The 4th Pillar

Convenient is king!

 

As seems to be the norm for me at the moment, last week I was staying for a couple of nights in a Manchester hotel as I had a number of meetings with a key customer based in the City. I have stayed at this hotel many times before as it is comfortable, clean and unassuming and happens to be very convenient for the customer office. On checking in to my room all was fine except that the air conditioning wasn’t working. I probably could have made do but as I was staying more than just the one night I rang down to reception and asked if they could take a look. Within 10 minutes the Duty Manager arrived, took a quick look, realised that I was correct and knew how to work the controls (!) and without any fuss asked if I’d like a room change or he would ask maintenance to come and try to fix it. I chose the former and again within 10 minutes I had been allocated a new room and the issue was resolved for me.

No fuss, no bother, simple, easy. And that is how it always should be.

But as we all know from our own experiences, this is not always the case, whether it be a hotel, restaurant, airline or a retailer. The process of handling exceptions, or simply the standard delivery of the service – experience if you will, is often fraught with difficulty, frustration and ultimately a missed opportunity to garner customer loyalty in the ever competitive environment we now face.

For retail brands this has never been so important as it is today. The drivers behind this competitive environment have been well documented both here previously and elsewhere, and also the realisation that once price, product & availability were the 3 key considerations or pillars for retailers, now I would add a 4th – convenient. This is not to be confused with convenience of course. Convenient means being convenient for the consumer. And this means being easy, simple, straightforward, no hassle, risk free transactions with retail brands through whatever delivery channel we prefer to use at that particular time. Be this mobile, PC, tablet, in-store, catalog etc and what’s more, in addition to being convenient they should all be consistent with each other.

An example of

trying to be convenient (I know some will disagree and simply say this is driven purely by the desire to reduce operating costs) is the rise of SSC’s or better known as Self Service Checkouts. In many ways a great innovation and I’m sure many will have noticed that 4 or maybe 6 SSC’s can be manned by one store assistant as opposed to 6 checkouts manned by 6 store assistants. But are they really convenient? Remember, in this context, convenient means convenient to you and I, the consumer. Like marmite, I’m sure some early adopters will be comfortable not only with the concept but the process. But how many of us want to scream when we hear those dreaded words “unexpected item in baggage area”? Aargh! Then casting around for some help only to find that the one store assistant manning the SSC area is busy somewhere else. Convenient? You tell me.

Another example was when I was in WH Smith recently  and on this occasion chose to use their SSC. I was buying a small item so chose to use coins. Now I don’t consider myself naturally stupid but as with other SSC’s I’ve used I was searching for a slot to put the coins in, like car park machines, vending machines etc. Only in their wisdom the manufacturer of this equipment had designed a tray into which the coins should go rather than a slot. And even though it was labelled “coins” I still interpreted this as being where the coin change would be collected from. Convenient? Easy? Simple? I’ll let you decide.

So why is convenient so critical now? Much of this is driven by the retailers themselves. By offering so many different ways for us to engage and by raising expectations in many different ways, we in turn have a much higher expectation of what good looks like. For many years now, Next have been offering next day delivery for any item purchased online by 9pm the previous day. This was enabled by the heritage they enjoy from the Next Directory and the resulting supply chain capability which became a necessity for them. Many other retailers are now close or on a par with Next but it has taken time for them to catch up. Click and collect is another good example and of course when it comes to fulfilment and returns there is still a maturity curve but that does not prevent the consumer expectation of the experience to be high. We want to be able to have the goods shipped to the most convenient (that word again) location for us and within a time convenient for us. If we rely on the service (as the now famous case of the bride who needed a replacement wedding dress within half an hour testifies) then if it doesn’t meet our expectations and needs then it is far more likely that we won’t shop there again. Equally of course the converse is true, however it is a truth that in the current retail climate convenient is king and the opportunity has never been greater for retailers to succeed or fail based on this 4th pillar.

And in case you were wondering, my room change was also an upgrade. I can now testify that the suites at Park Inn by Radisson are very comfortable!

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