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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Great failure AMC – keep ‘em coming!

I’ve written about the service innovation going on at AMC Theatres – both the introduction of Fork & Screen and the rollout of reserved theatre seating.

So I was surprised when, taking in a movie with my children, I noticed this sign stating that AMC is discontinuing the reserved seating process later this month.

AMC says that the while theatres were intending to improve the viewing experience by introducing assigned seating, customers were not receptive to the $2 additional charge above the standard movie ticket required to cover the cost of the additional technology to guarantee a seat and an usher to guide you to it.

It has been positioned as the kind of value that a customer appreciates but isn’t willing to pay extra for. This kind of decision happens all the time, when would-be innovations are doomed because customers aren’t willing to pay for them. If this were a hyper-competitive local market where little things made the difference in brand selection, I might suggest that the “sunk costs” of the technology were just that, and that any additional value perceived by the reservation system would help bunker them from the ever-present competition. But it’s not. AMC is almost the only choice in local cinema, and if the variable cost of the ushers isn’t offset by people willing to pay for the experience, the sunsetting of the offering (or storing it in a closet until a more appropriate time) is likely best.

But beyond the immediate decision, I’m hoping more that someone at AMC isn’t fretting over the result and hoping that they never make a mistake like that again.

Whatever the strategic decision, I appreciate that the theatre was willing to take the chance that ultimately made the mistake. I wish that more service companies I deal with did the same. Many service encounters could use a fresh perspective and the benefit of a new take on their old models. Movie experiences are high among them, having not changed much since the 50’s.

Companies like AMC aren’t letting nostalgia for one format get in the way of creating a better model. Many other service businesses – those stuck in the “this is how it has always been done” mode, should take note.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Efforts too small to matter.

Terrific use of physical evidence to reinforce the experience from Garry Gribble’s Running Sports, a local running shop where my wife got her most recent pair running shoes in advance of her first half-marathon.

It reminded her of why she went there in the first place and the value her unique experience provided. It differentiated their experience from the alternatives, and reinforced what a great decision she had made by purchasing from Garry Gribble’s.

It would be easy to skip this step. Every other place I have ever bought shoes simply puts the shoebox in a bag and lets the customer walk out the door.

It takes more effort – though not much more – to commit your service manifesto to a printed 3x5 card and tape it to an outgoing package. They also sent a handwritten note shortly afterwards. Three lines thanking her for her purchase and wishing her luck in her run. Again, more effort required, and again, nothing backbreaking.

You know who does this, takes the time to perform these small experiential elements that are so small that others see them as not worth the bother, because how could something this minor really make a difference when after all our price on the same shoe is 8% lower?

People who care about their business and who they serve.

People who succeed in building the unassailable brands most of us talk, tweet and write about.

People who get these. (Not that it matters to them)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Asking someone to play a role? Ask plainly.

Today I was booking a trip on Southwest.com for my two sons (and I) to head home for their summer visit with their grandparents. They’re 6 and 2 years old.

When asking for the ages of the travelers, Southwest asks for travelers by category. Curiously, the “full fare” category is labeled “Adult Age 2+”. Now, my youngest is mature for 30 months, and might arguably identify more states on a map than several people whose opinion is showcased on prime time game shows, but I’m not sure I’d describe him as an “Adult, 2+”.

Seniors are identified as a separate category, exclusive of “adults. I could see and can understand a member of The Greatest Generation getting offended that my LEGO aficionado and my Elmo fanatic are considered adults, while they are classed otherwise.

I don’t know the operational reason behind this. I’m guessing that the term “full fare” may not be as marketing friendly as “adults”. It’s unnecessary. Companies are better off in a service environment in describing their process and its inputs as plainly as possible.

Since the only people that are subject to a reduced fair are those under two or 65+, identify the category as “full fare travelers”, defined as anyone 2 to 64.

Don’t forego accuracy for a term that sounds a little more appealing. Say what you mean. At worst, the simplified language will reduce confusion. At best, it will earn a measure of respect for being forthright with customers trying to fulfill their role in the service encounter.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sewing the seeds of defection.

This holiday weekend, my county got a good lesson in how a failure with one service encounter can create a trcikledown of additional failures. The local water company, WaterOne, experienced a loss in pressure in their lines. Because they couldn’t guarantee the safety of the water during that time, they issued a countywide water boil advisory for roughly 36 hours.

From the beginning to its (thankfully) rapid end, the boil advisory impacted local residents and businesses significantly.

The idea that Johnson County might not have safe drinking water for a few hours sent residents into a frenzy. Water flew off the shelves of local grocery stores, leaving local businesses failing their regular local customers at a moment when those customers perceived they needed them most.

Service businesses that use water as an input to their experience (i.e. most food services businesses, including this Starbucks) had a major operations hurdle to overcome. At best, they increased cost to work around an input quality issue not of their making. At worst, they were unable to operate.

For businesses that depend on other services as an input to their experience, what is their recourse for the a failure like this? Usually, the utility tells them they don’t have to pay for service for the period in which it was inaccessible or unreliable. But what about increased operational cost? Lost revenue? Utilities are often insulated from the threat of customer defection due to dissatisfaction. They almost as often act that way.

It’s a reminder that service failures at utilities are unusual, but when they happen, they’re deeply felt. They're the kinds of events that, even if they only ever happen once, get companies thinking about contingency plans, “what-if” scenario planning based entirely on the idea that “we don’t ever want to go through that again.”

No matter how secure a business is in their local market - even if they enjoy a monopoly - this exercise gets customers looking for alternatives.