Before the 'customer experience' revolution, there existed the simple notion of 'customer service'. The cornerstone of good, old fashioned customer service was the time honored belief - 'the customer is always right'. There is no better example of the customer being right than when they want to spend their money in a way that is convenient to them. Convenience for the customer does not always translate over to convenience for retailers, accountants or banks. One of the best examples of this is the common practice of splitting a check.
Some restaurants prominently display a sign out front that says, "No split bills." It is up to the group of diners to decide how to handle dividing their costs. Someone will likely use their credit card to pay for the meal, while everybody else works with their bank to either transfer money or put cash on the table. The person who paid for the meal must then wait up to three days for his friends to provide reimbursement.
Other restaurants are very customer-oriented, tracking diners by seat and gladly providing individual checks. Of course, then the situation may arise where several people shared an entrée, or one person is being treated for their birthday and should be excluded from the split bill. The end result for the restaurant is a sequence of individual payments and the need to cater to a vast array of payment scenarios.
What is really desired, is the ability to have a transaction that demonstrates to the restauranteur that they got paid, and shows which cards the transaction was debited across. It is irrelevant whether the cost was split by percentage or an agreed upon amount. It should be a single atomic transaction where the business receives payment and each person knows exactly how much they contributed.
There is a wide and varied discussion about what people want in terms of payment ability. These atomic transactions are convenient for both the customer and the business. A group of friends at the dinner table can decide how they want to pay for their meal while the restaurant doesn't have to deal with the complexity of divvying one transaction into many. Realtime settlement is a large part of the equation because there is definitely a movement towards multi-party transactions. Splitting a check is a simple scenario, but there are other important use cases where this ability would come into play.
One of my favorite examples of a multiparty transaction is when you buy a car. This is between myself, the car dealership, and the DMV. In a single transaction, I pay money to the car dealer, who assigns ownership of the vehicle to me from the DMV. So simple, yet effective and already happening.
Unfortunately, current payment technology doesn't support these features. There are some evolving standards that will have support in the future, but the use cases will ultimately drive the technology to become adopted. If a customer is out with a group of their friends, they will not want to be stuck in a situation where they don't have sufficient cash and are also not able to use their credit card for the split bill. Aside from preventing inconvenience, it would at a minimum prevent social embarrassment. The goal is to enable people to buy products in the manner that is most convenient to them.
Author: John Dunne, VP of Products