iBeacon technology is hot stuff right now.

I’ve heard people frame iBeacons as a potential savior for the brick-and-mortar retail experience. I’ve heard testimonials about all of the incremental revenue that might be generated at, say, a basketball game, through iBeacons. And I’ve heard how an iBeacon might be responsible for the most effortlessly luxurious hotel experience I will ever have. There are good reasons why people are talking about iBeacon technology in this way, but what is clear is that the current product must continue to evolve to live up to the hype.

To understand why, you need to understand what an iBeacon ecosystem is and how it works. There are two components in a beacon ecosystem:

The iBeacon

The iBeacon itself is like a lighthouse, radiating a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signal which allows any nearby mobile device to understand its position (even indoors, where GPS is not viable). Using BLE means iBeacons consume very little energy, which is vital in their role as the major communication standard for all connected devices—including wearables.

And wanting to be connected without depleting large amounts of power will ensure that users keep BLE active on their mobile devices—a key requirement for the success of iBeacon strategies. A single iBeacon costs less than $30, which means network scaling is inexpensive. iBeacons are cross-platform devices with both Apple (through iOS and OS X) and Google (through Android) committing to BLE. Contemporary smartphones, laptops, and tablets all already support BLE.

iBeacon
The App

The iBeacon App, which facilitates people’s interaction with iBeacons. Now, because of iBeacon guidance, an app can trigger an action based on two dimensions: time and location. The iBeacon signal basically allows the App to understand “this is where you are” and “this is what you must do.” The added layer of contextualization means our mobile devices aren’t blind anymore, which opens the door to a huge new realm of seamless interactions.

This is important, because the depth of the interaction relies on the information that produces it. Quality information is what allows you to contextualize why a person is in a particular location and what they might be doing there.

Now that you understand how iBeacon networks work, how do you turn in-store staff into mind-readers?

1. Use data gathered online

First we’ll look at how using information gathered online can be delivered in real-time in a physical environment to give your staff a better understanding of what customers want. We’ll do this in a retail setting, as this is where much iBeacon-centric activity has been taking place so far.

Imagine that the best customer from your Chicago store is visiting New York. While shopping in Manhattan, she receives a message through her app from your nearby Madison Avenue store. “The new season has arrived on Madison Avenue.” This call to action was generated through proximity-based awareness, which initiated a push notification about the new season because the customer has been previewing it on your site.

Excited to see something from the new range, the customer enters the store and immediately your sales associate is alerted to the customer’s presence by the dynamic clienteling feature on his iPad. A key feature feature of iBeacon technology is that iBeacons are identified in the background by iOS or Android, so the enabled App automatically notifies the store of the customer’s arrival without any requirement for the customer to manually open the app.
Your associate checks the customer’s last purchases, what she’s been browsing online, and the likes in her wishlist before engaging the customer. Without having ever styled this customer before, your sales associate has immediate context for the conversation about what the customer is there to do. When the customer is looking for a coat but isn’t sure about color and fit, your associate knows what to suggest. He’s got a basis for how the customer thinks and knows how to best guide her. The customer leaves feeling that she has had a personal shopper from the moment she arrived. iBeacons make this possible, but more importantly the touch points are so elegant and useful as they are linked to information that only Salesforce can aggregate so effectively from omni-channel sources.

So now you can start to see how this new level of consciousness in the brick-and-mortar world will come together. Let’s move on to a second example.

2. Use data gathered from physical interactions

Now we’ll look at how the new prospect of understanding what customers want to do by using data gathered in physical interactions might work.

Imagine you are a hotel operator and you’ve got an important international traveler who has a profile set up in your app. The hotel sends a car to collect your guest. The driver’s smartphone, which has a feature enabling it to act as an iBeacon itself, automatically alerts the concierge that your guest is en route. The concierge can review information pertinent arrival such as the guest’s photo, that she is 20 minutes away, that she is English-speaking, her platinum privilege level, that she has travelled from Australia with a flight time of 24 hours, and that she will be in room 2100. He can also see service-specific notes: Concierge: Confirm required pick up time for tomorrow. Room Service: Soupe au pistou, Salade Niçoise, sparkling water to be delivered 10 mins after arrival. The car pulls in and this message alert is shown on her phone. “Welcome back to The EP Paris Chloe. You have been checked in to Executive Suite 2100.”

Your guest’s phone unlocks the door to suite 2100. Inside, her bags have arrived, and the minibar is stocked with food and beverages based on known preferences from previous trips. The in-room screen invites her to join the newly launched yoga class based on iBeacon tracking of frequent gym usage last visit. As she leaves the yoga studio, an iBeacon notes her passage and sends an invite to breakfast…
All of these things that the guest is interested in magically start appearing before her eyes—and they do so in a totally seamless fashion. Let’s move on to something different.

3. Use data gathered from email

I’m going to talk about a baseball stadium scenario here, but the really cool thing about this idea is that we’ll consider a case where the messaging isn’t even delivered by the teams app—instead, it’s delivered by an independent brand’s app through the beacons in the team’s stadium.

So let’s imagine you’re a luxury car company and you’ve launched an email marketing campaign for all of their 2015 models. And then let’s say you know you’ve got a huge number of your app users who are LA Dodgers fans. Interested in advertising to these customers, you buy ‘ad space’ on Dodger Stadium’s iBeacon & digital signage network from the Dodgers.

Then imagine you’ve done an email campaign through ExactTarget, and there was a particular fan who you know actually clicked through to see more information about a particular model. He’s at the Dodger game and walks by an iBeacon. It detects his presence and causes adjacent dynamic digital signage to surface one of your company’s ads. But even better than just knowing he likes your company, you know he was looking at one particular car model—so an ad showcasing that model automatically surfaces. This has an additional layer of context over simply just knowing the person likes your brand—and the best part is that you target with specificity and increase penetration while the stadiums are unlocking an entirely new stream of advertising revenue.

This example showcases the potential scope of an iBeacon network for property owners: Different iBeacon functionality from different apps can all run concurrently on the same beacon architecture. Imagine possibilities like the Yankees playing at Dodgers stadium, where Yankees fans get Yankees-relevant, location-driven content through the Yankees app over the Dodgers iBeacon network, and the Dodgers have the opportunity as property owners to charge a fee for this service. Everyone wins.
4. Use data gathered from social media

iBeacons are being used as a channel to deliver specific content to patrons’ mobile devices at festivals and events. And when you are running an event, being dynamic is key; you want to keep your finger on the pulse to gauge what’s going on at all times and quickly correct any issues that arise. So that presents us with a great opportunity to integrate social media listening tools like Radian6 into the iBeacon ecosystem.

Imagine you are running a music festival with multiple entrances. You care about what the crowd is saying, so you use a social media listening tool to monitor customer sentiment. Suddenly, dozens of tweets appear about long lines and wait times. The tweets themselves don’t tell you where people are experiencing long lines. But by linking people’s social media profiles to where they entered the festival, you can see that one section is not processing guests as quickly despite adequate staffing. You can respond and send additional staff to help. You can verify how long particular patrons were indeed lining up and if appropriate, you can engage them with an apology or compensation to put their experience back on track.

At the end of the day, you’ll have a much happier patron through more efficient resource allocation, and the patrons themselves will show you how.

5. Use data curated from omni-channel research

Finally, let’s imagine an environment with a tier of customers who are of enormous value and warrant intensive customer care: you are a casino operator with some very high net worth VIP customers.

A VIP app is how you deliver rewards. When the VIP approaches the lift, it automatically selects the floor to his room without the need for any action. His room automatically unlocks without scrambling for a key. All of his in-room preferences come to life the second that he enters.
Then, when our VIP enters the casino, the concierge is notified through his smartwatch wearable device—not because the VIP has opted into a mass service offering through social media, but rather because the casino has curated a platinum profile in Salesforce. Furthermore, a picture is shown and talking points are available to guide any conversations which might take place—short notes that help your concierge recall past conversations with the VIP and remind waiters of his favorite drink.

These touch points are just so valuable when creating a relationship. Successful brands thrive by creating millions of tiny touch points to luxuriate the customer experience. The next frontier is elegantly seamless digital connectivity with the real world, and iBeacon is the first technology standard presenting us with this opportunity. I’ve detailed just five of an infinite number of ways that the face of customer interactions will change using iBeacons.

Steve Orell is co-founder of Proximity Insight, whose focus is the simplification of everyday interactions through connected technologies to create a better quality of life for everyone.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/salesforce/2014/09/11/ibeacons-mind-readers-2/

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