Monday, September 29, 2008

How to kill a £10K per year relationship

Tesco. Love it or loathe it, if you live in the UK chances are you line their pockets. Big time.

If you do a £100 weekly grocery shop you spend around £5K each year. If you get your petrol there too, you're likely up to £10K - and that's without the occasional bit of electrical, homeware, clothes or even mobile phone or car insurance payments.

So you, as a customer, are clearly very valuable to them indeed. But only for your money.
It seems to me their customer-handling has all but forgotten that the gullet that consumes is attached to a human being.

A friend of mine recently received a polite but threatening letter from Tesco because she had parked in the car park at their aircraft-hangar-of-a-superstore at Barhill, near Cambridge, for more than the time Tesco had calculated it was reasonable to shop (I think their limit was/is 4 hours).

This is a car park that's shared with other retailers, by the way.

Let's think about that for a moment. Tesco used a camera to record her arrival and departure from this car park, a camera with numberplate recognition - and one which is presumably connected to a computer which can both generate nasty automated letters AND find your home address, based only on your registration number, to send the nasty letter to.

Did you know Tesco had the right to your address simply because you choose to drive into their car park? Neither did I.

Ok, so that's shocking enough. But given how hi-tech this process is, and given Tesco's famous clubcard scheme and all the information it records about your shopping habits, then the only excuse for the automation of a snotty letter is pure profit-motivated laziness.

How so? Well, first, let's consider things from Tesco's perspective for a moment. Why do they want to limit your car parking time to 4hrs? Perhaps they have an issue with commuters parking their cars at the superstore and hopping on a bus into Cambridge. It wouldn't surprise me.

So, first of all, the people it should be targeting are those who are NOT coming into the store and ARE repeating the behaviour of parking for entire days, day after day.

Both of these behaviours are discoverable through Tesco's electronic surveillance.

Had the system been written to check for repeat behaviour (that's an IF THEN line even in Basic!) then it would not be writing a snotty letter to my friend. This was the first time she'd ever been there for more than 4 hours.

Had the code been written to query transactions in the store (again, it's a simple IF THEN) then it would also have known she had made two transactions in the store that day, one before lunch and one after. Again - don't send the letter.

My friend was shopping for a kids birthday party, had a break for lunch (in the Tesco restaurant!) and a shop in one or two of the other stores sharing the the same car park. That's how 4+ hours fly by Tesco dudes - at least they do for your 'valuable' customers - ones spending money.

This system would be so easy to put right - even as an automated one.

But here's my suggestion Tesco: Since the average family is spending £10-£15K with you each year - and each one of these sent-in-error automated letters could cost you a customer each time - wouldn't you be wiser employing say, just one customer services advisor to speak human-to-human to those you fear may be abusing your free parking?

A little conversation would soon reveal the true circumstances. And you'd be much more likely to keep your customers.

Every time you send one of these letters without understanding the circumstances you risk losing that customer's £10-£15K a year - for ever.

And they are telling their friends...

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?