In June of 2008, my wife spent $25 and became a Barnes & Noble "Member". This is a program developed by the retail bookseller that rewards Members with discounts of 10% to 40% depending on what's purchased. In essence, one is spending $25 and purchasing the right to receive discounts. The math she did to decide to become a Member is reasonable: based on what she expected to spend with the retailer in the next year, will she receive more than $25 in savings? If yes, then it's a no-brainer as long as one's cash flow can handle the $25 outlay.
I bring this up because of a fascinating (code word for "bad") experience she had at the retailer last week. After waiting her turn in queue, she approached the sales person with her book and Member card in hand. The sales person scanned the book ($13.10) and then my wife's Member card. Based on the unseen message on the sales person's monitor, she turned to my wife and said "Your card expired in June. Would you like to renew it?". A very reasonable and not unexpected question.
My wife, in response, asked the sales person if she could tell her how much she has saved as a Member during the prior year. The sales person could not. That information was not available to her and she directed my wife to an 800 number. But if my wife renewed at that moment, the sales person told her, she would save $1.30 on the day's purchase. (By the way, I have called several Barnes and Noble stores asking if they could tell me how much I have saved as a Member and offered my Member number. Each one has told me that they do not have access to that information and directed me to an 800 phone number- her story checks out)
You can no doubt tell where I am going with this. Barnes and Noble, in their dedication to a superb customer experience, has engineered its POS systems to be able to determine (and then prompt the sales person to seek the $25 sale) when a Member's membership is about to / has expired. But what is the one piece of information that a customer wants and / or needs to make the best decision? Pretty simple- how much has been saved with the program since enrolling? Back to the simple math: if one has saved more than the cost, they come out ahead. If not, the person should reevaluate.
But due to some unknown complexity that its IT department has failed to overcome (for those of you new to TFAM, this is called sarcasm), Barnes and Noble is not empowering its sales force to share that information with its customers... at the point when the customer needs to have it to make the best decision for themselves. Yes, they could call the 800 number but that's simply rude to do while in queue with other shoppers in line. I would not want to be the person on the phone, holding up the line, to get the information that would educate me as to a purchase the sales person is waiting for my response to.
Here is free consulting for Barnes and Noble: you know that feed from your Big Computer to the sales person's POS terminal? The one that tells them "hey, offer the $25 renewal because their card expired"? How about you add to that existing feed a data element that actually says how much they have saved, thus enabling them to make a good decision. This way you could have satisfied customers that feel good about their decisions, whether or not they choose to renew or not. I am sure you would not want to hide from someone that, for example, they have saved less than $5 since giving you $25 for a membership. Clearly, this person has not benefited from your program and you'd want to let them know that easily, right? Isn't that what you would want as a customer?