Opticians is blind to benefits of data

broken glasses on printout of dataIn You can’t pretend to be digital I wrote about the opticians service of a well-known UK high street brand that was trying to give the impression of being a digital business without having the right systems in place to support this aspiration.

The company in question offers customers the option of booking their eye check online. However, this “online” facility is in reality just a form that asks the customer to submit two possible appointment times that are then manually reviewed against the branch booking system. If one or other is available then an email is manually produced and sent to the customer within 24 hours confirming the appointment.

This is not a digital offering; in the digital age customers have become used to instant action – being able to self-serve and not having to wait for a response. In this case the branch booking system is not integrated with the website and so the company cannot offer real-time booking of appointments. And, as a result, the online option is actually less immediate than calling the company’s contact centre. Yet by advertising an online booking facility the company is raising the customer’s expectations that they will receive the same real-time service they get from other digital experiences. It is failing to meet these expectations and that will ultimately damage its brand and impact customer retention.

To make matters worse the manually produced email confirming my appointment gave the date as 30 February so I had to call the contact centre anyway. The lesson here for any business that wants to create a digital customer experience is that it has to be seamless and automated. Systems have to be integrated; you cannot use a human as the interface between two systems in a digital service.

But there’s more. Anyone that has had an eye check will know that the optician asks you a lot of questions about your eyesight such as how often you wear your glasses and/or contact lenses, whether you have noticed any change in your vision, whether you have experienced any discomfort or problems, etc. They also of course record a lot of data from the tests they perform during the appointment. However, most of this data is recorded manually on forms even though the optician is sitting next to a computer. And so, at the end of the appointment I was handed a handwritten copy of my prescription. This company has my email address and the prescription was one of the few things that was entered on the computer so why couldn’t it send me an electronic copy of my prescription instead?

Here is a summary of the key information generated and recorded during my eye check: my prescription has not changed, my glasses are therefore up-to-date, I am not experiencing any issues with my glasses, I wear contact lenses most of the time so only wear my glasses for a few hours a week, and as a result of all this, I have no need or desire to change my glasses.

So imagine my surprise when, about week after my appointment, I received a letter (yes, a letter not an email) from the opticians inviting me to go into the shop and choose my “nice new glasses”. The letter also included a voucher for a 50% discount on my new glasses as I also buy my contact lenses from the same company. All I had to do was take the voucher with me when I visited the store.

Businesses have always collected data about their customers’ buying habits, needs and preferences. But digital businesses know how to bring that data together to create personalised communications, offers and services for their customers. Digital customers expect personalised, tailored correspondence with relevant offers or discounts. And they prefer to receive this electronically.

The company in question is clearly not able to integrate its various data sources to create personalised offers. So why bother collecting all that data in the first place? There is an implicit understanding between customers and businesses in the digital age; customers are happy to provide data about themselves to a business if they will receive some form of benefit such as an enhanced service or cheaper price in return. If a business takes my data but still treats me as a generic customer with standard letters and offers then it breaks that agreement and I will go elsewhere.

And that personalised service should be the same whether the business is sending offers out to the customer or whether the customer visits the store. Once the customer has identified himself in the store (which could be by checking-in via an app or just by giving their name) a digital business will be able to see all their information and provide the same targeted offers and tailored service they would do online. In the opticians example this would include being able to see my prescription, the information about how often and for how long I wear my glasses, and whether I qualify for the 50% discount. This would mean I would not have to carry two bits of paper (my prescription and the voucher) with me or repeat the conversation I had with the optician a week or two before. It would also make me feel valued and important, and may well lead to a higher spend as a result.

Businesses that collect data about their customers but fail to use it to create personalised and tailored services are not just missing an opportunity to grow revenue. These businesses are also failing to meet the customer’s expectations that they will benefit from sharing their data. Digital customers can switch suppliers very quickly – in the time it takes to install a new app – and, if a business fails to reward them for sharing their data, they will not think twice before switching to an alternative provider that will.

If your organisation wants to develop a vision and strategy for its digital transformation, or if it wants to transform its IT capability to support a digital transformation then please contact me or visit my website, axin.co.uk.

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