What Do Customers Want? Just Ask.

Oct 09, 2017


There is a particular department store, which shall not be named, that I sometimes dread going into. I love their products, the store is neat and well laid out, and the dressing rooms are spacious. So, what’s the problem?

The sales associates are paid on commission, which means every five to seven minutes, a smiling face approaches and asks, “Have you been helped?”

The first time it’s wonderful, as I am quickly set up with a dressing room and someone I can ask for help finding a particular item. The second and third times are bearable, and I am able to maintain my manners and politely decline. After that, it quickly goes downhill, and I find myself either ducking for cover when I see someone approaching, or screaming out “I’ve been helped!” from five feet across the room.

As it turns out, a Korean beauty store has seemingly solved my dilemma. Innisfree, which has stores located around Asia, greets customers at the door with two shopping baskets to choose from: an orange one, which lets the sales associates know that you’d like some help, and a green one, which politely tells everyone to leave you alone. It’s genius, I know.

It got me thinking—why are businesses so hesitant to ask customers what kind of service they want? I would gladly carry around a small shopping basket or some sort of indicator if it meant I would be left to shop in peace.

Furthermore, this could easily be applied to customers’ website shopping experiences. Most companies that offer online shopping employ some kind of filtering mechanism for customers, but in the interest of keeping a relatively clean interface, they limit those filters to a selection of the most important or frequently used criteria. Customers find themselves clicking and un-clicking selections as they navigate around the site.

What if, instead, you could type into a chatbot everything that you were interested in, and the system could leverage hundreds of behind-the-scenes filters to curate your browsing experience? Most of this technology is already in use in some capacity today.

While businesses can’t always rely on stated customer preferences (often, customers’ behaviors tell the real truth), that doesn’t mean companies should shy away from them entirely when deciding what type of experience to offer. Even though customers’ behaviors are fairly consistent over time, their shopping preferences may vary by their need state or mood on a given day.

Sometimes, the easiest way to give customers what they want is to just ask.