A month ago, I had to make an impromptu trip to North Carolina, in the eastern part of the US. I hastily packed, forgetting both my razor and a stop at the ATM for some cash. The trip took about four hours, and I arrived in time to attend a beloved Aunt’s funeral.
As I was driving back to my hotel room late that night, I stopped at a little independently owned gas station to pick up some bottled water. Walking to the front of the store with my intended purchase, I realized I had no cash in my wallet and that this $1.93 charge was going to seriously eat into the merchant’s profit for that item.
The night clerk was a young man in his mid-20s, and as I approached the counter I remarked that I felt bad about charging such a small item. Looking up from his inventory chart, he pointed to a taped-down note on the counter that read, “No credit charges under $5” and said, “I’m not supposed to run it unless it’s over $5.”
Disappointed, I said, “I’m sorry.” And reaching for the bottle of water, said, “Here, I’ll put it back in the cooler.”
He looked at me and said, “You know what, don’t worry about it. I’ll pay for it,” and he noted something on a ledger beside the register that I can only assume was for shrinkage.
Embarrassed, I put up a half-hearted argument but ended up with a “Thanks so much!” and left with my free, large bottle of water and headed back to my hotel room.
The next morning, I had to pass by this same fuel station again on my way to meet my family for breakfast and I decided to stop and fill up my gas tank–a $47 purchase–as a way of saying “Thank You” even though I knew the owner of the store would never know that my purchase was a direct result of the customer service provided by an employee of his the night before.
But I think this is a great example of how companies can leverage this new era of mobile payments and information. Purchasing decisions aren’t just about the convenience of the payment mechanism–be it EMV, or NFC or some other mobile wallet acceptance—conversely, nor is it just about customer service. I mean, even with the free bottle of water incident, had this particular station been a dime more expensive per gallon than everyone else, it’s unlikely I would have been as benevolent the next morning.
Rather, what motivates my shopping preferences are the following factors:
• Support for my choice of payment type
• Above average customer service
• Quality products
• And competitive pricing
The right mix of these four qualities is what makes a business or merchant stand out and what ultimately drives my loyalty to a specific brand or chain of merchants.
Here’s the point I think a lot of companies that deal in mobile offers are missing:
I didn’t grow up with a mobile device in my hand, though I’m a fairly heavy user now. That’s true for the majority of people and doubly so for the people who have disposable income. People like me are loyal to a business for a variety of reasons, not just because of a good coupon. A good offer helps, but if I feel that a company doesn’t value my business (usually because of a previously poor customer service experience), me and my old-school plastic credit card will go somewhere else.
In truth, I don’t know that I’ll ever subscribe to a mass-market couponing and loyalty program on my smartphone. Case in point, I recently canceled my Groupon account. But, I might subscribe to offer programs on my mobile, from a select group of merchants based on the mix I previously mentioned. And if those merchants can offer me coupons and other offers that make shopping with them more attractive than shopping with their competitors, they’ll get my money every time.