Monday, August 30, 2010

Customer Loyalty.... What?

In the middle of running between places and appointments the other day, I had an overwhelming desire for something chocolate. With about $1 in my bag and very little time to spare, I stopped into one of about 10,000 pharmacies between wherever I was coming from and my office [which have really turned into huge convenience stores with a pharmacist in the back].

As I pulled into a parking spot, I figured I had 12 minutes to get in, get the chocolate, and get to the office to prepare for my next client. The drive is 4-6 minutes, probably; and I'll admit I spent about 3 minutes reading labels to determine which candy bar would be the smartest choice -- wasted minutes, as it turns out everything has either 200 or 210 calories per serving. Candy conspiracy.

I finally selected something, mostly because it had a huge tag on it saying it was on sale for 50 cents, figuring if I couldn't do right by my waistline I could at least give the old budget a nod. I waited in line for what seemed like forever, because the lady in front of me was buying groceries for her entire household and had the lone cashier run over to the photo counter for her to retrieve her photos. It seems like whenever I'm in a hurry, I get behind the one person with nowhere to be. Anyway, she paid her $95 -- seriously, $95 at Rite Aid -- and finally it was my turn.

I chucked the candy on the counter, looked at my watch, and pulled my sad little dollar out of my wallet. The cashier, who may have also been a manager, rang me up. Here was the conversation:

CASH: How are you?
ME: Great, thanks. You?
CASH: Do you have a Wellness Card with us?
ME: No.
CASH: Do you want one?
ME: No thank you.
CASH: That will be 91 cents.
ME: But the sign says it's 50 cents?
CASH: That's with the Wellness Card.
ME: Seriously?
CASH: Yes, ma'am. I can get you a card if you want, it's free.
ME: Okay, fine, I'll take a card.
CASH: [pulling out brochure] I just need you to fill out your name, address, and phone number here, and sign it.
ME: For a candy bar?
CASH: We need it for the card.
ME: Never mind, I'll just pay the 91 cents or whatever. I don't have time to fill anything out today.
CASH: Okay. [completes transaction, hands over candy bar and 9 cents].  Thank you, come again.

Yeah, right.


Obviously, this is a case of a customer loyalty program gone horribly, horribly wrong. The whole reason that this particular chain of pharmacies instituted these 'Wellness' cards was to get customers to walk through their doors more often and buy more products when they do. They want me to shop there because I see the card in my wallet, which they hope will give me the impression I can save money there. But more importantly, they want to use said card to track my buying habits, which will help them tailor their products and services to me and others like me.

In this case, however, the way the loyalty incentives are implemented did nothing but piss me off. At least for a while, if I can easily avoid going into Rite Aid, I probably will -- and it won't be that hard, considering nearly every time I see one there's a competitor's store on the other corner. They wanted me to get the card so that they could understand me better and encourage me to shop there, but in my case this tactic backfired. Instead of turning a casual customer into a frequent shopper, they turned me into someone else's casual customer instead.

And it's not even that I mind being tracked. I have a marketing background myself, so I know how this stuff works, and I see it as potentially mutually beneficial. They learn about me so that I will buy more, and I will probably get benefits like custom coupons, etc. No problem. But I don't want to have to keep up with a card for a place I shop maybe once every couple of months and typically for less than $20, and I don't like being told something is 'on sale' with a big yellow tag, only to find out at the register that forking over my personal information is part of the fine print.

I don't have the solution, of course. What blogger does? From a marketing research perspective, it will take someone far more creative than I to solve this problem [if Rite Aid even sees losing my tiny bit of business as a problem]. Maybe it's about rearranging the discount structure or finding a different way to 'incentivize' buyers to hand over their data. I don't know.

What I do know is that all the marketing data in the world is useless when the face-to-face interaction with the customer, the biggest and most direct opportunity to win me over, goes badly. In my humble opinion, more emphasis on old-fashioned customer service and making people feel they've been treated fairly is still worth far more than knowing how often they buy toothpaste. If that cashier/manager had taken a moment and made an exception to the rule, with a big friendly smile, she might've had a customer for life. As it is, she's got 41 extra cents and a "Wellness Card" that will have to wait for the next person.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Shoes on, Schedule off

Even though I'm comfy on the couch with my laptop, I'm writing this blog with my shoes on.

See, I had plans for today. We have errands to run and family commitments this afternoon, so I thought Little Monkey and I would go to the bouncy-place this morning [a fantastic phenomenon our generation never got to experience] and let him get out some of his toddler energy in a nice air-conditioned playground setting. So I put him down for a quick morning nap and got myself ready.

But as so often happens, my plans weren't his plans, and LM didn't want to nap despite how exhausted he clearly was this morning. He'd be quiet for a minute and I'd think he was asleep, and then I'd hear squealing and chatting coming from the nursery. Every time I was about to go in to comfort him or get him up, he'd quiet down again and fool me into thinking he was asleep. And then five minutes later...

So, just when I had finally decided to give up and head out without the morning nap, he actually did fall asleep. And so far, he's slept for an hour and half, while I try to reorganize my plans for the day and get done what I can here (quietly). It's much longer than his usual morning nap and will probably through him off for school tomorrow, where he doesn't typically get a morning nap.

Now, I know lots of parents -- both in real life and in online forums -- who are strict schedule-keepers. Some people organize their lives such that their kids get the same sleep and the same meals every day, and that seems to work for them. Others follow more of the advice I once heard from a girlfriend, "Live your life and just incorporate your kids into it."

Philosophically, I've always agreed more with the latter approach. It's hard enough for me to keep my own life organized, so also having to make sure I'm home by 10:00 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. every day for naptime because 10:06 or 1:42 would mean a major meltdown... Well, I think I'd just be setting myself up for failure. On the other hand, I have found that I do need to know how much sleep LM needs each day; and it's helpful if I tune in to his basic patterns and respect his signals.

So, our lives together have turned into kind of a mish-mash of give and take. We have days where LM has to conform to my schedule -- the days I go to work and he goes to daycare (daycare being a new experience for both of us); scheduled playdates and lunches with friends; and those seemingly endless errands each week. And on days like today, even though I have a vision for how I think the day will go, I can adjust to LM's seemingly random need for a two-hour nap at 10:30.

This hit-and-miss scheduling strategy isn't outlined in any of the baby books I read or even advocated on the websites I visit to check out developmental milestones and get tips on how to get funky baby smells out of the laundry. But the symbiotic back and forth works for us, and I think it sets a basic precedent for respecting both our needs. I'm okay with that -- even if it means the occasional meltdown at the grocery store or rearranged day planner.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Overcoming Inertia

It's been tough coming up with ideas for a blog lately. Of course, when things are going smoothly in my world, I don't "come up with ideas for a blog," I just write about the random crap that happens to me and the random way I view said crap. Easy-peasey and occasionally entertaining to someone other than the weird Asian spammers who have been my only commentators lately. Sigh.

Needless to say, there hasn't been much in the way of smooth blog-topic flow lately. And one thing I've noticed about blogging is that nothing kills inspiration like a long absence. It's like the Law of Blog Inertia. A blog at rest, stays at rest. There's also been a lot going on in my non-blog life -- buying a house, looking for renters for our condo, trying to keep up with a wobbly toddler who has a mind of his own, etc.

On top of all that, my attention span lately hasn't really been long enough for blogs. My thoughts have been more well-suited to a different social medium -- I've been thinking in one-liners more apropos of Facebook status updates. They range from frustrated ("Bathroom scale doesn't change, regardless of eating and exercise habits. Is it possible the cause is bathroom scale gnomes?") to snarky, ("Dear guy walking diagonally at your leisure across parking lot aisle, reading receipt, while I wait with screaming baby in the backseat: Is it hard being the only person on earth? Do you get lonely?").

But none of them seem like good blog-fodder. I mean, who wants to read a four-paragraph rant about an inconsiderate guy who held me up from getting into Publix a few minutes sooner? Not you. I know it!

I'm not the only one who struggles with this. I've been checking out some other blogs and noticed that even my favorites have interruptions in service and blogs about mundane daily stuff and odes to kittens, etc. Of course, sometimes the mundane things can be the most accessible, universal and even emotionally poignant -- because those 'mundane' things reveal the most about who people are and what their lives are like.

So maybe I'm hesitant to blog about my toddler and how confusing I find his tantrums [screaming to be picked up, wriggling away immediately, then more screaming to be picked up again -- anyone?].

But this blog is about my life, mostly, and right now my life is full of trying to get a very short person strapped into a car seat several times a day and negotiating a transition from one home to another. So, I guess if you're interested in that, you'll read, and if not.... well, you probably didn't make it this far anyway.

So, in the immortal (and pretty much unrelated) words of an unknown spammer who tried masking a link to a suspicious website with some words of wisdom, "Knowledge is a treasure, but practice is the key to it..."