Finding a balance between the needs of the organisation and the needs of the customer

Some companies are immature in their approach to customer relationship management (CRM), but at the heart is a desire to get something for free. And that’s wrong.

The scenario

You look around a shop, you pick something up, take it to the checkout, wait in a queue. You notice that the queue is moving slowly, despite most customer only having a handful of items and then paying with credit card. Maybe the link to the credit card authoriser is a bit flakey today? It’s your turn at the checkout. Once the greeting and the small talk is out of the way, the dreaded question is delivered by the sales assistant “Can I have your email address please?” or some variant on that request for your email. This may be followed with “can I take your postcode?” or “do you already receive our newsletter?”.

The analysis

What’s happened is that the company’s desire for collecting valuable customer data got in the way of its prime purpose and I’m guessing the prime purpose is to make money by selling goods that customers want to the customers that want those goods.
There are other methods for collecting customer data. Some methods cost more than others, some are more accurate than others, some are more comprehensive than others. More importantly, some are less demanding to the customer and even less demanding to the customers in the queue behind them.
Often the desire is created due to a new multi-channel campaign that wants to treat all customer channels equally, not recognising that there’s a different social contract in place when you’re in a store to the one that’s in place when you’re buying on line. Companies that slow down the queue in order to collect information have broken that social contract.

Exceptions

While I’m against slowing queues down, I can concede that short analyses are valuable. This would mean performing the data collection during the natural queue created by your checkout processes. Even then, I’d be concerned that you have a queue and, while it may be acceptable to have queues, I would question an organisation if it counts queues as excellent customer service. If the answer to that is no, then we can prompt other questions such as relative priorities, but that’s for a different article. The take-away here is that companies usually choose acceptable customer service over exemplary customer service.
There are potentially other methods that they could use in store. One that never seems to be used apart from by car salespersons is the option of walking up to a customer, engaging in a conversation and then asking for their contact details. Can you imagine this working in your supermarket, the next time you buy a phone or the next clothing shop you go into? While I don’t believe we should all move to the used-car sales model, I do believe there is room to find a better balance.

The Real Issue

There is no need to wait until the checkout to ask for this information. In fact, asking at the checkout is contrary to the purpose of the checkout.
What’s missing is that the company is trying to build a relationship with the customer. But rather than trying to do that in an underhanded manner at the checkout till (sometimes in the guise of asking to email a receipt), why not engage with that customer while they’re perusing? This highlights the actual issue. It’s not what the company wants, but what the customer wants. What value is the company going to deliver to the customer in exchange for a longer-term relationship?
So rather than trying to obtain an email address for free, consider what you’re going to provide so that the customer would actually want to provide their email address. When viewed in that light, a 10% voucher may not be sufficient.

Alignment

I take issue with any company that slows down the purchasing process for the purpose of collecting customer information. Whether it works financially or not, it’s a bad customer experience and not one I want to see implemented in any shops. I believe in a managed flow from a lean perspective (that’s Lean, not Lean Startup) and so, simplistically, anything that gets in the way of that flow is waste and should be avoided. Instead I’d provide options for collecting emails while people are queueing, while they’re on their way out (e.g. a pedestal table, pen, cards and a ballot/post box on the way out) or have it built into the product itself (like the cupcake liner mentioned in an earlier article).
In short, engage with customers at a more appropriate time (or stage of their purchase) and collect data that’s appropriate to collect for your future interactions but don’t make the purchase process worse just so that you can collect that data.
Any comments, you can find me @alanward.
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