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Getting in customers' faces

Evan Schuman | Dec. 10, 2014
When retailers use IT analytics to get close to their customers, they need to do it the right way.

All of this becomes especially interesting when the retailer can tie a comment to a specific store. Frighteningly enough, that's quite easy to do, if a customer is riding that store's Wi-Fi or has posted a photo of a product -- say on Snapchat or Twitter -- and didn't think to remove the location tags. Once that starts happening, the potential for getting close to the customer makes a quantum leap -- and with consumers increasingly making their comments on geolocation-broadcasting smartphones, it could be happening soon. While the possibility remains in the offing, retailers should be thinking about ways that this sort of thing could go very wrong for them.

Consider a scenario laid out by Kyle Lacy, the director of global content and research at "I tweet and the customer service rep gets the tweet" and contacts the precise store where the complaint originated. "A clerk can then come up to that customer and answer that question. The brand should know every single interaction."

Let's see. How could this possibly go wrong, especially during the holidays when store associates are overworked and, every so often, rather grumpy? Associate: "Hey, lady. So you think that store display looks stupid? I worked for six hours on that display. Think you could do any better? Based on the ludicrous outfit you're wearing, I think not."

But even if the store's representative doesn't confront the unhappy customer with hostility, the customer could well be taken aback at being approached at all. Although the feeling is woefully misplaced, social media users tend to have a sense of anonymity. They don't expect the target of their complaints to identify them easily, and many of them are likely to be uncomfortable when presented with proof that their supposed anonymity is hollow.

Some of this is a matter of sensitivity and discretion, knowing how to approach the shopper in the nicest, least confrontational way possible. But this kind of interaction is likely to feel jarring and intrusive to the shopper, who may feel embarrassed. The store wants the customer to feel respected and listened to and taken care of. It wants to make this person a loyal customer. There's an excellent chance, though, that the customer may develop an immense need to leave the store as quickly as possible and never return.

The identical interaction contained within the initial context, though, is very psychologically different. If a customer service rep posts a response post in the original forum -- offering an explanation, apology and some large coupons -- it could have the desired impact. I applaud the idea of leveraging data from one arena to another, but am cautioning that human beings are rarely as logical as software.

IT leaders are going to be feeling the pressure to provide more and more of this level of analysis. They should not hesitate to warn their bosses that they could end up inadvertently pressing a lot of customers' buttons in the wrong way.


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