Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Message to businesses: Keep your value high

It seems that many businesses today do not fully understand the value of retaining customers. These firms have not yet learned that a happy customer is a returning customer and a returning customer is a reliable source of revenue. I've witnessed some recent examples I'd like to share with you.

A certain restaurant chain that specializes in spaghetti that might have the word 'factory' in its name used to be one of our favourite places to go for dinner. The bread was baked fresh and was served hot. They were generous with salad and salad dressing portions. The amount of sauce put on the pasta was also generous. They even had an outdoor sidewalk patio.

Fast forward to 2011. The outdoor patio is gone. The bread is no longer fresh but is barely warmed up in an oven. The butter (which is at room temperature already) does not even melt on the bread. The amount of salad dressing is marginally acceptable. The amount of sauce on my spaghetti was barely enough to colour the noodles and tasted like something out of a jar. 'Famous Naples recipe' my eye. Needless to say, we will likely not be returning to this restaurant, as our visit evoked memories of a previous bad experience as well. A shame, as not only have we been turned off of this location, but we will be hesitant to try any location in any city we visit. In case you're wondering, the restaurant was mostly empty. In times past, the patio was always full and the restaurant was at least half full.

In my second example, a certain car dealership - the one I bought my current hybrid from, managed to secure my loyalty to bring my vehicle there for regular servicing, even though it is quite far from my home and my work. They did this by offering free oil changes for the life of the car - good deal. Like the previous dealership I had dealt with for my last car, this dealership offered a loner car, vital to my ability to leave my car at the dealership for anything longer than an hour and still have my mobility. Because I work out of town, the best I can do is arrange for service on Saturdays and either wait for the fast service or get the loaner to go on with my day.

This week, I phoned to arrange a service and a loaner car only to discover that they have discontinued offering loaner cars. This is a deal breaker. I called a dealership close to where I work and asked if they would honour my free oil change deal. They agreed to do so. Hello new dealership, goodbye original dealership!

Now, in the (abandoned) dealership's defence, they were having issues continuing the loaner car option. I don't know what the issue was, but it could have been related to cost or insurance issues or something else altogether. If it was just cost, they could have always tacked a fee onto the loaner car to recover expenses. If the loaner option is just too expensive, they could have offered alternative options. Maybe give the customer a free transit pass and offer them a ride to and from the nearest LRT station so that at least they can go about their day while the car is being serviced.

In my third and final example, which I've already talked about before, Shell has discontinued their EasyPay tag feature allowing for quick, convenient pre-payment of gas and other products. Maybe there was something amiss with the EasyPay system, but to abandon the feature while offering nothing in its place is a big no-no. I stay with this gas company only because of my ability to collect Air Miles. But even Air Miles is getting skimpy with the value of travel you get for the money spent. Businesses need to learn that you should never find ways to reduce the value of your product or service to your customer, if anything, you should be finding ways to increase the value. That buys all the customer loyalty you'll ever need.

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