Monday, May 23, 2016

Customer experiences in the paper clip empire

When a U.S. federal judge in early May told Staples and Office Depot/Office Max that their proposed merger was dead, I was busy grading papers. But now, a couple of weeks later, I say: "Good on ya," Judge Emmet G. Sullivan.

By Takkk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
I'm the guy personified in an old Staples TV ad, singing "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," when back-to-school supplies go on sale in late July. I've strolled the stationery aisles of independent drugstores, looking for a hard-to-find ink refill or discontinued ballpoint. (All-time favorite: Pilot's long-gone GX300.) And, I've been an advocate of Staples, because they often have what I need.

But not this time. True, a Staples/Office Depot merger would have better competed with Amazon and Wal-Mart in the office/home-office category. But it would've doomed many smaller stationers, and perhaps crippled the buying cooperatives that educators use to obtain affordable supplies for classrooms. The little stationery and costume store in Olean, NY -- The Paper Factory -- could become a casualty of a mega-merger.

Staples, without adding Office Depot, has plenty of work to do, in terms of customer experience. For one, the last time the two office supply giants tried a merger in 1997, they urged customers to "buy now," because the merger would mean higher prices.

And, despite more than a decade as a steady (if not loyal) Staples customer, the company still doesn't have Clue One about me or my email preferences. Their email blasts arrive at least once daily, with an average twice-a-week sale on Hewlett-Packard printer ink. If Staples looked at my purchase history -- which their rewards card program enables them to do -- they'd see I haven't bought (or owned) an H-P ink cartridge or printer since before the millennium.

One thing Staples gets right: their Twitter presence. When I asked for the option of receiving promo emails once a week, not daily, I received a respectful, pleasant response from their social media manager, who said they didn't offer that choice. But she'd pass the idea along to the merchandising team at Staples' Framingham, MA offices.

By User:Yskyflyer (own work (2 feet from my computer,
On my Desk)) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
Message to Staples: you've got the data. Look at what your customers buy and want. It's easy. (Yes, I did that.)

At some level, Staples knows how to listen to its customers. But in the wake of the discontinued merger, significant improvements in the company's customer experience efforts aren't coming anytime soon.