One of the customer experience legacies of the pandemic is the QR code. From ordering in restaurants to finding product info in stores to getting help while traveling, the QR code is now ever-present in our daily customer interactions.
Once dismissed as niche, the QR code is gaining steam. Scanning increased 25% in 2020, 15% last year, and is predicted to grow at a 8.7% CAGR through 2025. Customer service pundits are referring to this as a “new era in hospitality” and are pushing the advantages in efficiency, cost savings, and collecting customer data.
And yet technology alone can’t improve customer experience. As Michele Baker Benesch, President of a restaurant services company called Menu Men, put it:
“The technology, meant to remove friction, can actually create a significant pain point…
“People are frustrated, especially people 40 years and older. Sometimes their phones don’t work. They don’t know how to access the QR code. So before they even get to order a beverage … they’re already upset, and that hampers the entire customer experience.”
I experienced this viscerally last week while caught in one of the nightmare airline stories that have been in the news lately — canceled flights leading to an overnight sleeping on the Newark Airport floor because they had run out of cots (let alone hotel rooms).
What exacerbated the whole situation is that United Airlines had shifted customer service entirely to signs with a QR code (the old customer service rooms were roped off). Frantic travelers would eventually track down a roaming service agent, only to be told to scan a QR code to an online service experience that was already overwhelmed — hours of waiting on phones with low batteries, few places to charge them, and glitchy WiFi. Many of the self-service tools, like getting on stand-by lists, weren’t working.
United eventually opened one of their old customer service rooms, but only because they needed more floor space for cots for people to sleep overnight. The experience was dystopian, made more so by the QR code as the only way to engage with the brand.
A study from PYMNTS found an enthusiasm gap between businesses and customers on QR codes in customer experience. Nearly a third of restaurant managers said QR codes helped customer experience. Only 10% of customers said the same.
As brand owners plot the future of customer experience, it will be important to balance high-scale with high-touch. How brands deliver on customer needs in the moment is a competitive differentiator — with and without technology.
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years (including a couple specifically inspired by United Airlines):