As COVID-19 propels society into a new digital revolution, the entire world is seeking
new ways to create connections and innovate at a distance. The future of a "touchless"
or "low-touch" world is becoming increasingly more necessary as we settle into
the "new normal."
Rodney Williams, COO of
LISNR, provides insight into how technology is empowering connection, safeguarding
society, and creating new opportunities for business managers and marketers.
Cyndi Greenglass: Tell me how a touchless world, a touchless environment for us is going to empower marketers.
Rodney Williams: I think number one for marketers and when we think about especially contactless payments and mobile payments, it's evolving a very tactile manual process of paying with money and making it digital. The moment you make something digital, you open up that platform for marketers because it becomes another way to communicate. Imagine being able to communicate with a consumer at the purchase intent or the moment of making that purchase decision. We haven't necessarily had that level of control as marketers to determine or influence that purchase in store, but in today's touchless environment, when things are going to be more digital than ever before, this will give marketers that opportunity.
Cyndi Greenglass: What is the technology and what is the innovation that you are bringing to this mobile payment space? And what did you see as the missing piece that you are fulfilling with your company, LISNR?
Rodney Williams: Prior to LISNR, I started my career at Procter and Gamble and ultimately became a brand manager there. I was obsessed with removing the friction from the shopping experience. Whether it was scanning a coupon, whether it was bringing out your cards and checking out, I just thought it was cumbersome. I'm not a technologist, I have a vision of what experiences should be. For me, the experience that I wanted was that, if I am standing in front of the diaper aisle, I should be able to open my phone and everything about this diaper should pop up. I should then be able to click pay and grab the item and walk away. That was conceptually what I wanted to do. The biggest challenge in a retail environment for this type of experience to happen is twofold—I need to verify that you're who you are and then more importantly, I need that information to be communicated via devices that are around you. That needs to communicate to the merchant. It needs to communicate to the point of sale. Maybe it needs to communicate to the door. Maybe it needs to communicate it to the entire store, but it's very important for this communication kind of matrix to happen in store and not in the cloud. That's when I said, I think I need to assist a team in creating a new wireless communication channel, something that would be completely software driven so that a merchant can control it. Something that would leverage the devices that are already there. That's what got me onto sound. When you have a number of mobile devices in a particular room, all of these devices can broadcast sound or they can receive sound. Every point of sale system, as you've ever seen, you put your card inside of it and it beeps and makes noise. What I realized is that my network of devices were already there. How could we leverage ultrasonic technology, which is essentially silent and audible sound and software to help bypass some of this friction and some of the challenges that merchants and companies were experiencing when they thought about bringing something like this to life. That's what we thought eight years ago. But when I fast forward today, a very simple example, and this usually brings it to life, have you ever done curbside pickup? When you get into the parking spot and you click I'm here, do they come out and just ask your name? Or they put it in the trunk? Do you sign anything? What happens? Well, that's the problem. What's happening is that they're fulfilling these orders that are e-commerce orders. They're fulfilling these orders, but there's no verification that there've fulfilled it with the correct person. There's no digital data point that I made contact even with the correct person. What happens with that, that opens up a ton of liability for the merchant and the merchant actually experiences a ton of costs. If they didn't authenticate that I was the right person, then I can just call in and say, I never received my groceries. And if you don't honor it, I can just tell my bank and guess what? That is accurately true. You can 100% get your money back because there's no authentication. We're being used for merchants like Target to do things like curbside. We are collecting that data appoint when the device that the attendant or the merchant has when they walk out that that device made contact with you.
Cyndi Greenglass: Can you share another example of how this works?
Rodney Williams: Our technology lives in merchant applications. Our technology is sitting in the Starbucks app. When you say, "Hey, I'm going to pre-order a certain coffee, and I'm going to go pick it up." When you go pick it up, no one is checking you. You just see a coffee, and you see your name on it and you grab it and you walk out. What's happening in the background technically is that, our technology is broadcasting essentially, almost like a beacon that basically said, "Rodney Williams is now in the store," and it communicates to that point of sale system that Rodney Williams is in the store. And it tracks how long you've been in the store. Now that data point is what's very important. If you've made it into the store and your coffee was still there, Starbucks assumes that you have now taken your coffee and they have fulfilled that order. You no longer can call back and call in and say, "I didn't receive my order."
Cyndi Greenglass: Are there other applications beyond the e-commerce in store retail experience?
Rodney Williams: Proximity verification is needed with everything you do. We're focusing on retail because there's a specific driven problem today. But prior to retail, we were going really big in mobility. I think even Uber had announced back in November last year that they're going to start using ultrasound to verify passenger and driver connection, that's essentially was us. Again, you've probably gotten into many wrong Uber's or I know I have, or you may have had an issue, but there's no digital fingerprint that you actually made contact with the correct Uber. GPS alone is not good enough. We were starting to be used across mobility with ride share companies and bus companies. Instead of your bus ticket as you enter a bus, you can just enter the bus and you can just exit the bus. All of the verification happening using our signal. And event ticketing, same thing for ticketing, imagining a ticket you should just walk in and you should just walk out. These are just examples of if I can, I just need to verify that you're who you are. And instead of pulling out your ID signing into the doctor's office, all of these are examples of verification. We're just doing it wirelessly and we're not doing it with cameras and biometrics. We're not doing it with a ton of other technology, we're literally just communicating with the device that's already sitting in your hand.
Cyndi Greenglass: There are a lot of consumers who might be a little nervous about the security implications and the privacy implications of all this data. How do you address that?
Rodney Williams: The best thing about our technology is that we're not broadcasting or receiving personable identifiable information. It's random information and it's tokenized. What is being broadcasted and what's being received is a specific and unique code for you that the merchant understands that it's you, but it's not any specific information like your email address, or who you are, or your name, or the fact that you're a woman versus a man. None of these things are being communicated.
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