Self-Service and the Changing Payment Landscape

leadership_paulby Paul Burden

As mobile payment options grow and the credit card industry in the United States prepares for its biggest ever technological shift, self-service providers are faced with some important questions.

In the past year, the payment industry has shown such rapid change that it has been difficult for other sectors to respond swiftly to the advancements. From hardware to software, there seems to be an unending flow of new technology.

With Apple Pay growing exponentially and credit card companies getting set to roll out Integrated Circuit (IC) cards next year, it is increasingly difficult for companies to stay on top of these new trends and effectively provide for consumers a seamless experience.

Many companies rapidly react to these changes by implementing new technologies as quickly as possible; this requires drastic infrastructure overhauls along with major capital expenditures. More often than not, these reactionary measures can cause headaches for both the consumer and the seller.

This begs the question, is it worth being the first to implement a technology if consumer experience suffers? Is there a way to strike a balance – a way to effectively utilize new technology and enhance the consumer experience while also blazing a technological trail?

Most would agree that being first is not worth sacrificing your target customer’s overall experience. Retaining customers, after all, is hard enough without giving them an explicit reason to jump ship. So, how do we reconcile this dilemma? Enter patience and deliberation.

While it is true that responding quickly to market trends can attract a consumer’s attention in the crowded media landscape of today, it is also true that without ease-of-use and seamlessness, the consumer will abandon a solution and move on to the next best option. There are simply too many companies vying for their business.

For many, it is hard to find the perfect time to update or release a new technology that has the goal of effectively improving an experience. For others, it is simply hard to decide what new technology they need to use to efficiently solve the problem they are attempting to fix.

At Meridian, we know that consumers want the latest and greatest technology, but we also understand that it is critical to fully develop a solution before implementing it in real-world situations. While there are dozens of new technologies released each year, it is hard to determine immediately what trends will catch on. Knowing this, we observe trends in the payment industry closely to help us make better decisions that affect both our customers and the end users of our products.

Through this mindset, we have effectively created solutions that achieve the maximum utility possible in their respective areas. MzeroPay, for example, is a payment solution built on our MzeroPlatform software that supports both old and new forms of payment. By supporting outgoing magnetic stripe technology, MzeroPay will be able to communicate with any necessary components until the point at which they exit the marketplace. This, of course, is not an innovative capability.

mzero-payWhat makes MzeroPay different is its ability to traverse multiple payment options; whether it is Apple Pay, chip-based credit cards, PayPal, Google Wallet, or others, our payment solution can bridge any necessary components and create a seamless payment experience. With MzeroPay, merchants aren’t bound to choose between old and new technologies; even more, they are not bound to choose between customers using one technology or another.

Meridian has developed MzeroPay so that, in conjunction with our technology partners, we can assemble software and hardware solutions appropriately. Our software can then bring together these elements to aptly negotiate the complex playing field of payment. Further, Meridian’s MzeroPay brings together solutions that can traverse borders and regulatory environments.

Magnetic stripe technology will be around in until at least October 2015 in the U.S. After that, non-EMV-compliant merchants and issuers will assume liability for any fraudulent activity. Until then, many customers will not have made the change. MzeroPay seeks to give merchants offering self-service solutions the ability to comply and protect consumers while also retaining end users slow to adopt the new technology.

Allowing consumers to use any form of payment, regardless of the location, increases sales opportunities and boosts the possibility of repeat customers. Therefore, streamlining the payment process across various platforms is paramount in designing solutions for the evolving payment industry.

SONY DSCBy Chris Gilder

Our lunch hours are often wasted standing in line. What if we could do more with our lunch break? Much, much more …

I find myself dreaming a great deal about how I want the world to be; I suppose that is the nature of being an entrepreneur. And since I now find myself at the helm of a self-service solutions company, I often dream about a world in which daily dilemmas are solved.

Most everyone gets a lunch break. Yesterday, during mine, I was thinking about how much better I could spend that time. If I had my way, here is how I would’ve spent my lunch hour:

There are so many things I need to take care of during my Friday break. I need to pick up a DVD for this weekend’s family movie night, I need a case for my new iPhone 6 before I destroy it, I need to somehow get a new modem (the lightning knocked mine out last night), and I am supposed to pick up lunch for the team. No problem! Before I head out the door, I start the ball rolling. First I open the mobile app for the local sandwich shop, enter everyone’s order, and pay with my phone. Then, I select the case for my phone from the major retailer’s website. I order and pay for it with my phone; I select that I will pick it up at the local mBOX Automated Locker (more on that later). Finally, I open up my RedBox app and reserve the movie we want to see. Luckily, I had called the cable company the night before and alerted them I’d need a replacement modem via their automated system. They also have an mBOX for product distribution.

The clock starts and I am off. The first stop is the RedBox; I swipe my card and get my movie – three minutes and 45 seconds gone. Next, I pull up outside the major retailer, walk through the doors and straight up to the mBOX lockers; I scan my proof of purchase that was sent via email, and a door pops open to reveal my new iPhone case and a nice thank you note with a receipt attached – and now just seven minutes and 32 seconds gone.

It happens that the sandwich shop is only 100 yards away, but I jump back in my car (it’s still running; yeah, I’m a risk taker) and pull up outside to the mBOX pick up, scan my phone, swipe my card to pay, the door opens, I grab my bag of sandwiches and receipt. As I head back to the office, I swing by the cable office but as you may guess, I don’t have to go inside. I scan my phone at the mBOX outside, grab my new modem and replace it with the fried one, and I am off, on my way back to the office.

Just like that, my shopping is done (and thankfully my phone is safely in a case), the family movie is picked up, lunch is served, the new modem is in hand, and I still have 45 minutes and 24 seconds left of my lunch hour to go.

This technology is already here! At Meridian, we’ve developed a modular automated storage system (mBOX) that can be as simple or as complex as it needs to be. By integrating kiosk components that are on the market now, with modular customizable storage units, we can accomplish an endless numbers of solutions for our customers. When combined with mobile technology, the uses go up exponentially. Moving forward, adoption of such uses for automated, modular storage will only rise. I am confident that my dream lunch hour will be here sooner than later.

SONY DSCBy Chris Gilder

It is commonplace to assume that self-service providers should react to industry trends and market demand; but what if we could actually influence and shape these forces and positively impact the self-service industry in the process?

Last week I talked about some of the emerging trends that are critical to the self-service industry (Three Trends Shaping Self-Service & How to Capitalize) and looked at what comes next – what comes once we recognize trends. It’s always easy to opine about what is trending in an industry. It’s more difficult to know what to do about it. As pointed out, there are two vital things providers must do to capitalize on changing technologies: 1) have thoughtful well-planned proofs of concepts that lead to pilot projects and 2) have a plan to collect and measure data. For many, this is not a groundbreaking revelation; it just makes good sense.

But, when poorly crafted solutions (which aren’t actually solutions but problems) make it to market, it’s not simply bad for the customer, end user and provider; it is bad for our entire industry (remember ‘The Out-of-Order Dilemma’). At the end of the day, all of our success depends on the adoption of self-service – on the understanding that it is, in fact, a solution. Ultimately, What is good for providers is good for customers is good for end users is good for the industry at large.

In thinking about last week’s blog, one particular question kept coming to mind: can self-service providers positively influence industry and market trends?

You might say, “you can’t influence the market; you have to react to market demand.” That is a fair point. But, it’s also true that innovation is one of the largest drivers of market demand. And, innovation requires collaboration. While it is true there has to be market demand, it’s also true that sometimes this demand is created by innovation that comes about as a result of customers, providers and technology partners collaborating to create solutions that work – solutions that meet the needs of companies and end users. In fact, the best solutions are likely those that customers have not yet thought of. It is when stakeholders come together, share ideas, and combine skill-sets that synergy is born.

Consider the kiosk as an analogy for just a moment. A kiosk is not just an enclosure; it is a collection of components, which individually perform just one function; but, together with the enclosure, the components and the software combine to accomplish something greater, to function as a total solution. When all stakeholders – the customers, the self-service provider, the software engineers and others – come together to find a solution to a problem, innovation is a likely result. While self-service providers cannot create marketplace demand, we shouldn’t resign ourselves to simply reacting to demand. We should have a collaborative approach with clients.

Another way we try to accomplish this at Meridian is through our technology partners. As I’ve noted, innovation is the primary way in which self-service providers can influence market trends. In 2011, Meridian, along with HP, Intel, Microsoft, Zebra and others, opened its Self-Service Technology Center (SSTC) in Bentonville, Arkansas. At this facility, solutions are showcased year round. Why? For one, it enables Meridian and its partners to show off the latest and greatest cutting edge technology. But, even more, it provides a sort of working lab where customers are able to see and touch products that may, or may not, be the solution they are searching for. Testing technology in this environment has proven an invaluable tool for us. It allows for additional insight into whether a development is an innovative breakthrough or just another idea that doesn’t provide a real solution.

Success begets success. When we strive to innovate through collaboration with customers and partners, and when we focus on creating robust, managed solutions that lead to successful projects, the self-service industry will continue to thrive. What are your thoughts? Are there other ways self-service provides can drive innovation and positively influence industry trends and market demand?


By Chris Gilder, CEO, Meridian

Omni Channel, mobile integration and interfacing with new technologies are three trends shaping the self-service industry, but how do providers capitalize once they have recognized these trends?

Identifying market trends has become, well, a “trendy” thing to do. All too often, though, when such movements are discussed in the self-service industry, there is rarely a clear answer to the question of “so what?”

Taking advantage of prevailing developments in any business can be a risky endeavor. So, I want to discuss three critical trends in the self-service marketplace and how to capitalize on these, or any, shifting technologies.

Mobile Integration – It is becoming a necessity in self-service to develop solutions with mobile integration in mind. According to new research from Pew’s Internet & American Life Project, over 60-percent of Americans own a smartphone; that’s staggering! Nearly two-thirds of American consumers have a smart device at the ready.

This trend is only growing. And as consumers become more increasingly dependent upon their mobile devices, self-service providers will have to be capable of deploying solutions that are mobile-integrated in order to remain competitive. This is what the market is demanding and will continue to demand.

Omni ChannelMobile integration is crucial but it is only part of the picture. Consumers, now more than ever, want the freedom to conduct a transaction at their leisure. Whether it is via a web browser, on a tablet or personal computer, at a kiosk, at a brick and mortar store or through a combination of all of these, creating a seamless consumer experience is becoming vital to the marketing success of all companies.

As a self-service company, we at Meridian know we have to be in touch with this need and provide solutions that will work in an Omni Channel landscape. In fact, there may be cases where self-service solution providers will have to lead the way, guiding companies to an understanding of the necessity of creating a consistent Omni Channel experience for their customers. We must be equipped to lead as solutions providers.

Interfacing with New TechnologiesWebopedia defines interface as “A boundary across which two independent systems meet and act on or communicate with each other.” We are all familiar with user interfaces (UI) like the keyboard or the mouse and with graphical user interfaces (GUI) like Windows or iOS.

Moving forward, our industry will be increasingly shaped by interfacing with new technologies like Bluetooth beacons, facial recognition, character recognition, and others. Understanding how these technologies benefit clients and end users is paramount to any self-service company’s success. Collaborating with partners that grasp these new interfacing technologies makes for widespread innovation; and with innovation comes thoughtful, managed solutions that are good for everyone.


Now that we know the critical trends shaping our industry, what’s next? How are we to gauge risk versus reward when it comes to capitalizing on trends that may, or may not, take hold in the self-service marketplace?

In my experience, there are two critical components needed to gauge risk versus reward. First, there must be thoughtful and well-planned proofs of concept that lead to pilot projects. Second, there has to be a plan to collect and measure data. Without these components, a solution provider is no better than a pilot flying an airplane without navigation. There is no way for him to know what is up or down – no information guiding him to the place he needs to go.

Without measurable indicators as to what works and what doesn’t, there is no way to say to a company, “Here is a successful solution to your problem,” because no one knows if it is or isn’t. When trying to capitalize on shifting trends, capturing empirical data is vital – it is vital to the self-service solution provider, to the success of its clients, and, ultimately, to the satisfaction of the end user. When we carefully plan proofs of concepts, deploy pilots and measure data, we create a win-win-win scenario instead of wasting time and resources for all parties.

Navigating the landscape of the self-service industry is not easy. None of us can predict the future. But, we don’t have to be soothsayers to be successful. Recognizing trends, testing well-planned ideas, measuring successes and failures with analytics – these are the means by which we can create a winning environment for all stakeholders.


In 5th grade, my teacher presented us with the challenge to imagine the future. Pick a topic of personal interest, write a paper describing your ideal future and illustrate it. As already mentioned, I was exposed and (by this time) completely enthralled with computers and technology. As I began brainstorming on what to write about, I had the epiphany of the classroom and a gaming system merging.  I do not know if you could rightfully say mine was the original “gamer” generation, but we were blowing quarters on Pacman, Galaga, Tron, Donkey Kong, Pole Position – all jockeying for our name on the game scoreboard. What if the digital experience gave way to a new form of educational experience? Brightly lit graphics, beeps and chirps all lending hand to a fun, engaging learning experience.

Though video was not seen on the Apple IIe’s as we were playing the first version of Oregon Trail (no pictures, just text – “Johnny’s been rattlesnake bit, lose three days”) my naivety thought  – if I can see video on a television screen, I SHOULD be able to see it on a computer monitor.  The vision I had for a the school room of the future was an enclosure – much like the first sit down version of Pole Position – with a monitor, keypad, writing stylus (though I had no idea what to call this – I described something where I could write and send through the computer), video camera, and of course – speakers. My idea was that students would be connected to a teacher who would see all the pupils – but each could work their studies from home. Keep in mind, the internet was not created, video was not seen on computers. and graphics were very minimal. My paper and illustration were returned with an “A” and a comment from the teacher, “Brian, you have a VERY vivid imagination.” (That is the same thing my parents used to say, but more to their chagrin than in praise of creativity I warrant.)

Many years later, while a certified contract trainer in Adobe and Macromedia, I was contacted by the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics to teach a summer class to students across the state of North Carolina in digital technology and web development.  I taught 4 different schools from across the state – the coast, the mountains, and two in the piedmont – simultaneously through a video link.  They could see me and my computer screen – and I could see them, and even look “over the shoulders” of someone with a question.  We had about 100 students in the class – and it was fun!  Funny, I was the one stuck in a dark booth while the students were in classroom settings, but really starting to feel a lot like the future I had envisioned.

No, I am not forecasting that the future of technology in education is going to continue down this path… but it is very doable for homeschooling families.  In fact, last year my oldest son did an online video series in Math from A Beka Books – streaming pre-recorded lessons. Master teacher and an excellent curriculum – but not able to track his actual work, see where his problem areas are or help him with his personal challenges – it was limited. Two way engagement with technology as the channel – now that is the next step to this form of digital classroom.  Just as web and kiosk backend software can track the time spent on pages, determine where the user is clicking in realtime, and through something like Intel’s AIM technology – actually distinguish who is in front of the monitor and where they are looking – technology can be leveraged to work with the individual on his or her level with patience only attributable to a machine.  Imagine little Johnny struggling with Algebra I’s adding and subtracting positive and negative integers. Remember those?  (-5x)+(-6)-(-15) = 41, solve for x.  As Johnny works through the problem, when the computer sees Johnny laboring over the difference for the problem  (-6)-(-15), it could prompt with a reminder, a number line, or even a video to help Johnny visualize and understand it in context with his current problem. The problem in education is application, seeing what the information is good for and how to use it. We could revolutionize math education if the students could visualize the problem and see how to discover the answer in real-world application.

Self-service solutions in education are not limited to engagement with technology to learn math. We sell to college campuses across America, whose kiosk self-service solutions are for things like way-finding and print-on-demand (for both course papers and smart phone photo snaps). We currently have a program we initiated with our local Sandhills Community College called Design Pods.  Design Pods are comprised of select second-year students tasked with discovering a problem and building a self-service solution to that problem from concept to completion.  You can track their efforts on Facebook. The initial project is for use on college campuses and combines a number of common ailments to students in the college system.  So, where do I see technology and self-service in the education sector?  Technology employed in the many things already mentioned, but primarily in application to solving real-world issues, stepping outside of the constraints of “we never did it this way before…” and seeing potential through naive eyes and imagintion that can visualize things as they could be. Technology is a toolbox full of potential and self-service solutions in education may be a way to truly ensure that no child is left behind.