When asked to define who your competitors are it would be fair to say most of us would produce a list of providers with a similar offer in the same sector. On that basis Ford would quote Vauxhall, Virgin Active would quote Cannons and Hoover would no doubt quote Vax. Which is an industry view – supported by and reinforced by brand tracking studies which compare sector brands.
But is that how consumers view things? Of course not. As consumers ourselves (which is easy to forget) we have a very varied and eclectic frame of reference for comparison broader than competitor tracking studies can accommodate. And our expectations are driven by our almost forensic evaluation of events we experience with brands (not that we recall it as that intense at the time – but many of our senses are typically involved). And because our reference pool is vast, we create a comparison ranking beyond that any brand study can cater for.
I can recall a couple of experiences recently where my expectations of a brand have been set by another brand which I am certain the first brand wouldn’t consider comparing themselves against – even though I did.
UK supermarkets – Tesco v E’Leclerc
We were enjoying a family holiday in the South West of France earlier this year. We went to E’Leclerc at St Foy le Grande for a shop. This store recently had a complete make over. Part of which included a new impressive cafe-come- restaurant. Normally I wouldn’t think too much about a supermarket renovation, but back in our home town in England the Tesco store has recently had a make over too. Part of which included removing the well loved cafe and outsourcing it to Costa Coffee instead. Which was met with a chorus of, ‘what a shame’ from regular shoppers who enjoyed tea and cake or breakfast specials.
Back to E’Leclerc…their restaurant has improved beyond recognition. They’ve invested in a great range of fresh food dishes which is part self-selection and part cooked in front of you. With choices for children, lunch snacks or full meals. The staff know what they are doing, the food is fresh and the environment is modern and inviting with new decor. And I couldn’t help but compare how inadequate the Tesco make-over outsourced to Costa was in comparison. The E’Leclerc redesign shouts, ‘we care about our customers and want them to have a great E’Leclerc experience wherever they interact with us’. The experience extended in to the food store where we found ourselves saying to each other, this is better than Tesco’s too. But would Tesco put E’Leclerc on their customer expectation comparison list? Probably not. But I do.
UK corporate hotel accomodation – Radisson v Hadley Bowling Green Inn
Two weeks ago I stayed at one of the Radisson Blu hotels on business. I had time in the evening for a quick dip in their pool. The reception at the Spa wasn’t manned but there was a phone there instead and a note which read something like, “If this desk is unattended, please call for this number. We will come to provide you a towel at a charge of £1”. Understandably I was put out. And even though when someone turn up they said I didn’t need to pay, it left me thinking was that really necessary! Apart from that the stay was great and the staff courteous.
Fast forward to last week and I stayed in the Hadley Bowling Green Inn near Worcester. It’s a Wordsworth Inn recently refurbished. The manager is really polite, and remembers details about guests. The staff are attentive. The food is very good and the rooms look great. But something that impressed me massively was when I checked out and had paid. I was just about to leave and the chap who had processed my bill wished me a good day and then asked if I would like any fruit to take with me for the day. A simple and low-cost offerering to the Hadley, but it meant a lot to me. It said to me ‘even though you’ve finished your custom here this time, we still value you’. Of course I will stay again. Again, I am sure the Radisson won’t have the Inn in the service comparison mix, but I do. They’ve raised my expectations of what other hotels can deliver.
And that’s the point. The Hadley Bowling Green Inn has raised my expectations of what the Radisson should deliver. As E’Leclerc have done of my expectations of Tesco.
I’ve intentionally chosen two examples which are still within sector, but are not what the bigger brands would consider a competitor. I could have chosen how I compared the ease of collecting a pre-ordered new bike for my eldest son versus the painfully delayed process involved in collecting a hire car from Alamo. Or the recognition and value felt when we signed up to Nespresso’s club compared to the underwhelming sense of membership when I joined ACHotels club. It means my baseline expectations of a sector could be set by a brand beyond the sector. In this situation a brand focused on its own sector will always fall short of my expectations of experience.
Hopefully, you get the point I make. As consumers we use a much broader comparison set focused on specific events and experiences. Most brands are nowhere near this with their comparative tracking.
That’s not to say competitor sets aren’t important. When it comes to assessing share they are fundamental. But when it comes to comparing experience and customer expectation, brands need to look further, much further afield.
It’s easily rectified; Take a step back, and another one, and then another one. In fact, turn around and run out of the office and far away into ‘consumer-land’. Now re-frame the question from a customer’s point of view – look at the customer’s experience. Listen to who they compare your experience to. I mean really listen to them and you will hear them map a new index for you; the experience by event competitor set. And then your brand can get to work on topping this more relevant ranking. Nunwood have produced an interesting league of customer experience expertise which is well worth a look at.
Posted by Christopher Brooks
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