As an Air Force Reservist, I’m always on the lookout for the ‘military discount’ to save a buck or two. Many brands offer a markdown of some sort: Flash your Common Access Card (CAC, the unnecessary obviously-has-to-be-an-acronym term we use to mean, “Military ID”) at checkout, and a lot of places knock 5, 10, or even 15 percent off the total for your purchases.
Now, there are two major warehouse-type home improvement brands in the US. Yes, those are the two I’m talking about. Without calling either out by name, one of them in the past couple of years or so has moved their military discount program to a third-party organization. In practice as a Customer, what that means is that, instead of simply showing your Military ID at checkout, you have to go online (to their partner’s website) and register yourself ahead of time. Then in the store at checkout, the cashier looks you up in their system. It’s a nontrivial endeavor as you’re obligated to upload some sort of proof of your eligibility for the program to get enrolled. That entails removing or blacking out your Social Security Number from whatever document you use. (Somehow along the line, a simple 10% discount has turned into an entire Program™, the product of which is...well, nothing more than that same, simple 10% discount.)
The process isn’t the worst set of hoops to jump through (after all, we're talking about military people here), and I have gone through one of these third-party verification companies like this in the past to register the awesome discount Vail Resorts offers to military members. For something like that, which has to be done online (that’s how they sell their Epic Pass...one can’t really walk up and buy it), the somewhat cumbersome nature of the process is both unavoidable (since you can’t simply show an ID at an online retail checkout) and carries a great payoff (a huge discount). So fair’s fair and the extra effort pays off as a Customer.
But, not to sound too entitled, what in the world is this hardware store thinking? They’ve taken an incredibly straightforward process (at point-of-sale; ID = discount) that’s ubiquitous at nearly every retailer in the nation that offers this type of discount and turned it into this unnecessary hassle. What a huge mistake and self-goal from a CX perspective.
What’s worse, I remember when they instituted the policy, they tried to sell it as a relief of hassle: ‘To make it easier for you to redeem your military discount...’ or somesuch, went the description. Early on, when you could still cajole a cashier at checkout to simply give you the discount as before (and as happens everywhere else) by showing your ID, a couple of them even tried to explain how much simpler the New Process™ was. I’d chuckle, and say, “easier than what you just did for me right now?”
Now, I totally understand what this retailer has to gain from signing us up through this third party they’ve contracted with: Just like any sort of loyalty program, the benefit to the retailer is that they can track every time you buy something from them, all your purchases, how much you spend, and on what, etc. That’s incredibly useful for the retailer, and in fact, brands that hire outside organizations to manage and run their loyalty programs pay a high premium to not have to bother with all that work while also benefitting from the tremendous value your shopping information provides.
But seriously? To sell it to your Customers as if putting these extra steps in the process is somehow making it more convenient for me? That takes a mere inconvenience and compounds it with an insult to my intelligence. Anymore, I don’t usually even bother, and normally go to their competitor’s location (which, conveniently, is located literally just across the street), but for a particular purchase I had to make the other day, the more convenient competitor didn’t carry the brand I was looking for, so I had no choice. On every occasion for which I have the choice, however, I start with their competitor. If they have what I’m looking for, I show an ID at checkout and receive my discount without ever even stepping in the offending store. As for this visit, the cashier was either uninterested in, or did not have the authority to simply give me a discount as I showed my ID to him. He even tried to ‘look me up in the system’ (I’d never registered, so he was wasting my time and his) with my phone number. I asked in puzzlement, “Why would you have my phone number?” and he was likewise perplexed that someone would want a military discount without having “registered” with them. Sorry, I said, I’m already registered at the Department of Defense. That usually suffices.
I’ve written previously and repeatedly about how many brands miss the boat on convenience, solving their own problems instead of those of their Customers. Often it’s a huge opportunity missed, especially if they’re in an industry where none of their competitors are making the effort. But this instance is completely self-imposed, almost designed, it kind of seems, to lose ground to that competitor across the street. This is a good lesson in CX for all of us to keep in mind: When you ‘improve’ your processes to ‘make them easier’ or when you ‘streamline’ your systems, for whom are you trying to make things easier? Yourself? Or your Customers?
(Originally Published 20211013)
– LtCol Nicholas Zeisler, CCXP, LSSBB, CSM
– Principal, Zeisler Consulting