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GroceryCustomer_blog_linkedin_sm_031314.jpgI love food. I enjoy dining out and I generally enjoy cooking. What I don’t enjoy is the grocery store.  For me, hitting the grocery store is like running a race (can I get out in a new record time?) while endeavoring to exercise patience (did that guy really just run over my foot with his cart and not apologize?) As a result, the grocery store experience for me is very transactional. Many grocery stores in my area endeavor to create a great shopping experience (live music, samples of various foods throughout the store), but I’m the customer who buzzes past at lightning speed, shoving stuff in my cart while racing for the exit. My favorite part of the grocery store experience is the checkout, when they give me my receipt, I shove it in my purse, and I’m within steps of the sliding doors that promise freedom.


Many grocery stores have frequent shopper programs. You scan your card at checkout and get discounts on some of the items you’ve purchased. I’m sure there is a rhyme and reason for how and when they discount; I usually don’t pay attention, as my eyes are firmly secured on the exit, plotting my quick escape.  I’ve never thought much about the grocery store frequent shopper program, but what I know is that I have a little card attached to my key ring that I scan when I check out and voilà!, I get a discount. So, imagine my surprise a few weeks ago (after decades of shopping at the same grocery store) when a business envelope showed up in the mail at my home, addressed to me, and with coupons for the items I actually buy every week. And I’m not talking coupons for 25 cents off—it contained about $50 worth of coupons (the coupons were from $1.00–$6.00 off) for the brands and types of foods I purchase every time I go to the store. For the first time, the grocery store took all that information I’ve freely given them over the years (by scanning my frequent shopper card) and did something to engage me that was worth my time as a customer. I was shocked, delighted (who doesn’t love to save money)… and also slightly curious.  Why, after all these years, did they decide to use that data to engage me now?


We know a lot about our customers. We might not know everything, but we know a lot. Regardless of whether they are internal customers or external customers, more likely than not, you have a lot of data, big data, about them. As we strategize about how to retain our customers (if they have choices in the market) and how to engage our customers to behave in new and different ways (think internal customers adopting self-service, perhaps), I encourage you to consider and discuss the following questions:


  • What matters to your customers today? Has it changed from yesterday or last year? I’ve been a customer of the grocery chain I mentioned for years and if I think about it, my shopping as “evolved” as my tastes and culinary aptitude has evolved.  The coupons sent to me where relevant to my shopping patterns today, not my shopping patterns five years ago.



  • What data do you have about your customers? Take a look (it may be buried under a layer of “virtual” dust); you might be surprised about what you discover. It may take some heavy lifting to make that data actionable, but it’s worth the time and effort.



  • What do you really know about your customers? What does the data you’ve unearthed tell you? It’s not just some hunches you throw up on a whiteboard during a team meeting or a brainstorming session. Does the data shine a light on behavioral patterns?  Are you constantly spending time and resources on something your customers do or don’t value?



  • Why now? Think hard about why you want to engage your customers at this point in time. Sure, the answer may seem obvious, but it may catch your customers off guard if you haven’t engaged them in years. It’s also important for your entire team to be on the same page, to truly understand why this is the time to engage or to rethink your engagement.

Big Data.pngBig data is a hot topic. There are lots of folks with lots of ideas about how to manage your “structured” or “unstructured” data and what you can do with it. But that’s for another blog post. Today, I encourage you, challenge you, implore you to think about your customers and what you know about them—or what you might discover with a little research and investment. By asking yourself and your team a few questions about customer data, you can start to sharpen your vision for engagement that’s valuable for the customer and that benefits your business.


In the case of my grocery store experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that they’ve known lots about me for years but finally engaged me because they’re under pressure from two new competitors in the market. They had been taking my data for granted, just as I’d been taking their discount program for granted, becoming oblivious to the data they had been tracking. But I’m happy to continue shopping at the same store if they’re going to give me better discounts—and that adds up to a win for the store’s efforts. So I ask you, what do you know about your customers and what are you going to do with it?