There’s a sporting goods store that I’ve visited on occasion over the last 11 years. It’s a membership cooperative, which mails a percentage rebate check back to customers annually. I signed up as a member 11 years ago, which meant yet another card to keep in my wallet. For convenience, the store could recall my membership via my phone number, so the card eventually lost its wallet position.

 

Over the years, outdoor recreation lost its priority to parenthood, so the store visits and the purchase volume was quite low. On those rare occasions, upon request for my membership number, I’d give my phone number. At some point the search for my membership failed, but I couldn’t be bothered to pursue the issue for the $10 annual purchase.

 

A few weeks ago, while preparing to bring my family for a ski trip, there was a fairly large purchase and I pursued the matter. I went to customer service and gave information like my address and phone number, wife’s name, etc. I have had only one address, one phone number, and one wife for the 11 years I’ve lived in Washington, so I thought any database program worth its salt would succeed.  I’ve only visited their one store (it moved once in 11 years), but I’ve never purchased items in other store branches. In addition, our last name isn’t the most common: surely my account could be found for the several hundred dollars I was spending there.

 

To further my chagrin, my wife had gone to the store the week before and purchased something. The sales clerk then apparently somehow found our membership account, confirming its existence.

 

After a few minutes of failure, another sales person, apparently with more experience, offered her assistance. She asked my phone number yet again, typed in a few keys, and instantly found my record!

 

I asked what her secret was: she used my same phone number but with the older area code: The entry had the 206 area code, but that changed to 425 on September 1, 2000. In this case, evidently experience does help: about 6 years of it! I asked her to change my phone number area code, so this problem won’t occur again for a while.

 

In any case, it seems to me that searching for my customer record via various attributes should have been less painful.