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Paul Rijnders

Permission to Contact? It's How You Ask That Counts

Dec 09 2010, 11:24 AM by

Your customers will probably give up their contact information if you ask, but how will they feel about it afterwards? Successfully getting an email address might seem to be the start of the email marketing process, but it misses out on the bigger picture. To begin with only that in mind is a short sighted, counter-productive goal.
Saturday Shopping Started Innocently Enough
My wife and I were at a large unnamed super warehouse department store browsing possible gift ideas. Heck, let's give it a fictitious name for the sake of this blog-time story. From here on out, we will call it "Dwayne's Place."

So we really walked the property of this store this Saturday: up the aisles, down the aisles, up the stairs, down the stairs, through a hallway, to the checkout counters, up the velvet rope, down the velvet rope and finally to our cashier.
What Did the Cashier Owe Us?
She was friendly enough for Dwayne's Place or any place. She had a nice smile and must have been a patient person to keep a helpful attitude on a Saturday afternoon full of long lines and noisy customers. These days, that's more than we expect. We're not people that feel like we're owed the customer service rep's disposition just because we happen to show up with a debit card and two on-sale items in our paltry cart. She's a human being and so are we - we have but this transaction and our mutual respect between us.
Did We Owe Her More Than Money?
So after my wife entered in her pin number to the ever present machine, the brief encounter with our friendly enough Dwayne's Place rep could have - maybe even should have - been over. But we were in for one final piece of bonding.

"May I have your phone number?" said the Dwayne's Rep CSR.

"999-999-9999," replied my wife, almost instantly.

You can probably guess that my wife said her real cell number and not a string of nines. In fact, I would have been more comfortable if we were in a German department store and my wife replied, "Nein, nein, nein…" which would have meant, "no, no, no…"
We Walked Away as Regretful Robots
And that really was the end of the transaction. The Dwayne's Place CSR inputted the number, and we walked off. I turned to my wife and asked her why she freely gave up the phone number. She just thought they needed it. Honestly, we bought Elmo pajamas from a clearance rack – I couldn't possibly see a reason to bring cellular contact into this. But to be honest, I probably would have given up the digits too if I was asked myself. It was friendly, clinical and just plain robotical of us. By the way, robotical isn't a word as of yet, but it should be when that's exactly how we acted in giving out our personal information!
We Asked Our Questions Too Late
So the short walk to the car was filled with a long-winded conversation about the dangers of giving out our cell numbers:

Why do they need it?

When would they call us?

Do they want to market to us?

We don't want them calling us, why didn't they ask for our email addresses? That's what that's for.
You Really Can Have Our Email Addresses
And that's when it hit me. My cell phone is for my friends and family. My email address? Not so much. I'm fully comfortable with an e-dialogue with any merchants I have a relationship with or an interest in. In fact, I'm already used to it. We're still not sure what the Dwayne's Place rep wanted with our phone number, but if it was to contact us, email is the way to do it. As it stands, we felt duped and stupid as we left for leaving our phone number in exchange for a good deal on Elmo pajamas. But it does show how quickly people might offer up information to a friendly cashier who fronts a reputable company. Even if our nice rep had asked for our email address (instead of our phone number), we would have given it, but we'd still be wondering just why they needed it anyway. That's no way to leave a store now, is it?
But Make Us Feel Good About It
If Dwayne's Place wanted to contact us AND have us feel good about leaving our information, the permission to market or contact process should have happened as we walked the store. We needed to be told about it, excited about it, informed about it, and finally, expecting to be asked to be a part of it.
It Starts with Naming the Program
If there was a Dwayne's Place Deal Club, I could see that there was this thing that maybe I wanted to be a part of: a well thought out and organized program that is designed to reward customers who want to know about pertinent and worthwhile store promotions. A nice logo wouldn't hurt.
Signage, Signage, Signage
As I stated earlier, we really walked the whole darn big Dwayne's Place store. On at least a few of the thirty available aisles, a big poster with smiling faces and the benefits of belonging to the Dwayne's Place Deal Club could have really helped us understand why Dwayne's Place needed to have a contact relationship with us. Right next to the clearance rack, a small sign that said, "Want more deals, join Dwayne's Place Deal Club!" might have enticed us. At the cashier stand, another opportunity for a sign existed. Even a handout in our bag that explained why they might want to contact us would have helped us understand what had just happened after we robotically gave out our contact info.
The Goal Isn't Getting the Email Address, It's Getting the Permission
Maybe your business isn't a big chain megastore. Maybe you don't have a thousand dollars for signage if you're a small vendor or independent rep. But the point here is to not take advantage of your customers' no-brainer moments. Let them know why you want to contact them and let them decide at their own pace. If the real world contact is long gone and you're unsure if they really want to be part of your marketing efforts, send them a simple message on a blank email template and ask them to opt-in (or use Benchmark's "permission reminder" opt-in template). Remember, email marketing works best when you have a good product, a good message and a good (and willing) customer.


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