Tag Archives: customer service

A small treat with huge implications.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the road and therefore have become quite familiar with the countless and ever-evolving motorway service stations that span the country.  It would be easy to fill a blog just on the mixed experiences I’ve had in service stations alone, but today I’d like to focus on a more positive experience at petrol station in Strensham Services, operated by BP on the M5 southbound.

Empty fuel tank

Us humans are creatures of habit.  60% of our shopping is done in the same stores, visited in the same order, having parked in the same car park we did last time.  Petrol stops are no different, we are known to create ‘service station stop-off’ rituals on regular routes.  Today, I’m on a regular business trip to South Wales; this particular service station is just over a third of the way there.  I treat the stop as a mini celebration, having passed the worst of the traffic around Birmingham (route includes M6, M42, M40).  As you have no doubt experienced, many service stations adopt a policy of shamelessly extracting as much money out of their customers as humanly possible, seemingly on the premise that they are a passing customer and they are unlikely to see them again.  This manifests itself in terms of giant sized grab bag crisps, overly priced sandwiches and meal deals, plus other random impulse buys.  There is a mis-match here as we know from habitual and ritual behaviour that people often use the same motorway services time and time again.

This is perhaps lesson 1:  Do your assumptions about the customer you serve actually play out, or are you serving somebody very different? 

Back to my journey and sales tale experience.  It’s the 17th of December and I’ve stopped for a coffee to go, after a pretty gruelling 1½ hours of traffic around Birmingham.  The usual cashier isn’t in today;  an Eastern European girl who I’ve built rapport with over the many, many years of visiting.  Today a very bright and bubbly member of staff was working.  I exchanged some pleasantries and we shared a joke around whether I needed the receipt and if George Osbourne (UK Chancellor of the Exchequer) would contribute towards this working coffee, she responded, “Why not? Everybody else does.”  I do like to see staff confident enough to engage and show personality.  The service went without a hiccup and as she gave me my coffee, she did something seemingly incidental, that had a surprisingly big impact.  She gave me a small treat (a star-shaped shortbread biscuit), carefully wrapped and clearly designed as a giveaway, on the grounds that it was too small to sell, but a perfectly sized compliment for my coffee.  So, a coffee station in a petrol station has given me a free biscuit, Is that it – you may be thinking?  Yes, but let us consider the implications of the gift and possible outcomes.

Free CookiesI am unaware of the specific motives of BP and Wild Cafe and why they decided to give these cookies away.  Was it goodwill, or did they have a wider commercial objective?  What I do know is that whether the outcomes were intended or not, the likely impact will be three-fold and largely very positive.

  1. In all of the stores I’ve visited in the run up to Christmas, world class department stores, premium retail brands, numerous petrol stations and service stations and many well known coffee shops nobody has given me anything.  This is the first store to give me a Christmas treat.  It is therefore, going to stand out.
  2. A treat or a gift makes us happy.  When was the last time you entered a petrol station shop and was made to feel happy?
  3. I got to try something I don’t usually buy here.

I don’t normally buy treats with my coffee and as it turned out, this shortbread biscuit was delicious.  They didn’t give me a 10% off my next coffee voucher or similar future discount, instead they got me to try something that I don’t normally consume in the store. This is a technique that smart reward card providers need to think about. (See this popular article on reward cards for more on this: Loyalty Schemes)

Whilst I can only speculate at the percentage of customers that see the store as I do – a provider of petrol and coffee only; having experienced this treat, and recognising it was the perfect complement and sugar fix at this time of the morning, I might now consider Wild Bean Cafe as a ‘coffee and treat stop’.  If this becomes a new ritual for me and other frequent customers, this could convert into a significant amount of new turnover.  As a retail consultant, increasing average spend will always be an area I explore early in a business I am helping grow, the benefits are huge and typically increased costs very low.

Handing out samples is nothing new, in a visit to Costco yesterday I got to try noodles from one station and a pasta dish from another.  Large store sample stations are slightly different, they are designed to enhance the store experience and trigger customers’ desire to indulge.  The fundamental difference is that customers stay in the store after trying the sample.  In a petrol station you have left when you consume the sample or treat.

Whilst the experience as small and as simple as described was very positive, there is still a way the store may have improved:

The sales assistant could have made more of the treat by the way that she presented it.  As previously stated, the girl was great, bright, bubbly and witty and the only thing missing from the presentation was to say something like, ‘here’s a little thank you from us for your custom. Merry Christmas.’ This would have made the whole experience even more powerful, and put to bed any questions of their motives.

In summary, a simple and relatively inexpensive promotion from BP and Wild Bean Café has secured its place as my pit stop of choice on journeys to South Wales.  On my next visit I will be asking myself, “would you like a little treat with that?” Let’s hope they have something similar on offer for sale and not snap-back to type and offer only industrial sized 9 inch cookie as a side order!

What can we learn:

Focusing on lifetime value of customers is essential for most retail businesses – even if the assumption is the customer is passing trade.

Incentives should drive increased average transaction value, rather than discount existing shopping behaviour.

When you have a great message, story or promotion, plan carefully how it will be presented.

It doesn’t Costa lot to deliver considerate service.

I arrived early for a meeting with a local authority, as I often do.  I decided to kill an hour checking over my presentation and generally catching up on some work in Costa Coffee.

I’m in the queue, everything is going fine.  The lady in front asked for a large tea, the staff member that had a nice bubbly personality said, “did you mean a large or a tea pot.”  For less experienced Costa Coffee drinkers, a large tea is the size of a hot tub with a handle on either side.  The staff member grabbed a large cup and showed the lady, who inevitably opted for a tea pot instead.  The experience was nice and fun, with the staff member comparing the cup to a bath, to the amusement of everyone involved.

Large

What impressed me was that the staff member didn’t assume, or  take the “That’s what you ordered” approach, therefore exonerating herself from what would have been a poor decision by the customer.  Instead, she used her experience to check and make sure the customer got the right product.

This is all sounding pretty basic I know.  Let’s carry on.

Next customer was me, I also wanted a tea and opted immediately for the tea pot.  The staff member was waving her hand in front of her face, assumably hot – not overwhelmed by my charm.  “A bit warm in there?” I asked…we chatted for a moment only to be interrupted by the ‘Barista’ “skinny milk or normal?” “Skinny” I said.  At this point he abruptly plonked the tea pot onto the tray, with a good 1/3 of the pot tipping out through the spout, followed by the cup and small jug of milk.  Assuming I’d want the receipt, perhaps by my business attire, the cashier kindly printed it off and placed it on top of the water puddle that was gathering on the tray.

This is sounding very much like a ‘first world problem’, but there are two important lessons we can take form the interaction.

  1. The cashier personalised the experience, for me and the customer before me.  It was memorable, fun, away from a typically scripted approach and thus more engaging.  For the brief 45 second encounter I felt that I know her a little, and I am more than a beverage order on legs.
  2. The way the tea was served by the barista, devalued the product and the overall experience.

I recall a story I was told by a sales rep in the FMCG sector, he sold Jam’s and Chutneys to large supermarket chains.  In the buying call, he would dust the the jars, wipe the lids with a cloth before carefully handing them over to the client.  These £1 products were presented as if they were a luxury piece of jewellery.  The process was designed to add value to the product, and it works.

Costa make pleasant tea and coffee, but charge a premium for the experience.  We are charged between £2-£3 for the opportunity to shop or consume drinks here.  I can buy an equally pleasant cup of tea for 99p elsewhere, but would assumably sacrifice £2 worth of experience, based on Costa’s pricing strategy,

Back to my tea pot and tray.  Water from the tea pot is now sloshing all over the tray and is being soaked up by the receipt I wanted to keep.  This seemingly trivial incident has broader implications:

  • I end up with water on the table
  • I want to use my laptop for some work
  • I will inevitably drip water on my suit trousers, prior to an important meeting with the Policy Board of a District Council.

Of course I can clear this up myself, and did – but it does take a lot of little costa paper serviettes to soak up 1/3 of a tea pot.

Did the Barista give any of this a second thought when serving me – No, because I was an ‘order’ not a ‘person’.  In his mind his job never transcends beyond deliver of a warm drink.

He could learn a lot from his colleague.

 

When is selling add-ons pushy sales and when is it great service?

A popular way to  increase sales in retail is selling extras, attachment sales, accessories or linked product.  We know that, but it can often feel clumsy, pushy or a little awkward.

I though I’d share a Sales Fail of my own in terms of add-on selling and what can be learnt from it.

In 1996 I was working as a sales guy in a retail store and mail order telesales team.  I received a call in the morning from a guy 2 hours away who wanted to try a product.  It was a Synthesiser costing £2,595.  We arranged a demo time and I got everything set-up before he arrived.

The demo went well, it was rehearsed so I could respond to the needs and questions of the customer – but still ensure my party pieces and wow-factor features could be demonstrated.  Suffices to say, he bought the Synthesiser.  So far so good.

I processed the invoice, carried the product to his car and waved him on his way.  A job well done I thought.

3 hours later I get a call from the customer, naturally I assumed he would be gushing with how fantastic the experience was and how great my customer service was.  I couldn’t have been be further from the truth…the guy was furious.

Angry Customer Sales Fail

What you may not realise is that a professional synthesiser does not come with speakers, cables, pedals, headphones or a stand.  You might expect a professional to have these, or at least some of them.  In this instance, the customer had none of these, and had arrived home with his new investment and couldn’t even hear it.  To be precise, he’d done a 5 hour round trip, spent £2,595 and couldn’t play a note.

It was at this point that I realised that selling add-ons and accessories does not have to be perceived as being a pushy or greedy sales person.  It can be exceptional customer service.  IN fact, not selling this customer the extras to go with his product did him an injustice.  From this day onwards, if I hadn’t raised the topic of essential accessories or perfect partner products before we got to the counter (which we should do where possible), I would at least ask the question…“Can I check you have everything you need.  I would hate you to get home and not be able to use this?”

Presented is this way, the question feels like great customer service rather than a sales pitch.

Car dealerships go further, often completing a sign-over document to ensure you have been offered everything.  Is this in the interest of the customer or a prompt for the salesman?  When presented well it can work for both.

Tip: Never let a customer leave your store with a purchase, until you have “checked they have everything they need”.

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