No such thing as a free coffee?

March 17, 2012

 Now I like coffee. To be honest I am much more of a coffee person than I am a tea person, so when I heard about the free latte offer in Starbucks I was certainly going to make my way to the local branch.

I was somewhat fearful of a queue stretching half way down to the Steine, or perhaps the memo from head office has not actually reached/been sent toBrighton. But my fears were unfounded, the experience was better than expected. I was met by smiling staff who knew exactly what was going on. There was no embarrassment on my part asking for a FREE coffee, and I announced my name clearly – it’s not difficult to say, it’s Paul. I shuffled along the counter and when it appeared to be my turn the young lady serving called out for ‘Latte for Rail’.  Now that was me, I boldly announced it was my free coffee, despite feeling a bit foolish somehow and also slightly sorry for the assistant who could not get my name right.  But, what the hell it’s a free coffee.

The thing is it got me thinking about coffee. Yes really. To be honest I rarely find myself in any of the branded shop nowadays unless I am out of the office and in need of a coffee fix. In Brighton making a coffee in the office seems to be the obvious thing to do!

Firstly the cost. For the price of a take away I can buy a jar that does numerous cups – OK, so I also have to buy the milk too.

Secondly the quality. Naming names, Starbucks in Victoria station has to be the worst. If it isn’t cold, it’s all frothy and half full, so passing by always reminds me why I try to avoid them, Starbucks in particular.

Third the wait.  It’s only a coffee, OK it’s a cappuccino, or it’s a latte or a flat white (who named it that?) or some other poncy name, but it’s really a white coffee.  It seems to take forever to a) get served and then b) actually to get your drink, unless I’ve got a good half hour to spare I usually walk away.

So where does that take us?  Well it seems that the Starbucks offer generated simply huge numbers of twitter page impressions so I suppose the PR team are happy – even if like me quite a few noted the inability for those serving to get customers’ names right.  I’m slightly more positive towards Starbuck now after all they did give me some 50% off vouchers too.  But is this the start of the UK coffee wars?

I suddenly realised how many branded coffee shops there were in Brighton!  Costa alone has so many that it actually double-counts them on its own website!  It looks like there are five or six in Brighton, not including another in Hove. 

So how many more can they all build?  They all seem to stock the same range of drinks, I think they all have flat whites these days too.  Maybe growth now is going to come from stealing share.  Which may mean more loyalty cards, more price cuts and maybe with any luck more freebies. 

If you are asking, the name is now Rail, and anything with a silly name as long as it is full, and tastes of coffee will be just fine by me.

Driving loyalty?

February 14, 2012

I was tempted to join one of these petrol station loyalty cards, on the basis that “why not”. We’re filling up at least once a week, there is no supermarket petrol station in town and if I stick to one brand then maybe I can get some form of reward.

So we signed up and in due course received a nice plastic card and even some discounts.

The trouble is not 12 months after joining, the petrol station in question has changed ownership, and of course the new operator no longer accepts the loyalty card.

Now the company in question here were quite clever. They sent out some money-off vouchers to encourage me to use their next nearest service station which is about 15 miles away. So although I wasn’t going to go there very often there would be occasions that I might be passing and therefore fill up there.

On the first occasion on presenting the money-off voucher the person at the desk explained that they had never seen the voucher before, but were willing to accept them since it was clear to her that they were indeed genuine. A clear case of “didn’t get the memo” or “didn’t read the memo”.

On the second time of visiting, early last week, I was unable to make any purchase because I couldn’t, they didn’t have any, a clear case of “didn’t get the fuel”. Now to be fair there was at least an inch of snow on the ground, maybe even two, but having said that the next petrol station I came to, some 500 yards further into town seemed to have no problems at all getting either petrol or diesel.
Now funnily enough I did try to contact the company in question but their web site kicked me out as soon as I submitted my comment, and I do not believe it actually got through to them.

The result of all of this? Well at the moment I am a little unsure as to how I feel about them. Part of me still feels they have demonstrated consistent incompetence but part of me now just feels a bit sorry for them and want to give them another chance.
I suppose this is another case of needing to focusing on the basics like getting fuel to the forecourt and ensuring you are able to communicate within the organisation, otherwise are you just wasting your time with those fancy cards, web sites and points statements?

Banking on good service?

July 29, 2010

Interesting to see the launch of a new bank Metro Bank today and its intention to place customer service at the heart of its offer, and to use the shopping mall as it model.

We know from our own work in retail that good service remains the number one issue for all shopping centres, so making this a key differential is both a brave and commendable move. I’m not sure their rates will tempt me to open an account however I may well mystery visit them just to see exactly what it is that make them different.

Just two words does it

July 17, 2009

It is not often that a phone call to a call centre puts a smile on my face but the last call to my bank did just that. With my home PC being particularly slow the other evening and wanting to make a payment in case I forget it, I picked up the phone to my bank. I have to admit I do have a soft spot for first direct and am more than happy to recommend them to any one who wants to listen. Anyway having gone through security I was quite taken a-back when the lady on the other end of the phone wished me ‘happy birthday’. Strangely enough I found this actually rather nice and even made a point of telling my wife. I must say at this point that it was indeed my birthday!

So what are the lessons here?

Well for one thing I felt that I was being treated as a real person, not just a person on the end of the phone. Secondly it reinforced all that ‘good feelings’ I get from a brand I trust, and thirdly I’m sharing that with you and that has to be good for first direct.

Cost of two words negligible, value to the brand immense. I suppose the question is what can we all be doing in our own respective businesses to create the holy grail of complete and utter brand loyalty?

Let’s be nice to customers

July 10, 2009

An article caught my eye the other day about a major high street chain. The headline read ‘Carphone Warehouse decides now is the right time to be especially nice to customers’. Now this is an interesting one. On one level this has to be good news. A major player on the UK high street appearing to embrace a customer service strategy. A retailer having the courage to build a sales strategy around customer feedback. The way it works for those who didn’t see this story is that employees will be judged on whether customer would recommend the company to a friend, and this will be used as an indication of their ability to generate repeat business. Charles Dunstone was quoted as saying “We believe that over time it will create even greater trust in the brand in the eyes of customers.” To reiterate this has to be good news, not just for Carphone Warehouse, but also for their customers, however it does beg the question just exactly what Carphone Warehouse have been up to all these years? Should they have been being nice to their customers all along. After all isn’t that part of what customer service is all about? At the end of the day it is never to late to start and the wonderful thing about any customer facing business is the second that you implement change on the front line you immediately create an impact on the future of your business. Good luck Carphone Warehouse and if you need a hand – at Business Blueprints we run a unique programme called Magic. The three day programme allows participants to recognise their innate talents and potential through a process which enhances their self esteem and therefore desire and confidence to deliver great service. It is a fact if you feel bad about what you do it is almost impossible to give a memorable service experience

Discount off next visit

February 28, 2009

The other Friday evening my wife and a group of her friends went out for a meal. The restaurant has had a good reputation, they had all been there before and there was no reason to doubt that they would not get great food and service. When the meals arrived however the food tasted bland, and most of the dishes were not sufficiently heated through. It got to the point where they did actually complain to the waiter. The response they received was that they could “get a discount off their next visit” – not a particularly good one since the whole party has vowed never to go back again anyway.

We know that a complaint properly handled can actually increase customer satisfaction and even go so far as to create a real brand advocate. On the other hand in the current climate this was probably not the best way to respond to customer feedback.

It’s the sizes, stupid!

January 16, 2009

We conduct around 50 focus groups each year with British shoppers, and lack of sizes is still one of the top gripes we find. Personally I’ve lost count in the last 12 months of how many times I’ve failed to make a purchase just because the shop does not have the right size, footwear retailers seem to be the worst.

A recent shopping trip looking for a pair of walking boots was again appearing unsuccessful. Things looked up when the assistant offered to phone the warehouse to check out availability of sizes. Unfortunately this led to nothing and we returned home ‘bootless’. A visit to their web site using their postcode look up let me identify the three stores closest to me. A call to the second one on the list revealed a pair in the correct size available only 12 miles away. The boots were put aside for us and we duly drove over to make the purchase that afternoon.

My conclusions are this. Firstly I need to do more of my own research before leaving the house, and second should we not expect that sort of service from my local branch in the first place? How about giving stores the technology to easily contact local stores to make stock checks on behalf of customers? How about stores arranging for deliveries from other branches for customer collection in that store? The opportunity must be for retailers to explore ways to add real value for their customers, making a sale on the day and demonstrating real customer service.

We know the times are tough on the high street, but having at first got people into the stores it seems crazy that an opportunity to make a sale is lost through poor stocking keeping or a lack of understanding of the profile of shoppers. Can this sizing challenge really be that difficult to fix?

Whose tips are they anyway?

November 26, 2008

The Government has published ‘Service Charges, Tips, Gratuities and Cover Charges: A Consultation’ which seeks views on how the law should be changed to prevent employers using tips or service charges to bring employees’ pay up to the level of the national minimum wage.

I have no doubt that they will receive plenty of views on this as it is a highly emotive subject as you will know if you have any involvement in the operation of a restaurant.  Through staff surveys Business Blueprints discovered 90% of a typical front of house team believe that the tips are entirely theirs as a personal affirmation of their excellent work from their customers.

The most important perspective on this I believe is that of the customer and their intention when they left the additional sum of money over and above the bill for their meal.  At Business Blueprints on a number of occasions we have gained insight through research with regular restaurant users in both focus groups and quantitative studies as to the reasons why they leave a tip and who they intend to receive it.   30% of customers do not leave a tip because the food and/or the service was not good enough.  85% who leave a tip intend for the money to be left equally for the team that created a great experience including attentive service, a caring atmosphere and delicious food.    All the aspects that Business Blueprints seeks to measure in a mystery visit to reflect the likelihood of a person returning to and recommending a restaurant.

And then there is the employers’ or restauranteurs’ perspective – they build a typical high street restaurant at today’s rates for anywhere between £400k and £1,000,000, pay the rent or mortgage, they hand pick the staff, train them, buy all the food, create a ambience that guests appreciate and want to come back to, provide the equipment to cook the food on, provide the recipes and the motivation to do all the above consistently!

What other business or industry is there an external influence on how any income generated by the business is distributed amongst the people who work there – other than ensuring that the statutory and good employee regulations are maintained?

The “restaurant” that creates a memorable experience that can be relished, recommended and repeated will always be rewarded with a good tip!  Surely it is therefore up to the “restaurant” to decide the best way to distribute the “restaurant ” income in order to encourage and reward the team just like any other business – If they decide to in an unjust manner then the business will suffer just like any other.

96% of People do not Complain!

November 19, 2008

In yesterday’s Daily Telegraph Waitrose advertised “If you don’t enjoy one of our products, we’ll replace it and give you a refund.  Reckless? No, just confident.”  This for some cynical businesses might seem a step too far  – Inviting customers to just make up lies and complain to get something for nothing when “there is clearly nothing wrong.”

Or is it that Waitrose are completely aware of the fact that 96% of people who have a reason to complain simply do not bother – what they do is tell at least 12 others about their experience and perhaps never go back.  Making it acceptable and actively encouraging customers to give negative feedback or in truth gain real insight from your customers through really helpful comments on how to get it right next time is absolutely essential for the short, medium and long term health of any business.

The price of a full refund on a Roast Beef Joint priced at £8.99 at Waitrose is nothing in comparison with the annual value of an average shopper in Waitrose.  Indeed in a restaurant Business Blueprints worked with; Spur Steak & Grill their average spend is £12, with an average annual visit frequency of 20 thus each customer is worth £240 – are you going to begrudge a refund of £12 for a meal that does not meet guest expectations or lose £240 or more over the life of your business- I think not!

It is fundamental to: 1. Do not be afraid to ask for feedback – a customer who has something negative to say is as afraid as you are – make it easy for them; 2. Actively seek out complaints – remember behind every one you find there is a potential 24 others who either agree or have a niggle or full blown complaint that you do not know about; 3. Reward the brave customer that tells you about their issue; 9 out of 10 of customers who complain and get a good response from you will be back and will be your most loyal and valuable customers.

During a recession customers become loyal to the brands that provide value for money and consistently good service and abandon those brands that let them down – Make sure you are the former not the latter!