Rethinking QR Codes as Part of the Customer Experience

by Jeannie Walters

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Last March at the South By Southwest Festival, QR codes were EVERYWHERE. QR codes are those scannable funky bar code squares that look like this: At SXSW, they were in as many places as marketers could dream. T-shirts! Brochures! Posters! Mobile phone covers! Business cards!

That was my first experience with the absolute underwhelm (is that a word?) of them. They seem so cool, so new, so tech-friendly, and then they deliver a big old meh. Since then, we as customers have been trained to see them as unnecessary and useless. We’ve scanned them to find nothing compelling or new. We’ve waited to be transported to nothing more than the same information from the brochure where the code appeared. It’s disappointing. We’ve had enough!

QR codes are about 3 main ideas:

1. They must be mobile friendly.

2. The end result must deliver SOMETHING extra for the user.

3. They must be in places that are scannable.

A key point here is that users are asked to do something for your brand. The viewer/audience member/passerby must take an action to interact with the QR code. As such, they expect a pay off!

Let’s dissect these three ideas a bit more.

1. Being mobile friendly means showcasing the QR code in the right location and size for the situation. Going back to the SXSW examples, there were several presenters who included a QR code in their slides. The QR code led to…wait for it…their web site.

How on earth is that helpful, innovative, or a positive end result for the poor soul who lined up his phone in that perfect moment, scanned the code, and then ended up on a site they could have found via a regular URL address? What’s worse is that many sites are not optimized for mobile.

The QR codes blown up and printed on t-shirts make about as much sense as a phone number printed in fine print on a billboard. How, exactly, is one supposed to scan the code on a wrinkled, moving  person?

2. The “extra” is often lackluster. Anne Reuss, 360Connext’s own Community Experience Agent, provided a great example recently, after excitedly reporting that Starbucks was doing something interesting with QR codes on a brochure. After scanning, however, there was the usual underwhelming result.

Her take? I’ll paraphrase, but it was definitely Meh. This is the image she provided:

Why not offer something intriguing, like videos about the coffee-making process, interviews with coffee growers, or coupons for the effort?

3. I’ve seen QR codes popping up in the most unusual places. The ones that really baffle me are the teeny, tiny ones on nametags, the big ones on billboards, or the craziest ones on jumbotrons for about 5 seconds. How are any of those scannable locations?

I do believe QR Codes can really be helpful. How about these creative uses?

  • In our little town, a clever real estate office posted a HUGE QR code on their window, right next to a stoplight. It was easy to scan from the car, and led the user to the most recent listings.
  • At SXSW 2011, a vendor was providing QR stickers for anyone who wanted them to point to LinkedIn profiles. This was a nice idea but ultimately has been replaced by apps that do this for you.
  • How about a QR code at the Farmer’s Market for recipes for the yummy vegetables you just purchased? I have seen some paper printed out with recipes, but in the spirit of ecofriendliness, those could easily be replaced with QR codes.

QR Codes are easy to create and use, but they should have a purpose to their implementation. Consider ways to enhance your customer experience, then commit to it! What are some of the great (and not so great) examples of using QR codes you’ve seen?

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, LinkedIn Learning instructor, TEDx speaker, and President-Elect of the National Speakers Association Illinois chapter. Learn more here.

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