Can you be too engaging with your customer?

Near where I live in Connecticut there are two local wine stores, in both the staff are friendly, they are as knowledgeable about wine as I need them to be and they both recognize me when I come in.

They sell pretty much the same selection of products that easily satisfy my wine preferences, there is no difference in price and very little in their proximity to my home.  However I am starting to choose one over the other. Why is that?

It’s the very little things that change and differentiate a customer experience in a crowded market and in the case of these little wine stores, with their similar products and their strip mall store fronts, the difference to me is their friendliness.

I did say they are both friendly, I guess your assumption will be that one is slightly more friendly than the other and that’s why I prefer them. But in this case you’d be wrong; sometimes I avoid one of them because they are too friendly.

There are times when all I need is a quiet nod of recognition, perhaps a “hello and lovely weather” or something similar as I go about the simple task of grabbing a bottle of wine to accompany dinner.

I don’t need the attentions of a smiling new friend who wants to know what I am having to eat, makes comments about my selection, what’s new in the store or that he has seen my wife in the store this week. You are lovely people, sometimes I stop by because I like that, or I want to find something new, but right now I just want to buy a bottle of wine.

I write about this in the context of engaging customers on the web through a digital customer experience. The first point being that, like me wanting to buy a bottle of wine often the visitor wants to complete a task and we should rate the experience we offer against that.

A great exponent of that thinking is Gerry McGovern who in his article Web Experience: Bridging the Content Management Chasm for CMSWire wrote:


Web content exists within the context of a task; something the customer wishes to do. By measuring the ability of the customer to quickly and easily complete the task, we measure the quality of the content. Because the better the content the faster and easier the task will be completed.


The visitor is there to do something, so get out of their way and let them do it.

The second point, the theme of the title is around relevancy and personalization – there is a risk that by being too familiar, too engaging, too focused on this individual customer that they’ll be turned off from you, your message, service or product.

Does knowing their name enhance the experience?

Does opening this digital conversation with a recommendation help them achieve their task?

It could do; imagine if my chatty wine merchant welcomed me at the door with the very bottle of wine I would have bought.

But you need to be very sure about getting intimate with your visitor.

In the meantime a polite nod of recognition will be fine and I’ll go about my business, thanks.


Image of wine store courtesy of Just Grapes.


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6 thoughts on “Can you be too engaging with your customer?

  1. It is a great point you make, and I do sometimes feel “harassed” by certain websites that have become a bit too familiar for comfort. Finding the right balance is obviously a challenge, but as usual – just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

    and they both recognize me when I come in

    Sorry, had to laugh when I read this one 🙂

    1. Absolutely Nuno – great phrase “just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should”.

      And as for being recognized in multiple wine stores… no comment, I must be easy to recognize or something..

      Thanks for your comment.


  2. Nice piece. Thanks.

    A thought: are you sure that stating visitors are in the midst of performing a task is an accurate summation? I see what you are saying and do not disagree, but I would suggest that good marketing can attract visitors who are seeking value instead of accomplishing tasks. There is generally a call to action that either influences them once on the site or that brings them to a digital property, but I bring this up because something which is “task-oriented” will behave differently than something which is “value-oriented”. At least, it reads that way.

    Your point about not over-engaging is well taken, and I think that balancing the efficient delivery of value involves optimizing the user experience. Not getting in the way. Perhaps suggesting or making apparent things that may speak to the visitor’s intent would be welcome – even if not directly associated with the end goal. For instance, I might click on a link advertising a sale on vitamins I have been interested in, casually, and click the link to take part in a survey that interests me and browse pricing a little. When I get to the site there may be an article that supports the science behind my intent to buy at some point. It could influence me favorably. Now, my initial goal of doing the survey may or may not remain… but I got value – which was what I was really after. I wasn’t there to perform a task, in reality. I was there because I was enticed. The task was just an entry point. I would not complain in this case.

    There is a lot of opportunity to deliver and derive value, I think, off the intended path and given the correct scenario.

    This is not contradicting you at all, just perhaps inserting some context that might be relevant. It is about tasks, but moreover, about goals.

    There are times you just want that bottle of wine. I have been there. I cannot say I have never grabbed wasabi peas while waiting in line, however. Nor that I have not picked up a beer or two that caught my eye. I was very pleased with the peas. I actually went back for them again.

    I do not like to be approached by salespeople, or in-your-face attempts at digital engagement. What I do like, however, are rich experiences that allow me to pull value easily and offer me the chance at more than my initial reflex.

    Know what I mean? 🙂

    Thanks for your time.


    1. Hi Josh,

      Thanks for your comment and yes – you are absolutely right, it’s not binary as to whether the visitor is trying to accomplish a task as quickly as possible or if they up for a bit of a harbor tour of all that is good about your website. Your wasabi peas example is a great one and when I mentally applied it to the two shopping experiences I use as an example here, I think I’d still come down on the side of the less intrusive experience would probably lead me to pick up those peas.

      There are also two tasks happening here, which I think you are alluding to. The task the visitor wants to complete – which might not be a clean commercial transaction, but could be to get to know you, research your company and products and take in lots of content along the way. The other task is the thing the “good marketing” you refer to is for. Why does the site exist? What do you want to achieve? What is the engagement objective? What’s the task of the website?

      Thank you for taking your time and commenting.


  3. Nice post.

    One obvious distinction on the idea of being too friendly s culture – as a Brit living in the US I am constantly surprised at the familiarity of people in stores – and organizations like Starbucks who have set up shop in the UK are regularly rediculed for wanting to know your first name when you purchase a cup of coffee. That said, Starbucks does pretty well for themselves. WHich leads me to my conclusion – which is that even if they don’t think they like it, and protest about it… humans want to be liked, want to be recognized and above all, want to be acknowledged. I do think we all have our moments where we are grumpy and want a little isolation… but for the most part, friendliness works in my observation.

    1. I agree and apologies David for my tardy response.

      Yes I agree, we all want to be recognized and liked. My wine store story was trying to make that point – what degree of friendliness works for me as a consumer on a certain day wouldn’t work for a different consumer or even me on a different day. My Englishness should be something that someone in a competitive business takes into account when they offer a customer experience. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by,


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