Missing the cluetrain

I wasn’t going to post this humorous anecdote but Mike Caulfield reminded me that it’s too funny not to share. After musing about a subscription service for running shoes, I walked in my local store, bought a new pair, and invited them to notify me in three months. Hilarity ensued.

He: We’re not really set up to do that.

Me: You could email me.

He: Yeah, but then we’d have to keep some kind of customer database on the computer.

Oh, right. Having a database of customers who’ve invited you to contact them on a regular basis … that’d suck, wouldn’t it?

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13 thoughts on “Missing the cluetrain

  1. It continually amazes me that so many businesses turn down free money from their best customers. Hopefully they get the idea before it’s too late.

    Thanks for the story!

  2. And yet the same shoe store will put advert circulars inserted into the fold on every local newspaper or advertising supplement. I think stores aren’t given leeway to adapt as they see fit. A top down kind of management style forces employees to wait for change to happen rather than initiate change within the store itself. And it’s all wrapped in the vague envelope of ‘policy’. One need look no further than Gawker Media’s ‘The Consumerist’ to see what Customer Service looks like these days. So the fumble happens, and the Vice Presidents look at the Excel spreadsheets for the quarter, but there’s no measurement for when the turn down free money from their best customers. The metric doesn’t figure into the calculus of same store sales.

  3. John,

    The correct riposte would have been, “No you don’t, there are websites these days that do it all for you – much easier than messing about setting up your own database and then having to keep it backed up and everything all the time …”

  4. I ordered a pizza online from Pizza Pan (local place in Cleveland area), even got the “confirm” email. Arrived to pick up the Pizza … “Sorry sir, it’s not available .. our FAX machine ran out of ink hours ago”. Morons.

  5. I’m a huge fan so please don’t take this as a criticism, but honestly, I don’t understand about everything needing a reminder. I mean I’m marketed to until I’m absolutely sick of the fliers and emails and commercials. I don’t like it when grocery receipts give me coupons for things I’ve already purchased either. Am I being such a curmudgeon when I ask if simply looking down at your sneakers in three months and remind yourself is enough? To what extent do we really need companies hammering us about common sense things? Maybe in three months you’ll want to try a different store, or purchase a different brand of running shoe?

    Recently I read an article about the pioneer of IA and author of Eliza (Joseph Weizenbaum) dying last week and what tweaked my interest was that towards the end of his life he was convinced that there was danger in allowing machines to do much of our chosing (and by extension thinking) for us. His concerns of course were emotional but I think it is reasonable to suggest that unless our brains are incapacitated in some way (i.e., Alzheimers or similar disorder) we shouldn’t need a reminder system to tell us what kind of toothpaste to buy, or when the milk in our fridge is running low, or that we really need to start thinking about new underwear soon.

    I know this store responded out of ignorance of the latest marketing tools available, but if I were the clerk I might have looked at you and asked why you would need to be reminded. (Heh, of course that’s why I don’t work in public service because you probably would’ve looked at me like I was the one who was insane).

    Just another opinion is all. Of course I love your blog and read it all the time.

  6. “Am I being such a curmudgeon when I ask if simply looking down at your sneakers in three months and remind yourself is enough?”

    The problem is that maintenance, in all forms, is boring, costly in terms of time and effort, and easy to avoid. If my dentist didn’t have me on a schedule of regular cleaning, I wouldn’t initiate appointments, and I’d be paying a high price for that procrastination.

    Regular replacement of running shoes is the same kind of all-too-easily-avoided maintenance task. I know I should do it more often. But I’m human, I procrastinate, and then something starts to hurt, and that’s the wrong kind of reminder, because I’ve learned the hard way how pernicious soft tissue injuries can be.

    It’s a healthcare issue really. When the dentist reminds me, I feel like they’re taking care of me, not hassling me. This could be handled in the same kind of way.

    Now in my case the point is moot because I’ve (finally) set up a recurring reminder for myself. But of course that reminder doesn’t connect me to that particular store, I might go anywhere. If I invite a retailer to be the source of the reminder, and to have a privileged long-term healthcare-related relationship with me, it seems crazy not to jump at that offer.

  7. Jon,
    We (http://landofzohocreator.com/) spent a few minutes over the weekend creating a mashup of Zoho Creator and LetterMeLater that does just what you want. It’s currently set up to remind you 1 minute after you enter the data, but surely you’ll get the point.

    You can find the Zoho Creator app here: http://creator.zoho.com/gabrielcoch/form/52/. You’ll also need to get an account with both Zoho Creator (www.zoho.com) and LetterMeLater http://www.lettermelater.com in order to take it for a spin.

    I can see this being useful in many more ways that running shoes(or tennis shoes in my case). How about all the recurring maintenance work to your home (i.e. termites, outdoor painting, etc.)?

  8. John;

    Put this store on the side of the angels, even if only accidentally, for protecting customer privacy. The first rule of privacy is data minimization. This certainly counts!

    Now I’m all for personalization of services and mass customization, and am willing to balance that against my desire to have some control over the information about me in circulation, but seriously, do you really need to be told when its time for new Chuck Taylors? If markets are conversations that kind of marketing is just gossip.

    ADDENDUM: To track publicized privacy breaches on an RSS feed check out http://attrition.org/rss/attrition_dataloss.rss – be prepared to be depressed.

  9. “do you really need to be told when its time for new Chuck Taylors?”

    Do you really need to be reminded to schedule dental appointments? If not, you’re unusual.

  10. My underlying point was that the unrestrained collection of personal information without a reasonable level of compensation or service that I can opt in to is not a good thing.

    Admittedly, this store probably did miss the cluetrain when it pulled out of the station and they need to get their poop in a group. I suspect, if they are that clueless, that their next step will be an overcompensating dive into indiscriminate customer data mining.

    BTW…I use my calendar to remind myself of appointments, but I take your point. As long as its the customers choice, that works for me.

  11. You can also try using this Outlook email reminder. It’s a plugin that lets your right click on your email and choose when you want to get back to it. Completely secure and incredibly easy to use.

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