I’ve just received a tweet from Dan, my Operations Director, telling me not to bother coming to ‘Internet World’ at Earls Court as some people have been queuing for four and half hours to attend the seminar I was hoping to “pop into if time allows”. I now find myself reflecting on the irony of a totally sold out exhibition and massively oversubscribed seminar series for the online industry. Video didn’t kill the radio star and the internet hasn’t seen off exhibitions; or any other medium for that matter.
At the Madejski Stadium last week, I facilitated a HEMP workshop on behalf of Vistage for 60 CEO’s from the Thames Valley. The audience was as interesting as it was diverse with manufacturing, IT, High Tech and Service companies all represented. Over coffee I commented to Carl Shuker, CEO of A Plan Insurance how impressed I was that his new branch in Wimbledon was open at 7.30 one morning when I passed by and then asked how he manages to compete with the Meerkat, Bulldog, Opera singer, Peter Jones et al who claim to offer the best insurance deals online. His one word answer, “relationships”, sums up perfectly the difference between most online retailers and the high street - I think many people go online for the best price but perhaps might find they will sometimes get better value on the High Street. Carl explained that they are continuing to open new branches and their 60th in Salisbury has enjoyed the best start of any in their 40 year history. He highlighted that the comparison web sites have actually been a huge help for his company as despite their claims to offer the best deals they often don’t and anyway deliver a service which is as impersonal as it gets.
I reflected on my recent investigation into car insurance, prompted by my daughter adding a third car to the family “fleet”, which resulted in being tempted by the Admiral multicar policy. To be fair I’m very happy with the rate but what a palaver it was to get the policy in place. Five phone calls, each lasting over ten minutes was bad enough but most frustrating of all was having to listen to the same scripted nonsense as I hit another brick wall – (NOTE make sure you have every single detail of your life to date to hand before calling) – in the end I begged to just get to the last question but no, had to go through the whole rigmarole again. I wish I’d met Carl a week earlier.
When we come out of recession I think many customers will become more demanding of a better service. Price will still be an important factor in consumer decision making but not the only one and many businesses that are struggling to compete at the moment might find that a value based proposition, rather than a price led one, will succeed in the end and I suggest they start reviewing their proposition now. Whilst I represent a sample of one l realise that all my travel arrangements are being dealt with by a human being again, as is my banking and many other services and perhaps more significantly is the realisation that I’m actually enjoying going shopping. My local bookshop in Wimbledon Village is now giving me a 10% discount (which actually makes them cheaper than Amazon on a single book purchase as there are no delivery charges) and lent me several CD’s of classical music when I last popped in and enquired what was playing – and this sort of thing just doesn’t happen online. In the last few weeks I’ve tasted some interesting samples at Wimbledon Wines and had my boots custom fitted at Cotswold in Kingston-upon-Thames (which led to buying more gear than can possibly be necessary for my charity climb up Kilimanjaro later this year) and nothing on a computer can possibly compare to the pleasure of seeing my friend’s three year old being indulged in Hamley’s.
The pendulum swung too far I reckon and the High Street is fighting back, to quote Kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi “ROI now stands for Return on Involvement, we are moving from rational to emotional, from delivery to delight from transact to connect” and these things are much more likely to be accomplished in person than on your PC.