The High Price of Bad Targeting And Data Complacency

How many times have you walked out of a retail store in a huff simply because the checkout lines were too long, the items were too hard to find, and there simply were no available salespeople? Maybe I am a hothead, but it happens to me quite often. And how many times do you hear others in the store point to store clerks who are doing nothing while lines form? The real frustrations comes when you can see that the staff is seeing the same problem you do and not taking action to solve it.

A similar situation occurs online around the familiar inconveniences of using a retail Web site. How often do we bail from a website because it is just too hard to perform a simple task?  I was just on a grocery retailer's Facebook page that had lured me into a sweepstakes offer. In addition to a laundry list of personal details, it also wanted me to dig out my customer loyalty card and enter the microscopically printed digits in order to complete the entry. Are they kidding me? If they had asked me for that card first, then their own database should have had all the information it needed on me.



There is a wonderful new survey regarding customer frustration out this week from Redwood Software. My colleague Aaron Barr has covered the gist of the findings elsewhere at MediaPost, and the inevitable infographic is also available with a summary of findings, but this is the kind of thing that is worth a good rant as well.

Apparently I am not alone in storming out of stores, because 75% of the 2,000 surveyed admit to the same behavior. But there is a virtual form of the same thing that is almost as prevalent: More than 65% of respondents leave a site because they can’t find what they want. Almost half (49%) bail from online transactions because they take too long, and 48% because they are too complicated. The high cost of this abandonment is not just lost sales but probably lost lifetime customers, because 52% of consumers who leave a retailer -- online or off -- in frustration go straight into the arms of a competitor. Roughly a third of people have changed grocery stores, ISPs and banks in part because of customer frustration.

When you look at some of the top sources of frustration, like having to repeat account info, or being handed off to other staffers up the customer service chain (59%) or just repeating personal info to service reps (69%) the results seem all the more puzzling. Are these not easy tech fixes? Why is the ISP support line IVR system asking me to punch in my home phone for identification if it isn’t passing that along to the live rep? And why the hell would I need a “case number” for a problem if they already know who I am and what account I am using? Shouldn’t all of that information travel with me in an organization?

When it comes to online transactions, the disconnect is even more unfathomable. It isn’t as if there are no good examples of leveraging personalization to maximize retention and revenue. Don’t any of the people who design online retail experience themselves have an Amazon account? I have no problem sinking more  money into Amazon than I intend from any platform on which it is present. Even Apple, which has a pretty poor recommendation engine, makes the transaction process across multiple screens so consistent and seamless that it seems second nature.

We have spent so much time and energy wringing hands over data abuse and privacy issues (not without cause, mind you) that another byproduct of the data-drenched age gets overlooked: how it raises consumer expectations of companies. Consumers understand that when they put their name and personal information into an electronic form there is no practical reason why they should have to do it again for the same company. We all know that much about digital technology.

In the age of digital data, the user is catching on in the same way the frustrated store shopper does when she sees long lines form and salespeople standing on the sidelines doing nothing. We know what they know -- or should know -- about us. Increasingly, a company’s refusal to use data to make the consumer’s path smoother will be seen rightfully as disrespectful of its own customers. 

5 comments about "The High Price of Bad Targeting And Data Complacency".
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  1. Andries De villiers from, May 10, 2013 at 11:36 a.m.

    Steve, you are right on. Unfortunately many times the technology supports the information transfer internally, but the rep on the phone still asks the basic info to confirm the data. Not sure if this is protocol or they are just too lazy to read the screen. There is nothing more frustrating than giving your SS#, home address, and DOB to Amex five times in one call as you are passed from dept to dept. It's mostly an HR problem, not necessarily a platform/technology shortfall...

  2. Jennifer Finger from KeenReader Inc., May 10, 2013 at 2:35 p.m.

    Especially is this true in the telecommunications industry. Time Warner Cable, Verizon, everyone keeps making customers listen to this long spiel in which they read out their URL which typically I already browsed to get the phone number I just dialed, announce that they are on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, type their ID information into their phones, click 1 for yes or 2 for no, then putting you on hold indefinitely to wait for a rep to come on the line who immediately makes you give out the same information again and then puts you on hold to do the same for the next person.

    I also really hate having to log into websites all the time-especially when passwords expire periodically and I get no notice of this, so I have to go through the "reset password" procedure. And the criteria for passwords is so exact (so-and-so many characters, one capital letter, one digit, one special character) that remembering the exact combination later is a pain. That by itself makes me not want to use a website.

    Then, once I log in, I get directed to a landing page announcing deals and things that are not relevant to the reason I'm on the website in the first place, "flash" graphics, pop-up ads, buffering, and numerous other wastes of time.

    Streamlining customer service and websites to get rid of all these wastes of time would be one of the best things any company could do.

  3. Steve Smith from Mediapost, May 10, 2013 at 2:46 p.m.

    I had a great experience with AAA when our car was stuck. They geo-located me via my phone to find the nearest truck int he field and even used the caller ID of my phone calling in to send a confirmation by SMS and alerts as to when the truck was within five miles of me. All this with little manual or verbal data input. the fact that I remember that interaction four months later speaks to the branding power of such streamlining.

  4. Gene Keenan from TCF, May 12, 2013 at 9:32 p.m.

    Part of the challenge Steve is many (most?) of these companies still have all their data sitting in different marketing "islands" which is why the group handling the sweepstakes couldn't retrieve your PII data from your loyalty card. They probably run a Cron job at the end of the day. When they do, they look up that loyalty card number and then make a pair. The fact that they are asking for both when you sign up is a sign that they are indeed not integrated. I talked about this 2-3 years ago at your Tahoe Insider Summit. That it will be internal enterprise issues being solved that eventually drives success in mobile and marketing as a whole. Mobile can't succeed without seamless access to data.

  5. Catherine McFarland from Redwood Software, May 21, 2013 at 9:25 a.m.

    This is a great piece, thanks Steve. I don’t think there’s a single one of us who hasn’t experienced these annoying frustrations in some shape or form. And the most frustrating thing is that they’re all completely unnecessary. If these organizations simply automated and connected their IT and business processes right across the business, they would have a lot more, happier customers!
    It’s worked for the likes of T-Mobile, Philips, French Connection and Virgin Money – they’ve all automated key processes and seen a huge improvement in their customer service.”

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