So How Are You Supposed To Ring Up A Phone?

About one month into a major near field communication (NFC) trial, officials at fast-food chain Jack In The Box discovered a problem they hadn't anticipated: cashiers didn't know how to ring up a sale when the customer presented their cellphone as payment.

"We need to do a little more training," said Michael Verdesca, the chain's VP for systems development.

The trial with Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) commuters in Oakland, Ca., has been going quite well thus far, Verdesca said, other than the minor POS issue. The 230 commuter participants were issued specially designed phones that had $48 for BART fares and $20 in a Jack In The Box giftcard equivalent.

A customer coming into the restaurant to use the funds is supposed to just tap the phone on the credit card reader to have their balance reduced. (A similar tap can also increase their balance, either through cash or a credit card charge.)

Cashiers were supposed to ring up the phones as a gift card (the chain's Jack Cash Card Account) but, instead, many rang them up as credit cards. Those charges would be rejected.

Verdesca said the NFC trial is only one of several tech experiments at the chain, including a VoIP-based remote order taking system, some new loyalty programs and biometric identification for employees.

Jack In The Box has been very hesitant to move too quickly with allowing customers to place advance orders and is insisting that such a system have some proximity component so the restaurant can know when a customer has arrived on the premises.

This is more of a concern with Jack In The Box than other fast-food chains, Verdesca said, because they claim to "have shorter hold times than anyone in the industry," even to the point of throwing out hamburgers that are more than a few minutes old. "That's why we're being extra careful in any pre-ordering," he said.

The chain is also preparing to redo its Web site to stress interactivity, with customers able to take the restaurant's television commercials "and edit them to put yourself in the commercial. The really good advertising out there today is to create your own content," Verdesca said. "Viral marketing is where you are going to get a lot more bang for your buck."