Taking A Number Goes Hi-Tech

Technology firm announces "SmartNumber" system to categorize, prioritize and begin paperwork while you wait

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., Feb. 2, 1998 - You're in the queue from hell. All you want to do is get a document notarized, but for some reason each of the people in front of you needs to open a new account or borrow a few million bucks for a new house. When your number is finally called you find out you need two originals, not one, so back home you go to wait again another day.

As customer service is becoming more important and time more precious, banks, auto dealers and other retail and service businesses are trying to do a better job of helping us - while improving their internal work flow to control skyrocketing labor costs. Meanwhile, frustrated consumers wait and read old magazines in lobbies. But the primary tool for serving customers in sequence hasn't changed in a hundred years.

Now, a Scottsdale-based technology company has developed a "smart" numbering system that works multiple lines at once, categorizing consumers by their individual needs, and even paging a service rep if necessary. Since there can be many "lines" in the computer's memory, a representative who specializes in a particular kind of transaction can handle all of those, without angering other customers. While waiting, customers are given a checklist and any forms or applications they need to fill out, so that they are ready to do business when they are called.

First Wave, Inc. of Scottsdale, known primarily for its interactive information kiosks, today announced the availability of "SmartNumber", a multimedia computer designed to dramatically improve customer service and reduce transaction processing times. The system has a base price of $10,900 or $286 per month on a four year lease.

Customers touch a full-color computer screen to begin the process. They are welcomed, then asked to touch one of several icons on the screen to indicate the kind of transaction they are there for. Depending on what it is, three things happen. First, they are given a letter and number combination such as "G15" or "L5". That number tells employees which type of transaction they have requested. For example, the letter "L" may stand for a loan application in a bank, while the letter "G" might be a general transaction that can be handled by anybody.

Next, they receive a checklist and any forms applicable to their transaction, so they can make sure they have everything they need with them, and can begin filling out forms while they are waiting.

Third, the computer inside the unit picks up the telephone and pages the appropriate representative. This only occurs for specialized transactions that are handled by a select individual or group. Within each service group, the system rotates from one representative to the next. Pages can go out over the public address system, to particular telephone extensions, or to vibrating beepers that employees wear while they are on duty.

The system retains the "now being served" display of old, but updates it with a multi-color lighted reader board, that can display several queues at once. "That way consumers are only watching their particular line, and the number of people in front of them will be smaller than in single queue systems," according to John Glitsos, First Wave's founder and CEO.

"More than one welcoming station may be used in busy locations. The units are linked together so that people are taken care of in the proper sequence regardless of which station they use," according to First Wave President, Ted Overton. He also stated that the system is initially customized to reflect the graphical standards of the purchasing company for a nominal one-time fee. "From then on, the company's own people can implement necessary changes," he continued.

"Ensuring that the user interface is so simple that absolutely everyone who uses it is comfortable was our primary concern," added First Wave's Multimedia Director, Brian Berg. "Touchscreens are the most intuitive computer interfaces being used in today's public access market. Our touchscreen manufacturer, MicroTouch, has the most comprehensive line of touch solutions available. By first touching a flag of the United States or a foreign country, customers select one of six languages and from that point forward all text and prompts are in that country's language," he said. First Wave hired Berg away from Arizona State University where he was teaching instructional design. He is one of the creators of "Information Rainbow", the application software driving the SmartNumber product, and has consulted with companies nationwide on human interface considerations.

"There is no comparable system on the market," according to Glitsos. "This system is infinitely more powerful than any other approach because it can queue and inform," he said. "It also has a powerful psychological advantage because the consumer feels productive during their wait," he continued.

"Consumers feel comfortable relying on the computer to assign numbers and prioritize because they can tell that it is smart," according to Glitsos. "Although the SmartNumber utilizes a powerful computer system, it is totally non-threatening to consumers of all ages and income groups," he concluded. Glitsos is an expert in applying Information On Location (IOL) computer technology and is currently writing a book that highlights his seven years of experience in that field.

Patty Doherty, First Wave's National Sales Manager, was concerned that potential customers would balk at the system cost until she went out on the first sales call. "It was a credit union with six branch locations," she said. "They were so certain that these systems would save them huge dollars in employee expense and improve customer service, that their only question was how many stations per branch," she said. "They anticipate a reduction of two staff positions per branch against a lease cost of about $600 per month," she continued. "My math shows a total savings of almost $3,200 per month per location for them," Doherty concluded.

The system includes touch-by-touch usage tracking which links to various databases and spreadsheets, so that tracking information can be utilized for marketing purposes. First Wave offers a purchase option as well as one, two, and three year lease plans that include complete hardware and software support. Options such as removable disk drives, black and white or color printing, and modem access are also available.

"We also included networking capability for a variety of computer systems," said Russ Stocker, a First Wave engineer. "The service database may reside on a networked computer or server," he said. "That way employees don't have to continually leave their desks to see if anyone is waiting. Also, if somebody is sick, or a new employee starts, the service lists can be updated instantly," he concluded.

Although the systems have the ability to serve as interactive information kiosks that dispense all types of information, company officials recommend that separate units be utilized. "It is imperative that customers can get their place in line in a few seconds," said Marc Gomez, a First Wave Multimedia Specialist who worked on the project. "Three touches of the screen and most people are on their way," he said.

Networked versions of the SmartNumber system can look up customer information in corporate databases and begin filling out the necessary paperwork for the customer. Other options like bar code and magnetic stripe readers allow customers to identify themselves quickly.

The databases created and maintained by SmartNumber give management a wealth of information regarding service levels. For example, the amount of time a particular employee tends to leave customers waiting, or takes to complete a particular transaction type is available in one of the many standard reports.

First Wave, Inc.

First Wave is a software developer and reseller specializing in interactive multimedia kiosk systems. Its Information Rainbow software is used in corporate lobbies, museums, hospitals, retail outlets, and other public places to dispense information and gather marketing data. Customers include American Stores, The City of Bridgeport, Honeywell, Arizona Public Service, the U.S. District Courts and Samaritan Health Systems, as well as many small, and medium-size businesses.

Headquartered in Scottsdale Arizona, the company has dealers in Europe and the United States. Founded in 1990 by John M. Glitsos, a computer expert and past-president of several computer and office product companies, First Wave has continued to be a leader in interactive multimedia software technology. In 1997 the company formed its "All Star Kiosk Alliance" consisting of best-in-class suppliers such as Mitsubishi, MicroTouch/Factura, Apple and MicroAge.

The Company's innovative products, such as the "aroma kiosk" that dispenses scented air as it profiles vacation destinations, have been recently profiled in ComputerWorld, Computer Reseller News, Red Herring, and AV Video & Multimedia Producer Magazines.

The Company is also well known in several vertical markets including automotive, health care, and home building, having placed kiosks at all of the Grubb Automotive Dealerships which are now part of Republic Industries' AutoNation group, the Samaritan and Scottsdale Healthcare clinics and hospitals, and David Weekley Homes in Houston, Texas.

First Wave maintains an application showroom in its Scottsdale location which highlights a range of touch-screen applications used by its clients as well as a range of equipment and enclosures. The Company may be contacted via its site on the World Wide Web, http://www.first-wave.com or toll free at 888-221-5498.