What we have here is a shot of an ad on the back of a Calgary Transit bus. It says “Faster. Easier. Cheaper.” and under that is says “Two outta three ain’t bad.” Many Calgary drivers would argue vigorously, but first a little background. The ad is for the Calgary Parking Authority which has eliminated parking meters in all zones they control and have implemented a system called “ParkPlus.” This system requires that the driver pay at a pay station located somewhere nearby, or if they set up an account and link it to their cell phone they can activate and deactivate parking sessions with their cell phone. With this method of payment, money has be deposited in the account in advance. This program has recently been expanded to include all of their surface lots and parking structures.
Parking in downtown Calgary is often reported to be the most expensive in Canada and among the most expensive in North America. As the downtown has been developed, the city has discouraged parking development and encouraged the use of public transit. This has lead to parking being in short supply, and demand has driven up rates. Parking in most of downtown is $5.00 per hour. Parking rates are a hot button issue with drivers that have to park downtown. I suggest the Calgary Parking Authority shouldn’t even go here. By including the word “Cheaper” on this ad they are reminding people of something that they are angry about. “Faster and Easier” doesn’t come close to outweighing the fact that their rates are a long long way from “Cheaper.” Two outta three ain’t nearly good enough.
It is important in business to know what your competition is doing and anticipate how it might affect your business. A key strategy is to Zag when everyone else is Zigging.
Here is one of my favorite examples. In clothing retail, most businesses concentrate on their change rooms as a vulnerable point with respect to theft. To minimize theft they develop a strategy around this area. the rooms are small and uncomfortable which discourages people from spending time. They also impose rules that dictate the number of garments that a person is allowed to take into the change room.
Donald Cooper, founder of Toronto area clothing retailer, Alive and Well saw this in an entirely different way. He reasoned that the people that steal from you will find a way. The conventional approach inconvenienced the 95% per cent of customers that are honest to protect against the few that are dishonest. He designed change rooms that were spacious, and there was no limit to the number of garments a customer took in to try on. Cooper is an example of someone who has what I call Retail DNA.
Look at your industry and identify one or two areas where everyone is Zigging. How can you Zag? Don’t Zag for the sake of Zagging, make it in an area that has meaning for your customers. Happy Zagging.
The only way to get out of my community is to go north. We have a Provincial Park to the south which is a wonderful feature for residents but it cuts off access to and from the community to the south. There is a community strip mall which is located south of my home. It’s a fairly typical retail center with convenience store, liquor, dry cleaner, veterinarian & doggie daycare, dental practice, barber shop, hair salon and a neighbourhood pub. The people that run the convenience store and the dry cleaner call me by name. I don’t do a great deal of business with either retailer, but they still make the effort to remember and use my name. If I were to choose strictly on convenience I would stop at another location on my way north, but I make an effort to patronize these businesses. Dale Carnegie says “No word sounds as lovely as our own name.”
It’s a little thing that can make a big difference. I am just one customer. Imagine how much of a differnce this small gesture makes to the well being of this business. Sometimes business owners are so focused on the big issues and the small things are ignored. Take some time to look at small things that might make a big difference.
With the recent announcement that Sky Service has gone under, I am motivated to tell of our worst vacation experience. It is perhaps ironic that this nightmare involved Sky Service (the charter airline) and Conquest Vacations (the tour operator). Conquest ceased operations in April of 2009 and now Sky Service ceases operation in April 2010. In both cases they cite the economy as a major contributing factor but I hold that it was their past treatment of customers that did them in.
Here’s our story. We had booked a flight to Mexico’s Mayan Riviera region which means a flight into and out of Cancun. On the day of our return, we were informed that the Calgary flight had been cancelled and all Calgary passengers were being placed on the Vancouver flight. By combining flights we had an aircraft that was completely full. We departed from Cancun in the early evening. After many hours of flying, the cabin crew announced that we must prepare for our approach into the Vancouver airport. A few minutes passed and the steward came back over the P.A. and said that he had been informed that we were in fact preparing to land in Spokane, Washington. The plane did not have enough fuel to get us to Vancouver. We were a plane load of Canadians landing in the United States in the middle of the night. We didn’t have U.S. Customs clearance so we couldn’t leave the plane. We were parked in some dark corner of the airport while the flight crew negotiated to buy enough jet fuel to get us to Vancouver. We completely ran out of supplies, there was no coffee, no soft drinks, no water, no snacks. We finally got fuel and were able to fly to Vancouver. The Vancouver passengers de-planed, the plane was refueled and the crew was changed but the Calgary passengers were not allowed to leave the plane. When we arrived in Calgary, Canada Customers hadn’t yet opened so we had a further wait. In total, we were on the aircraft for 12 hours.
We vowed to never again do business with Sky Service or Conquest Vacations. The decision to cancel the Calgary flight was likely a move to save a few dollars. When you are in a position to make these decisions for your company, don’t just look at the money that is saved in the short term, you must also consider how it impacts the delivery of service and the experience of your customer. Calculate the lifetime value of a customer and decide if you are willing to risk that value to save in the short term.