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.

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.

Whatever next? It’s PyjamaGate

January 29, 2010

In amongst all the doom and gloom in our world it is great to see we still have a sense of perspective and the ability to focus on the real issues.

It seems that the wearing of pyjamas has become a hot topic for one supermarket in South Wales where customers have been pushing their trolleys dressed in their finest sleepwear. This of course raises a good question. Should shoppers be able to dress as they like or does Tesco have the right to dictate what their customers do or do not wear? Where does this lead on to? Banning football shirts but allowing rugby shirts, allowing jeans but not if they are too low slung?

Thankfully once again research comes to the rescue with the clarification that footwear must be worn and and nightwear is not permitted – a decision arrived at (according to the Tesco’s spokesperson) by “listening to customer feedback”.

The power of vouchers

September 18, 2009

A recent survey we conducted showed that a massive 97% of diners interviewed use restaurant vouchers, thus allowing the offer to dictate both where and when customers eat out nowadays.

What is great is that restaurant operators are able to continue to grow sales by stimulating both frequency and spend with such an attractive discount offer AND as a result guests can still afford to go out for a meal in the current climate.  So commercially the concept of a discount works at many levels and even the hit on the food margin should be more than compensated by the savings in labour that will result as the volume of customers increase. 

Such is the approach from head office but one core issue is ensuring buy-in throughout the team.  Is the strategy really understood by all staff, especially those front-of-house who actually serve the guests?  For example, the waiter who is probably the least likely to spend his hard earned cash on eating out at a table service restaurant. He may wrongly perceive the discount-carrying guest as a bit of a ‘cheapskate’, who is unlikely to leave a tip and is not deserving of full-paying guest level service.

The new rules of not only surviving but thriving in the high volume world of the casual dining market are that diners want a really good deal ideally,  2 for 1 or 50% off, AND guess what, they want it with the same standards of food quality and service, if not better!  Gone are the days that it was too embarrassing to present a voucher as part payment of a bill, I would go as far to say that it is now not just acceptable that diners admit to using vouchers on a date – the new cool is getting a deal!

So will diners ever go back to paying full price once the recession is over?  I would say probably but who knows what will happen next?  At the end of the day being continually aware of what diners are thinking and expecting and adapting to maximise the opportunities of any prevailing market conditions is what has and always will be a fundamental in succeeding BUT never ever compromising on quality, standards and service.

At the end of the day the maxim that says ‘it’s about value rather than price’ is as true today as ever.

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