Characters & Categories

What a Character!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my first job at a supermarket.  One of the responsibilities was to round up all the shopping carts when it was slow at the check-out lane.  I worked at a few different locations, and this experience was different at each one and gave me many opportunities to see the differences.  I generally attributed that to the character of the individuals shopping at that store.  It is the reason I frequently think of the quote often attributed to Allan Williams:  “Character is who you are when no one is looking”

I’ve seen many variations of what has become the Shopping Cart Theory, but to summarize, it really is a way to categorize a customer’s character based on what they do with their shopping cart (you can read a more detailed explanation here).  It is easy to generalize that someone that returns the shopping cart has good character, and the one that doesn’t is a bad character.  But I tend to think that it goes beyond just a simple binary categorization, which is why I like this humorous view a little more.

I could generalize about many of them that returned the cart to the cart-return or back into the store.  I also had some specific circumstances that would make you question humanity.  I recall watching in horror as a customer pushed the cart down the gentle slope without regard to what it would hit (and the shocked look when she realized someone was actually watching).  There were many that would push the cart into the Accessible Parking spot adjacent to the cart-return, which always had me wondering what urgent thing came up that they could not push it another six feet and instead block access for those that need it most. Or the ones that would push it behind another car – almost being spiteful to someone that they don’t even know.  I have definitely seen a variety of individuals show their character as a part of that cart roundup role.  

Building Better Segmentation

Despite some of the worst examples shown above, there were many good examples as well.  However, in both the good and bad, to me it was not about the action, rather the intent behind the action.  Not what you do, but why you do it.  I would give quite a bit of leeway for someone that left their shopping cart in a “non-sanctioned” place because they got a text message about a medical emergency of someone close to them.  We don’t always have the clearest processes when adrenaline kicks in.  

Ultimately, I’m not recommending that we segment our customers into segments based on their behavior with their shopping carts, but too often we miss the opportunity to apply an appropriate segment based on their intent, and service them accordingly.  We look at variables such as income, family size and age then assume intent.  We assume intent too often instead of asking it.  In thoughts that are too reminiscent of a scene from Minority Report, imagine being able to help a customer based on their intent.  In the B2B space, we have to consider this daily.  One I think of most, is someone sending us an RFP to meet the minimum number of responses required by procurement?  Knowing that intent could alter the approach.  If we know they will remain with a current provider, we might be less likely to disclose certain elements of proprietary approaches.  If a Ferrari car dealership knows that a customer is just price shopping, they could handle the test drive a little differently.  

Know Thy Customer

One of the ways we get to know our customers is through customer experience surveys.  It is an opportunity to look at how the customer feels about particular touchpoints in our business.  All too often, however, we ask questions about our process instead of their needs and intent.  The survey is an opportunity, not just to interact, but to add the emotional element to the operational processes.  Your customer experience strategy should move beyond an automated closed loop feedback tool and into measuring character.  If you know me, I’m not advocating for longer surveys.  In fact, our introduction of NPS+ was to shorten surveys, focus on a measurement of feelings and eliminate operational measures (many of which are already measured through internal KPIs).  Instead, know your customers’ intent – only with that will you be able to know if you meet their needs and expectations.  Want to know how to measure that?  Just ask them, and if you need help formulating the questions, that is why we are here for you at QuestionPro – whether you work with us or not, just schedule time here.  Once you have an understanding of customer intent, it then time to understand your employees intent to help make that experience for both of them even better.