considerably larger than actual size on the smartphone screen.

It’s not a good experience on my phone or on an iPhone or iPad; indeed, on any contemporary mobile device, all of which are increasing in use and have already overtaken the use of PCs.

Legal and General is the first company in the FTSE 100 that I picked at random to look at its website on my mobile device. Others, too, that are not yet mobile-friendly – Intercontinental Hotels Group and BHP Billiton, to name just two more.

What will start to happen now to companies like these is that when someone searches for them on a mobile device, the search results will decrease if your website is not mobile friendly.

Google search results have already begun indicating if a particular site is mobile friendly or not, as this screenshot shows for my website:

nevillehobsonmobilefriendly

Google recognises my site as mobile friendly – note the phrase “mobile-friendly” that I’ve highlighted in the screenshot. It has been mobile friendly for well over four years.

Google flagged this deadline in February:

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.

The bold is my emphasis.

It really is extraordinary that any business with a website hasn’t paid attention to a huge trend that’s been gathering momentum for some years now – the growth of the mobile internet and the eclipse of the desktop.

Some – many – of the FTSE 100 are ready for mobile. The first company I found that is, is Antofagasta, a Chile-based copper mining company which also has the “mobile-friendly” label against its name in a Google mobile search.

Antofagasta mobile-friendly website

It’s not too late to get your website seen as mobile-friendly by Google when anyone searches for you on a mobile device. Google has free tools you can use, starting with its Mobile-Friendly Test Tool that will analyse your site and tell you in some detail whether it’s mobile-friendly or not. If not, it will give you useful insights and guidance on what to do about it.

If your website runs any recent version of the WordPress content management system, you have the opportunity to get your site mobile friendly very quickly via responsive design themes readily available for the platform, many available at no cost.

While the deadline is tomorrow, it doesn’t mean the sky will suddenly and immediately fall in when someone finds your mobile-unfriendly website in a Google mobile search. But it looks quite clear that Google will penalize you over time, so making your website mobile-friendly just seems like good sense.

You can avoid #Mobilegeddon!

Useful reading:

Sprinklr gets satisfaction

Get Satisfaction

It looks like the $46 million that Sprinklr raised from investors earlier this month is powering the enterprise social media firm’s expansion drive with its announcement last week that it has acquired Get Satisfaction, an online customer engagement community platform connecting companies with their customers to foster valuable relationships.

This is Sprinklr’s fifth acquisition in just over a year.

In its press release, Sprinklr said the addition of Get Satisfaction adds industry-leading, community-based customer support to its Experience Cloud and will enable enterprise brands to create, manage, and deliver relevant experiences across almost 25 social channels and brand websites.

Sprinklr said it will integrate Get Satisfaction into its Experience Cloud, the new platform announced in tandem with the $46 million investment-raising – what I described as an “omnichannel offering” – that gives enterprise companies a complete, integrated, and collaborative set of social capabilities for managing social media, brand websites, content, paid advertising, and listening.

Sprinklr CEO Ragy Thomas noted in an email:

The addition of Get Satisfaction to the Sprinklr Experience Cloud enables our clients to deliver world class community-based customer support, while leveraging the same  practices and processes they use for social customer care with Sprinklr today.

When all is said and done, our clients can create, manage, and deliver experiences that customers will love across 20+ social networks and brands’ websites.

One aspect of this deal that strikes me as especially significant is what it provides to Sprinklr in terms of access to and control of customer data and metrics for social media monitoring and analysis.

Access to data from a social network is typically via an API controlled by the network. If it’s shut down, or access otherwise is no longer allowed, the data flow stops which could be damaging to a business that relies on it for its service. A current case in point is Datasift and Twitter (and see the discussion in Robert Scoble’s Facebook post).

As TechCrunch reported:

[…] This is where Get Satisfaction becomes an interesting acquisition for Sprinklr. What it will give the company is the ability to collect data from customers, about businesses and brands, on its own platform, which it can then use to power its wider analytics services.

“We have to honor third party terms and conditions, and we do,” [Carlos Dominguez, Sprinklr’s president] said, but the data that Sprinklr will have greater control over will give it much more flexibility in how that data is used and also presented, he added. “You can provide a richer experience to people. This tech has benefits for the brand and their customers. It enhances the experience.”

(And remember, Get Satisfaction has been around since 2007, giving it eight years of data collected already that could be used for analytics.)

Sprinklr didn’t disclose the terms of its acquisition of Get Satisfaction nor the value of the deal. Sprinklr says Get Satisfaction’s technology will be integrated into the Sprinklr platform “in the coming months.”

Plenty to like in Project Spartan

Project Spartan

Will Microsoft’s Internet Explorer see the sunset later this year?

It’s certainly not my browser of choice. Indeed, I don’t use it at all, preferring Google Chrome on the desktop and mobile and, lately, experimenting with Vivaldi, an impressive new browser that’s based on Google Chromium code.

Since it first appeared in 1995, Internet Explorer has come with the Windows operating system. Unless you manually install an alternative, that’s what you end up with. In Europe until recently, Microsoft was forced by EU law to offer users across the EU a choice of browser on first running Windows.

All this may become just a Windows-and-browser history footnote with Windows 10 – the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system, successor to Windows 8.1, and currently in pre-release public beta – and Project Spartan, a new browser that will come with the new OS and will be the successor to Internet Explorer.

Currently, you can only get Spartan if you’re a member of the Windows Insider testing programme and install the latest build 10049 of the Windows 10 Technical Preview (as the test version is known), released to testers last week.

I’ve been part of the Insider programme for the past six months or so, and was able to install build 10049 this weekend and so get a glimpse of Spartan.

First impressions are always key:

  • Pleasing interface, a very attractive contemporary look to it.
  • Write or type notes directly on a web page, and optionally save them. If you use Spartan on a tablet or other device with a touch screen (and stylus) you write; on a non-touch-screen device – like the Dell desktop PC I’m running Windows 10 on in its own disk partition – you type.
  • Save web pages to a reading list, not just as the traditional favourites bookmarks: a different content organization (and sharing) method.
  • It loads fast and gets content from the web fast. Probably depends on internet connectivity speed for some of that.
  • Impressively quick search-term prediction functionality with the Bing search engine. If this is consistently fast and accurate – getting you what you want and quickly – then I would very likely use it more, maybe even instead of Google search.
  • A reading view sans all the clutter of menu bars, etc. Think of the Kindle.
  • Ask Cortana, voice-activated spoken search. Haven’t tried that yet.

And there’s more, too, that I haven’t looked at yet either. Experimentation to come.

For a beta software product, it’s very advanced and polished, much like the Windows 10 Preview itself.

It’s not entirely ready yet, though, as I discovered when I tried to visit my Google+ page in Spartan.

"Your browser is no longer supported"

At least it gave me an opportunity to try out the Web Note functionality by typing a note directly on the web page as you can see.

I imagine such errors will be addressed before too long. Or that Google does read the memo.

In summary, I think Spartan resets the bar for a contemporary web browser that works well across all platforms, ie, desktop and mobile, and gives you a great experience. But others such as Vivaldi are challenging that bar, not to mention what we’ll no doubt see in upcoming versions of Google Chrome, Firefox and Safari. It’s no guarantee that Spartan will be the browser of choice for a Windows 10 user. Not to mention users in enterprises where Internet Explorer is the king of the common standard imposed on users.

Still, if you are trying out Windows 10, you’ll like Spartan. But will you love it?

Social business, your intranet, and you: Collaborate/London

Collaborate/London

If you’d like to know how leading UK retailer The John Lewis Partnership planned, developed and implemented an intranet that employees actually like, and hear insights from those who made it happen, then mark Thursday April 16, 2015, in your calendar and register to be at Collaborate/London.

This morning event is from Igloo Software, the company behind the intranet that enhances internal collaboration, improves employee communication, and provides a central repository for assets and project deliverables. And that’s just the overview (here’s more).

I’ve partnered with Igloo to host this workshop, where my job will be to set the scene for what you’ll hear about John Lewis with an introductory session that explains why “Social business is here to stay”:

Humans have always been social, but businesses aren’t always ready for this level of interaction. Neville Hobson will be leading a workshop to shed light on what it means to have a true IT/business partnership, and how to build and reinforce your company culture.

The key part of the day’s event is what you’ll learn from and about the John Lewis experience:

Kimberly Thomson, of the John Lewis Partnership, will discuss the key drivers for seeking a new solution, and their milestones and measures of success. Karen Hobart of Contexxt, the consultancy engaged by John Lewis, will share her methodology, ideas for establishing a project plan, and tips for vendor evaluation.

In sum, you’ll have the chance to hear lessons learned by Igloo customers and thought leaders as well as best practices for planning, implementing, and maintaining a social intranet.

There’s no cost to attend Collaborate/London, but places are limited – sign up now to secure your place.

I hope you can join us for a morning of listening, learning and sharing. Igloo’s philosophy is encouraging:

Our events will be different.
We know how that sounds, but it’s the only way to put it.
Real people talking, information you can use, goals you can set.
Right now.

It will be a few hours of our time well spent. Note your diary:

  • Thursday April 16, 2015, 9:30am – 1:30pm.
  • St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London NW1 (Google map).
  • Free to attend but places are limited – sign up now.

Collaborate/London is the second event in Igloo’s Collaborate series, the first of which took place in Los Angeles last month. Upcoming Collaborate events are planned for New York on May 14 and Chicago on June 9.

(Igloo Software is a sponsor of For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report, the business podcast I co-present each week with Shel Holtz. I am very pleased to be working on Collaborate/London with Igloo that builds out our existing relationship. Good people! You can try Igloo’s intranet for yourself – and it’s free for up to 10 people. Find out more.)