Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
You wanna go where people know, people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows your name
This is the theme song to the 80s TV show Cheers about a group of people that form a friendship centered on a bar in Boston. The idea of people knowing your name at a bar is not that far-fetched even in today’s world. There was a time when this same concept held true in American retail. Back when most retail, even high-end retail, was mainly local single location family-owned stores. In that environment, store owners and professional salespeople had a true personal connection with their customers. Customer were known my name and retailers had detail knowledge of each customer. However, as retail in the United States has evolved that feeling of connection between retailer and customer seems to have dwindled.
I have found myself on a bit of a book reading binge in recent months, mixing in insight from Harvey Penick’s books on golf with several books about various retailers. My latest read is Minding the Store by Stanley Marcus. It is the story of the founding and growth of specialty retailer Neiman Marcus. While the book was filled with all kinds of anecdotes of unique customers and sales that have passed through Neimans over the years, there was one specific quote from Stanley Marcus in the book that clicked with me: “As long as the customer is alive, you have a prospect.” As the CIO for a team of passionate marketing professionals this notion resonated strongly with me.
The book also highlighted that back in the days before computers Neiman Marcus provided each salesperson with a clientele book. The salesperson was required to record all purchases for each customer in this book, as well as birthdays, anniversaries and other information that might provide useful in contacting the customer by letter or phone. The idea was that if properly used, the customer purchase history would make it easy to relate new merchandise to things the customer already owned. This insight could then be used to directly contact that customer to drive new sales. That sounds a lot like the direct one-to-one communication that we hear retailers say they want to achieve with their marketing activities today.
Sadly it feels like retailers, like Neiman-Marcus, have lost sight and/or proper execution of this simple concept. I asked my wife, an occasional shopper at Neiman Marcus, if she received the same type of one-to-one relevant communications from that store today. Her response that while the salesperson at the store usually asked for her name at the point of sales counter, she rarely if ever receives any kind of communication from the store and certainly nothing that she would consider one-to-one. Perhaps the lack of communication is due to her historical low (or so she tells me) level of total spend at that store or perhaps it is just a lack of understanding of the value of the information possessed or how to use the information to establish a one-to-one connection that could drive more sales. In any case, the result is retailers missing out on the value of that one-to-one relationship Stanley Marcus so wisely observed fifty plus years ago.
I am only using Neiman Marcus as an example because it was the topic of the book that got my mind thinking about this idea. But there are retailers everywhere that fail to take full advantage of the information they possess on their customers. I think my wife is a member of just about every retail loyalty program ever created but rarely do I see what looks like true one-to-one communication from those retailers. At best, I see messaging that has dropped her into some large segmentation bucket and even that is not done on a regular occurrence. This perplexes me as I know these businesses have a wealth of information about her and her purchase habits; information that could allow them to create that same in-store (or online) experience of having a personal connection to the customer, much like that which customers must have felt at the Neiman Marcus store in downtown Dallas back in the 1950s.
The data are there; the technology is there; and there are smart marketers out there that know how to combine that data and technology to create that personal connection. While some might find it slightly creepy, I for one can’t wait for the day to return when the salesperson at Neiman Marcus knows my name when I walk through the door – it will be a back to the future moment.