Ask for Permission



“Do you mind if I make a phone call?”

I was startled that another human had even spoken to me - I was sitting in the window seat on a train, about to depart London. A woman had just taken the seat next to me and reached into her bag for her phone.

I didn’t mind at all. I was just surprised to have been asked. Overhearing other folks’ phone calls on trains can be really annoying (or entertaining), and we weren’t in the quiet carriage, so she was at will to do as she pleased. But it was still nice to be asked.

It occurred to me that of all the people who could have sat down in the next seat, I probably had struck lucky with the most considerate person in all of London.

It made me feel that her choosing to chat on her call for a few minutes was a decision I had actively participated in. I wasn’t irritated by it in the slightest. Unlike the chap about three seats behind us who bored the whole carriage to tears with his 30-minutes long work call, followed by another one to his sweetheart so they could discuss what to cook for dinner – they settled on shepherd’s pie.

• Can I share with you an idea that might be helpful?

• Do you mind if I suggest something that someone else in your position found useful?

• Would it be ok with you if we booked an appointment for you to come in for that?

• Would you mind being placed on hold for a moment?

• Would you mind if I call you back in 5 minutes?

• Do you mind if I share what you just said with my manager?

• It is ok with you if we send you some information by post?

Asking customers for permission is unlikely to lead to resistance, especially in the UK, where our innate politeness makes us more accommodating. And it does give customers a greater feeling of control, power and autonomy.

Enjoying the freedom to act is a key factor in human motivation, a key factor in human happiness. Simply put, feeling in control of a process or situation makes us feel happier about it (= a bit extra brand love)

Just don’t abuse it. Asking a customer if they mind being put on hold for a moment will likely lead to a “yes”, but they will still be annoyed with you if you leave them hanging on the end of the line for 10 minutes.

And abide by it. If you ask a question, you have to be prepared to listen to the answer. Don’t ignore the customers wishes just because it doesn’t fit what you hoped they would say.

The new GDPR rules recently brought the issue of consent and permission marketing to the forefront. You can either look at it as an annoying thing you grudgingly have to comply with (because it’s preventing you from irritating your customers!!) or you can see it as an opportunity to create a more meaningful connection with those customers who DO want to hear from you.

How can you use the mechanism of permission to enable your customers to be and feel more in control (and happier) as they navigate their way through your service?