“I just need a haircut,” I said to the lady. “Sure, what’s your phone number?” she replied, fingers ready at her keyboard. “I’m not in your system, I just need a…” She interrupted. “Ok, just tell me your e-mail address and I’ll get you in here and then you’ll show up on the waiting list.”
“I don’t want to give you my e-mail address. I just want a haircut.”
She looked stunned, and a little hurt. “We don’t give it out to anyone. We just need you in the system.”
“I don’t want to give you my e-mail address. Can’t I just come in here and get a haircut? I’m going to pay cash.”
Even more stunned. “If we don’t have you in our system, how do you get your hair cut?”
Now it was my turn to be stunned. “With a scissors?”
Lately, it seems that every retail chain, franchise barber shop, gas station or fast food joint now gives me a chance to be part of their own program. Sure, there are some benefits to be had, but are we really at the point where program membership is expected for everyday purchases?
These “loyalty” programs are theoretically an exchange of value: I give them access to my personal data for demographic data and future targeted marketing, and they provide me some value in terms of discounts, early access to specials, or some enhanced level of service.
In the case of the haircut, the “enhanced service” consists of keeping track of which clipper to use and whatever other notes are relevant. So, maybe it saves me 10 seconds of conversation (provided I want the same thing every time), while I’m already a captive audience. As my industrial engineering friends would say, it’s all internal motion.
Typically, during the ensuing 20 minutes of haircut captivity, the associate will continue to sell me on the benefits of the program. I will explain, in my best “grumpy old man” tone, that I’m just tired of being in everyone’s system. The news reports data breaches every week, and IT policies are only as durable as CIO job tenure. That’s usually enough to make them drop the subject.
Yesterday I stood in a long line of holiday shoppers, only to have the sales associate start my own checkout process with an attempt to find my loyalty number. With a growing line behind me, he automatically proceeded to the “new member sign-up” process on his screen. I had to tell him twice that I didn’t want to sign up. By that time, I was a grumpy old man.
This is another case of technology improvements making us worse as people. Even as these programs enhance their customer engagement experience for those who opt-in, they are not valuable in the eyes of all customers. Associates should still expect (and respect) customers who prefer anonymity.
In other words, retail associates: don’t be offended if I don’t want to give you my contact information to buy a pack of gum. I’m just not ready for that kind of commitment. It’s not you, it’s me. I’m sure there is a whole generation of Millennials that will be just perfect for you!