Tag Archives: Food and Drink

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.

Last call for SAS sales crew.

Can team SAS wow me with their sales skills, or will I be looking for the exit, there, there and there.  Let’s find out…

I’m flying back from three days working with a retailer in  Denmark.  It is the first time I have travelled with Scandinavian Airlines and although my preconceptions were clouded by a troublesome iOS App before flying, the staff onboard both flights were very impressive.

Staff were friendly, bright, engaged and authentic.  An experience I am finding rare with European flights of late.

Whilst on my return flight, I am sat next to a snoring frequent flyer (irrelevant but amusing nonetheless) typing up my summary notes for the client.  The sessions had been on retail selling and key tips and tricks to impact business before Christmas.

I had just completed the paragraph on add-on selling when the cabin crew came through offering drinks.  “Do you have a beer?” I asked.  “Yes” said the crew member “I have this Scandinavian beer in blonde or dark, it’s a little more expensive, or Carlsberg”.

I thought the distinction between the ‘Scandinavian’ beer and ‘Carlsberg’ which interestingly is made in Copenhagen – Denmark – Scandinavia, was interesting.  More intriguing was the distinction between the two brands that centred only around price. Is that the only difference?  Is the ‘more expensive’ beer delicious, brewed in a unique way, Scandinavia’s most popular?  Perhaps, but all I know is that it is the most expensive.

Lacking a sound motive to spend more than I needed to, I opted for the Carlsberg.  As the cabin crew member prepared my over priced can of beer and tiny plastic beaker, he played a brilliant card. “Would you like some cashew nuts with your beer sir?”  Absolutely I did.  I hadn’t realised before, I hadn’t considered what snack offering they had, it’s not even a snack I eat very often – but it was instantly the perfect match to my cold beer.

As small an add-on sale cashew nuts are, they are still an add-on, an extra bit of turnover that maximises my spend during this relatively short flight.  It made my beer more enjoyable and no doubt made me a little more thirsty thanks to the salt.  It didn’t annoy me, as most attempts to add-on sale do, and enhanced my experience.  That was a brilliantly simple and relevant add-on sale.  Although this appears so basic, I cannot remember the last time a bar offered me nuts or snacks with a drink.

Cabin crew selling

Like an inverted feedback sandwich of good, bad, good – the interaction did take a turn for the worse again when I asked if I could pay in sterling.  “You can but the rate is terrible”.  Ok a few things here, twice he has made cost assumptions, despite no indication I have any issues with cost.  Secondly, why are SAS knowingly offering terrible exchange rates?  Wishing not to dwell on either, I paid on a card in the local currency and ended the encounter.

Whilst enjoying my beer and cashew nuts he completed his walk through the cabin and made an announcement, promoting the duty free offering.  These scripted sales pitches are typically distracting, irritating and weak, and most of the pitch did the same, he did say a one thing that caught my attention however.  “Our best sellers are…lipstick, candy…all with a Scandinavian twist”. This felt less scripted, in fact I could see him riffling through his trolley to decide what was tonight’s best sellers (presumably based on which had been the least best selling items, left on the trolley). Best sellers plays on a core psychological driver known as ‘Social Influence’. We take comfort in following the crowd, the group or the majority when making decisions. It reduces risk and is deemed more trustworthy.  Whilst his delivery was a little clumsy and insincere, I was impressed to hear him use the technique, one I haven’t heard used by the incessant efforts to sell duty free on flights across Europe.  The Scandinavian twist was also very clever.  A Friday evening flight may well have Brits returning home to loved ones or visitors from Scandinavia about to descend on someone – both have grounds to bear gifts with a ‘Scandinavian twist’.

What we can learn?

  • Always look for opportunities to sell add-ons, in a relevant and timely way. With a little thought they can enhance the customer experience.
  • Find a distinction between products/services that actually represent value to your customer.
  • Use the power of social influence to guide customer decisions and reduce the perceived risk.
  • Consider likely motives a customer may have to purchase your products, and include where you can.

Well done SAS, whilst not faultless, better than most!

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.