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Pumped for Information

First Impressions

Low on fuel and on a tight schedule, I pulled into a BP-fueled truck stop. Grimy housings, hand-scrawled, duct-taped instructions, greasy LCD screens and several "out of order" signs indicated that this wasn't your typical BP.

My instincts told me to take my business elsewhere but my fuel gauge and my watch spurred me on.

Imposing Impressions

I inserted my credit card into the slot and after a long delay—as if awakened from a deep, sleepy dial-up—the screen queried, "Credit or Debit?" I punched "Credit" and, after another delay, got "Car Wash Y/N?" I scanned the keypad and hit "N." At last the computer processed my input and responded: 

Enter ZIP Code

ZIP Code? This ZIP Code? Certainly not. My business ZIP Code? My home ZIP Code? And why? ID verification? Demographic purposes? Requiring personal data mid-transaction calls for a friendly explanation. Something beyond "Enter ZIP Code."

Perturbed, I punched in my home ZIP Code. Time passed, "Authorizing…" At long last the pump offered up its final decree: "Card error." Now invested and thinking I'd erred in supplying my home ZIP Code, I repeated the entire process, entering my business ZIP Code—to no avail, "Card error" again.

Lasting Impressions

I returned to my car irritated, and still in need of fuel, wondering exactly what "Card error" meant. And why ZIP Code was the last query in my customer experience, not the first. Several exits later I filled my tank at a competitor's pump using the same credit card.

So what did BP gain from this customer interaction? They realized no sale, no add-on sale and, by association with the truck stop, a less-than-positive brand impression with a potential customer.

Acquiring customer data and positioning yourself for additional sales opportunities is smart business, but never at the expense of your customers' experience. In today's convenience-oriented, competitive business climate, place a premium on your customers' time and expectations. From housekeeping to user interface design, put customer needs and desires ahead of your own. That's front line branding.

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