Thursday, September 29, 2011

Norwegian Airlines – the impact of poor customer service on a total brand experience

About once per week I set the alarm on a quarter to four in the morning and drag myself out of bed to prepare to catch a flight to Finland and a good day of meetings. I’ve got the total morning routine sussed out pretty well by now. 

Once at the airport Finnair or SAS used to be my airlines of choice. But then I discovered the simplicity of flying Norwegian. A streamlined process with quick check-in and no queues at terminal 2, and the gate just after security, not a 2k walk away… With nice new planes and smiling staff there has simply been nothing to complain about. By now I have probably experienced around 40 Norwegian Airline journeys to and from Finland. And I must say I used to be a fairly content and satisfied customer. I could in fact even call myself a  Norwegian Airlines brand promoter. Well, that was until today…

A first issue is that at Helsinki Vantaa airport Norwegian has moved from terminal 1 to terminal 2. Since the move check-in is just not working as well any longer and today it was a nightmare. I was late – this is true. But I was there just a few minutes before the check-in closed 45 minutes before take-off. With no luggage to check-in I wasn’t the least worried. However, I somehow managed to mess around with my booking number and the check-in machine. The usual things like writing a 0 instead of an O… and the clock must have ticked on… so all of a sudden the machine wouldn’t allow check-in anymore…

So I promptly walked to the check-in staff. There were two people in front of me in the queue and two staff, one woman and one man. The man was busy doing something important so he couldn’t be bothered with customers and the queue grew. I waited patiently and the clock turned to 40 minutes before check-in until I got to speak to the lady. She informed me that I had missed my opportunity to check-in... Of course I got a bit stressed about this as you do... Especially since I had promised to pick-up my kid from kindergarten straight from the flight.

I said: “I was here before 45 minutes but I had to jiggle with the machines…and I went to the counter as soon as I realized they did not work ”. The lady looked over at her colleague the man and he said: “Oh, so it really took you 10 minutes to walk from the machine to the counter”

Well, I am pregnant but I am still rather mobile... and the journey from the machine to the counter was approx 10 meters. So no, the walk probably took me about 20 seconds... The cheek of a rude man! I got so furious at this supposed to be customer service guy who took the opportunity to tell me off and really enjoy it too! It was totally unnecessary, especially since he simply could have told me in a nice way that I could check in with my mobile phone and the code – which I also did after a furious walk to security. I'm now going to use the strong word bastard!

So, my brand experience of Norwegian has deterioriated through this smug little man who took the opportunity to tell off a customer who used to be a brand promoter. And a customer who via her company spends approx 6000-8000SEK on Norwegian journeys per month. What a clever man!

So this long storey is the storey of how I moved from brand promoter to a brand disliker through one poor customer interface that lasted just a few minutes. One man managed to ruin a relationship I have with Norwegian Airlines - and believe me, this example will be used by me as a future reference when I talk about the importance of delivering a branded service promise at ‘key moments of truth’. This certainly was one for me...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tesco moves beyond private label with venture brand Chocablok

I read something today that I found really fascinating. And this is why I want to share these news with you. Earlier this year Tesco unveiled their plans to develop global product brands, that are different to traditional retailer private label. For a start, these Tesco brands are no longer talked of as private label, but instead they are seen as brands in their own right, and there is no mention of the Tesco parent brand on the packaging.

The first of these brands to hit the shelves was a luxury ice-cream brand called Chocablok. Chocablok is claimed to be made by an “expert team of master cremeliers’ with more than 100 years experience between them. It is a luxury ice cream made from what is said to be a blend of the finest ingredients including real chocolate, whole milk, double cream and free- range eggs. Sounds all good to me! I can't wait to try this one...

But, it doesn't come cheap... Each pack retails at £3.99 per 500ml, a pricing that clearly emphasises its premium positioning amongst the likes of Ben & Jerry’s, Haägen Dazs, and Mövenpick.

What does Tesco say about this then? “Our venture brands are very different to own-label,” said Tesco brand developer, Sidonie Kingsmill to Marketing Magazine, “they will never be "me-too" products. We look at where the customer opportunities are, where brands are not succeeding and what we can do in addition to brands. We’re in a unique position as the biggest retailer, with access to the best suppliers worldwide.”

This development made me reflect on the limitations of private label. Private label has developed a lot since its early days as a discount and often rather boring offer. Today we can find PL goods across the whole range of categories and the British retailers are phenomenal at this. However, this Tesco example might also demonstrate some of the limitations of PL. Clearly Tesco isn't just doing this for fun. No, instead they've carefully analysed the situation and realised that they can make even more money if they also develop brands that are 'freed' from the motherbrand, and thus able to compete against other brands with no danger of being held back by the mother brand associations i.e. in this case Tesco.
Well, that is just one reflection, I guess there must be more reasons why Tesco is venturing into this arena. And maybe some of the other simple reasons are: plenty of cash, retailer power and distribution network. They simply can!