Monday, March 24, 2014

Is an App a substitute for personal service?

Having read an article about a new app this morning it got me thinking about whether apps should be used as a substitute for good personal service. Apparently Flypay - - have received £1m in funding for their app which will enable people to pay restaurant bills without the waiter being involved. There are claims of improved service for customers because, Flypay claim, the experience of actually paying the bill at the end of a meal is often cited as the biggest pain-point for restaurant goers. 

But should it be that way? I can sort of understand this for a fast service restaurant where both the customers and the restaurant need things to happen as quickly as possible, but even in those situations, and more particularly where that is not the case using an app would be a very poor substitute for being looked after really well on a personal level. 

An attentive waiter (sorry for the masculine version, but I don't want to keep typing waiter/waitress) would recognise that a party of diners had finished and ask them if they were happy with everything and did they want anything else, using a great opportunity to sell high margin drinks. If the answer is no the waiter would then be able to ask if they wanted the bill. On presentation and payment of the bill personal service would take away the painful elements and enable the waiter to thank the customers for their custom, talk about any upcoming special events at the restaurant, again check the customers were happy and say that they hoped to see them again soon. If appropriate they could also discuss any loyalty scheme the restaurant offers, getting to know the customers and building loyalty. None of that would be the same through an app.

Rather than use technology to take away a personal service, why not use it to create it - ensure the waiting staff have the right tools to provide the bill instantly is is asked for, and then to take the payment seamlessly. Add to the personal, don't take away through technology. I love technology and gadgets, but also think there are things which need people and a restaurant experience is as much about the people as the food to me.

Or am I just being old fashioned and not enough people care anymore?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Supermarkets need to help small shops survive

I recently heard about a new initiative from Booths, a supermarket chain based in Preston with stores predominantly in North West England which has implications for both Booths and other shops local to their stores.

Booths operate a loyalty card scheme and have recently changed the offers to include a "free daily regular hot drink from our café or hot food counter" for registered card holders, also offering free newspapers from some stores. There is obviously an appeal to customers with this - it really is a free drink, although not quite a free lunch. Booths have quite probably done this as a response to the similar offer made by Waitrose who have recently opened in Preston and target very similar customers to Booths. 

This offer is causing loss of business for some local shops, particularly cafés and newsagents who have lost a lot of business - it is hard to compete with "free" of course. Whilst this may mean Booths are getting more business, in the long term it could be detrimental to them, even if giving away drinks increases profit through customer spend on other items. Why? Some Booths stores are on the edge of small towns which currently have high streets which actually have genuine shops selling a range of products, these high streets in themselves attracting people to the towns, who then also shop in Booths. 

As an example, Garstang has a great high street with a wide variety of small businesses, including cafés and newsagents, providing valuable services for people living in and visiting the town. If these shops close there is less reason for people to visit Garstang, so they may go elsewhere, once that happens they won't visit the Booths store there either as there are other supermarkets with wider ranges of products (including larger Booths stores). 

So, by trying to compete with larger stores Booths may lose some of their own business. They are an organisation who state "we’ve built our reputation on sourcing great quality, unique local produce" which is great, and a philosophy I fully support. But to really support local produce they also need to consider the other local organisations, some of whom offer some of the products Booths sell, and ensure they survive and flourish. A short term gain can be a long term loss, and supermarkets need the smaller shops to survive.     

Details about the Booths cardholder scheme are available here and their sourcing policy is here

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Whether customers like it or not!

I just saw this heading and had to write a quick piece about it - this is the sub-heading of an article in Autocar magazine this week which discusses hybrid powertrains for Rolls Royce cars, but it is the wording of the sub-heading which caught my attention. Why would anyone want to do something which their customers wouldn't like? It is an attitude I have heard from a few people and organisations - this is the way we are going to do this whether our customers like it or not. What a strange attitude - find out if customers like it, and if not, don't do it but if they do, do it! It should be pretty simple really. 

As a brief explanation of the article, Rolls Royce build a prototype electric car and customers didn't like it because of the limited range provided. Rolls Royce dropped the idea but with increasing regulatory pressure it is very likely that to drive in some cities in the future it will be essential to have electric power so the solution is hybrid - electric for short range and petrol elsewhere. It may not be what customers want, but if it is the only way they can use their cars they will probably realise they need it!

Have you ever done something your customers didn't want? If so, why? And did it work?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

It's the little things which make the diference

When it comes to customer service and building relationships it is often little things which make the difference, something which I experienced recently highlighting this. There are times when I use DHL for deliveries of parcels and so get to chat briefly with the drivers who collect and deliver the packages. I'm a bit late posting this as he has moved to a different area now but the regular driver for my area recently, Jamie, is a friendly guy who always chatted a bit when I saw him. 

Earlier in the year I left my office in the middle of the afternoon and saw Jamie just about to get in his van on the road nearby, he waved as I went past. As I knew there would be no one at the office to sign for a package if he had one for me I thought I had better check so stopped. Jamie got out of his van and came over to me and confirmed that he didn't have anything for me, adding that he didn't have anything addressed to me at home either, but did I need him to collect anything? None of that is a major issue, but the fact that he took time to let me know, was aware enough of what he was doing and also connects my home and office addresses makes a difference so well done Jamie, and thanks for your help. 

Things like this make my life easier, and also made life easier for Jamie as he could sometimes do one delivery either to home or the office rather than doing two. But in terms of loyalty it means that I have good reason to continue using DHL which is good for them.

A little thing which makes a difference to me and DHL - what can you do to make a difference to your customers?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Government sense?

The title is probably an exaggeration, we rarely see sense from governments of course!

The reason I say this is that as a marketer I am pleased to see that the government have, for the moment, cancelled plans for cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging and the minimum price for alcohol. I understand the reasoning behind the plans, and have some sympathy with the issues, although I personally don't agree with the methodology which was suggested to tackle the problems.

But the real reason I am pleased with today's news is that as a marketer the two proposals worried me - they both related to areas of the core 4P marketing mix. The plain packaging for cigarettes relating to both product and promotion and the alcohol obviously relating to price. The proposals would have taken these areas away from the marketers concerned. 

I'm not involved in marketing alcohol or tobacco, and probably wouldn't want to be for tobacco but I do object to interference in the market as this would have been. Not specifically for these products, but because once in place what if the proposals spread to other products? And if it continued what could SPA Professional Academy discuss during CIM qualification courses in relation to the marketing mix! (OK, that is an exaggeration I hope)

My belief is in freedom of choice, with full information available to the potential customer, and this proposal would have taken this away. Which is why I am pleased about it!

A BBC story about the cigarette packaging is here and the alcohol pricing here

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A new business model - Emerging Themes

Another motoring related blog - apologies for that but this is about the business model rather than the car!

Whilst there are many reasons to choose an electric car a major concern buyers have had about them is the lack of range and then finding a charging point, plus the time taken to recharge the battery when that happens. It seems that electric only car manufacturer Tesla Motors have found a solution for this - their battery swap scheme which allows a full recharge to be completed within 90 seconds. This makes it quicker than filling a car with petrol or diesel.

Once there is a full network of locations for this it should overcome the 'range anxiety' people have in relation to electric cars and is a great example of taking one element of a new business and helping to ensure it is successful through providing the additional support facilities required. Apple did this with the iPod, making downloads acceptable to both the music industry and customers.

Maybe this will work - next thing for Tesla, how about ensuring the electricity used is generated in non-polluting ways!

Watch how the battery swap works here - Battery Swap | Tesla Motors:

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Audi slogan

Those who know me (or regularly read this blog) will know that I am a petrolhead - this is from both the car perspective and the business perspective of the car industry. This blog explores a bit of both.

In the UK Audi have largely stuck with the Vorsprung Durch Technik slogan for many years, the slogan being very much associated with them. This weekend I am in Le Mans for the 24 hour motor race which Audi have won 11 times in the last 14 years. All around the circuit this year they are using this slogan on all their promotion at the race:

Le Mans. The home of quattro. I find this strange, Audi introduced quattro in the early 1980s as four wheel drive versions of their cars and used it very effectively in rallying, a very different form of motorsport to the Le Mans race. 2013 is only the second year that Audi have used four wheel drive at Le Mans so I am not sure that makes it "The home of quattro". To me, the forests used for rallying are the home of quattro.

One of the people I am at Le Mans with, on seeing the poster, said that it was just down to marketers and complete rubbish (he didn't know that I am a marketer). The problem I have is that I think he is probably right so what are Audi doing? I would love to hear from them to understand.