Michelle de Haaff

Your customers — let’s imagine that they spend less than five dollars in your store. That, on average, they’ll spend roughly three minutes while they’re there. You don’t know who they are, nor do you have any of their contact details — but you do know there are fewer of them coming in now than there were in the past. What are you going to do? How are you going to engage with them and keep them coming back?

Those are the set of questions faced by Mike Debnar, VP of Innovation at 7-Eleven. Showing photos from a 7-Eleven store opening in the 1950s — which was a huge event, with lines akin to the launch of an Apple Store or an In-N-Out (see picture above) — Debnar talked about how 7-Eleven is using a digital strategy to recapture that same emotional attachment to today’s 7-Eleven.

So how are they doing it? There are three key prongs to the approach 7-Eleven is taking. The first is a real-time CRM, which is tied to the company’s recently launched loyalty program. This enables, for example, 7-Eleven to create tailored offers in-store for customers at the point of purchase. The second is a serious focus on mobile. With mobile internet usage set to exceed desktop internet usage for the first time this year, 7-Eleven has focused all of its energies on what it views as the platform of the future. Finally, they’re developing a true voice of the customer program, which includes some very creative, low-friction ways for customers to tell 7-Eleven what their experiences are like.

Debnar spent most of his time talking about this last prong — and the innovative projects inside of 7-Eleven that are bringing the voice of the customer into the organization. This includes interface elements in their mobile app — like “Slides,” for example — where customers are automatically progressed to the next screen in a mobile NPS survey without the need to click a submit button. Other elements include “Hubs,” where ideas for improvement are crowdsourced and then voted on by customers. Debnar shared the story of how many 7-Eleven customers have favorite flavors of Slurpees, but they weren’t sure which flavors were available in which stores. Once this was identified as a pain point for customers, Debnar and his team worked to figure out how to collect the data on flavor availability from stores, and then roll the detail into the 7-Eleven mobile app. It cost the 7-Eleven team very little to develop this functionality, but it solved a big pain point for customers of one of 7-Elevens most popular products.

Even more interesting, Debnar talked about how the voice of the customer has become key to the strategy of 7-Eleven: the organization is using customer input to prioritize their investment decisions. 7-Eleven used feedback from customers to inform their decision to move more heavily into the food space — with a particular focus on healthy food.

Given the scale of the organization — a presence in 16 countries, with over 53,000 stores, of which 80% are franchised — the work that 7-Eleven is doing is particularly impressive. It’s demonstrating that even in environments where customers aren’t spending lots of time or money, it’s still possible to generate and act on their feedback, and use that to prioritize some of the most important decisions inside a business.