I've copied below an excerpt from an interesting article in The New York Times today, penned by John Grossman.  You can read the entire article at this link, but I thought the discussion about Q.R. codes - that is, quick response bar codes, which can be scanned using an iPhone's or Android phone's camera - provided some good insight into how even small businesses can connect with consumers via new technology.  The Q. R. codes rely on an app that translates the code into an advertisement or takes you to a related Web page.  The codes also offer an intriguing channel for getting closer to customers, sharing recipes and coupons, inviting feedback, and so on.  Here's the excerpt:

Nothing is old school about this or a wave of other high-tech customer service initiatives being adopted by a vanguard of small businesses.

In some instances, such as at Zingerman's, a delicatessen, restaurant, mail-order food seller and business seminar host based in Ann Arbor, Mich., the digitally driven service enhancements remain internal and invisible to customers.

For the last dozen years, Zingerman’s has captured customer comments as either code red (complaints) or code green (compliments), but until recently they were captured on paper forms.

Storing comments digitally makes it much easier to analyze them, said Maggie Bayless, managing partner of ZingTrain, the business seminar division.

“We can now sort by types of complaints, customer name or period of time,” Ms. Bayless said. “For example, as we go into the holidays, it’s possible to pull the data for the holiday season a year ago and see what problems we were having and identify: What do we need to remind people to watch for this year?”

By contrast, the highly visible brand of high-tech customer service offered by Culinary Twist is activated by so-called Q.R. codes on its product labels. Short for Quick Response, these bar code cousins, when photographed by an app-enabled smartphone, offer a wealth of service opportunities.

Potential buyers can view a recipe, say, for pork ribs in Baja sauce when they are steps from the meat counter. Soon, Ms. Milos said, they will be able to call up on their hand-held devices a discount coupon that can be scanned at checkout. And with help from OpinionLab’s back-shop capabilities, Ms. Milos can also receive recipe suggestions, insights or even notification of a problem at a particular store — be it a missing favorite or filthy display shelves.

She expects more of the kind of helpful feedback received in an early store demo that led to a relabeling of the Bora Bora sauce.

“We had so many people say they didn’t know what tamarind was, or dates, that we decided to take those words out of the subscript and change it to more about the flavor and how the product was used,” Ms. Milos said. “It now says ‘Sweet Spice Grilling Sauce.’ That’s another piece to the Q.R. code and serving the customer — just listening to them.”

The Q.R. code enhancements to the labels cost about 15 cents a bottle. Rand Nickerson, OpinionLab’s chief executive, puts additional costs for his company’s services at pennies per consumer comment.

“It’s not true anymore that only the Procter & Gambles of the world can afford to do this,” he said. “You don’t have to run a wave of $100,000 focus groups across the country to learn things anymore. The most successful companies in the future, I believe, will be those who become progressively more and more customer-driven.”