THE BLOG
07/11/2014 03:05 pm ET Updated Sep 10, 2014

Can't I Just Make a Purchase?

I'm a marketer, so I know better.

I know it's supposed to work this way, so I have no right to get irritated.

But I'm noticing a shift in customer service that I'm finding inconvenient at best, completely irritating at its worst, and damaging to the customer experience every single time. So of course I have to bring it up even though I know where it's coming from and I advise clients about it all the time.

Collecting information at the point of sale.

You know what I mean: you're at the check out counter of your favorite store and they ask you what has now become a fatal question ... have you shopped with us before?

I should learn to say no.

But in some of these stores I want them to know I'm a regular, and I want to be treated to a little customer service, like I'm a regular. I want to get the perks of being a regular. Some of them have become famous for the perks: early invites to sales, extra savings discount cards, friends and family events, first look at new merchandise, upgrades to the next level ... the consumer in me wants in.

So I say yes and I give them my name.

But at the time of checkout this can be painful.

The resulting search of addresses and emails can be exhausting. They can't find me in the system, they're not sure which "Jim Joseph" I am, or worse yet ... the system is down and they can't find me.

Not my problem. I don't care that there are fifteen people with my same name; I thought this was supposed to make me feel special. I want to check out and go.

And by the way, I don't want a series of emails clogging up my inbox now that I've registered, made another purchase, or forgot to click opt out. Sometimes I don't want to enter a loyalty club, or give to your charity, or enter a sweepstakes.

Is it too much to ask: "Can I just make a purchase?"

I asked this question just last week at a boutique in Princeton, actually. The sales associate, at a very nice store, couldn't find me in their system. Then they thought I was listed as an employee and wanted to know why. Then they tried "Jim" and then "James" and then "J." ... all to no success. They couldn't find me.

"Can I just make a purchase, without you 'looking me up,' since you can't seem to find me?"

The answer was a shocking, "NO."

They can't process a transaction without imputing my (personal) information.

I almost walked away.

But I really wanted this scarf I was trying to buy! The only reason I didn't walk away, despite my rising blood pressure, is that I realized that it wasn't the sales associate's fault. She was just doing her job.

And that's the point: she was doing her job.

She was following a trained protocol for completing a customer transaction that was completely one-sided ... on the side of the business, not the customer. It felt like it was more important to capture information for future sales then to service the customer in that moment. This is training that comes from the top, this particular associate was simply following orders. She couldn't stray from the script.

This has become a pet peeve of mine, and I've written about it many times as I've faced bad customer service all around the country from hotels, restaurants, and stores spanning high-end to mainstream brands. It seems like it's getting worse.

Customer service starts at the center and should be directed by senior management of the organization, focused on a positive customer experience.

We have to remember that it's about the customer experience, not the internal needs to drive the business. It's about delivering an experience that makes customers want to come back time and time again, not because you've captured their information and you can hit them up for future sales. Yes, you want to do that too, but it needs to be much more subtle and in service to the customer.

And allow the answer to be yes, when the customer says, "Can I just make a purchase?"

Customer service starts at the center, starting from what the brand is all about, and extends to every interaction with the customer, for a totally positive experience .... including that last moment at the check out.

Put the customer first!