Monday, February 19, 2007

Customer satisfaction and my weekend

So I went to the cinema yesterday to see the new film from the guys who did ‘Shaun of the Dead’. It’s called ‘Hot Fuzz’ and it was genuinely enjoyable if you like your comedy daft, surreal and anarchic. I hadn’t been the cinema in ages either so it was good to go and see something on the big screen rather than waiting for the DVD. The thing is though it got me thinking about how organisations treat their customers. Let me explain the scenario:

So I’m going with my girlfriend and we get there about half an hour early (I only live 5 minutes away from the cinema). There’s no queue for tickets (a good thing on a Sunday afternoon) and no queue for popcorn. We get our choice of seats, I’m looking forward to the film and we stroll over to the guy who checks the tickets planning to go in, sit down, eat popcorn and generally chill out. Then we hit a snag, ‘That screen’s not open yet’, says the ticket-checking guy. Fair enough. We’re about 20 minutes early so they must still be cleaning the place after the last film. We’ll just have to sit down and wait a few minutes. Thing is, there’s no-where to sit. There absolutely tonnes of seats by the bar, but you have to buy something from the bar to sit on them. We’ve just spent £13 on tickets and £6 on a drink and some popcorn. It’s also 1.30pm on a Sunday and if I wanted to have a beer I’d be in the pub, not the cinema. So we stand and wait.

Then my real issue with it all starts. More people start coming in to see the film. It’s brand new so is probably filling screens virtually every showing. Yet the ticket checking guy just keeps saying ‘That screen’s not open yet’, in the same monotone. The people all do the same thing; look for somewhere to sit, realise there’s no chairs, so stand and mill about near the entrance (which is the entrance to all the screens, so they’re in the way too). They get no explanation from the ticket guy. They don’t know why the screen’s not open yet (it’s now 10 minutes from the start), they don’t have anywhere to sit down, there is no information on how long they may have to wait so understandably everyone is a bit restless. The film is a 15 certificate so the crowd is a bit of a mix with a couple of families thrown in. There are no kids obviously but I doubt had it been the latest Disney film that the ticket checker would have done anything differently. We eventually went in 5 minutes after the start time. No-one announced we could go in though, everyone just realised they could as 3 cinema staff came out of the screen with mops, buckets and rubber gloves. When we got in there a row was cordoned off and a seat covered in a bin bag, so I guess someone got overexcited during the last screening. We all struggle to our seats (as everyone is now bottlenecked in the entrance due to being let in all at once), sit down and watch the film.

So what’s wrong with the above you may ask? Am I (as my girlfriend thinks) just a miserable, cantankerous complainer? I don’t think so. What happens in that story if your number one priority as an organisation is the customer? Here’s how I think it should (and could) go:

There’s a problem in the screen. You know that it’s going to take longer than usual to clean as somebody has had a little accident when they were laughing so hard at the funny film. So you tell your ticket check guy and he (being part of a crack, customer service focussed team) starts to let people know. He tells them there’ll be a delay, he makes an accurate prediction of how long they’ll wait (if he can, if not he just reassures people everyone’s working as hard as they can) and he apologises (a genuine apology, not just one for the sake of it). Those people then go and sit on the many seats in the foyer area (there’s plenty of room for them). Alternatively they can sit on the seats at the bar. Obviously these are usually reserved for patrons of the bar but as there’s a problem and a delay everyone might as well be as comfortable as possible (they can also help themselves to the free peanuts and bar snacks dotted about). So far so simple right? Here’s where it gets interesting.

The delay is clearly going to run into the start time. It’s not a big deal as even if the film starts running people will only miss the first couple of ads. Yet people might be a bit worried. They’re comfy sure, but they want to get into the film. So the ticket check guy or someone else in the team makes an announcement.

‘Ladies and gentleman, thanks for your patience with this problem. The guys on clean-up have nearly finished and the screen will be ready for you in just a few minutes. We’ll then get you seated and you can enjoy the film, which by the way I saw last night and is great, so you’re in for a treat. Like I said it’ll just be a few minutes, so if you want you can start queuing over here. Also, now’s the time to check you’ve got enough popcorn, drinks, sweets and so on to last you through the film. We’ve actually got a deal on today where if you buy a large popcorn you get a large drink for free, so if you bought your popcorn and didn’t realise feel free to go back and get yourself a drink. Apologies again for the delay, I hope you enjoy the film.’

All of a sudden by getting someone to make this announcement you’ve done some very clever things. First off you’ve made all your customers happy. They may still be annoyed at the person who made a mess on the seat in the previous screening but they won’t be annoyed at you. They’ll feel valued as a customer and their whole experience will be a more enjoyable one.

Secondly you’ve increased the opportunity to sell more popcorn, sweets, hotdogs etc. My girlfriend was umming and ahhing about getting some pick and mix yesterday. Had somebody suggested she go buy some whilst we were waiting then that’d have swung it I reckon and another £5 would have walked out of our pockets and into the coffers. I’m pretty sure that’d work for a lot of people there too.

Finally (and this one is really important), you’ve empowered your staff to be brand champions for you. You’ve allowed them to act and react to ensure that the customers come back time and again. You’ve made them feel positive about helping people and you’ve given them the authority to do what they can to make everybody’s experience better than when they go to the cinema down the road. By interacting with the customers, by being a source of knowledge and information (about where the toilets are and when the film starts but also about whether the film is any good, what’s coming out soon that is going to be a hot ticket etc) and by cross-selling to benefit the customer and the cinema, the staff can enjoy what they do and be a real asset to the organisation. (Here’s a completely off the wall/brave one – how about if there wasn’t a deal on popcorn that day but some of your staff were empowered where they saw fit to make a deal happen there and then if the opportunity looked like it would be a beneficial one? If they knew about the value of the goods and the profit/loss you could make on a deal and balanced this against the benefit to the customer, then who loses?)

When it comes to it I still enjoyed the film. I had a nice time and next time there is a film I want to see I’ll still go back. Yet I don’t go to the cinema that often. When I do I pick that cinema because it’s local. What if somewhere really improved my cinema-going experience? I think I’d go more often and I also think if it wasn’t local but it was the best then I’d make the effort to get there. In this age of HDTV, pirate movies on the net and multimedia entertainment can cinemas afford to keep doing things how they’ve always done them? How about the following as a list of improvements I can think of straight away:

  • Completely flexible pricing. So tickets at certain times of the day/week cost less, as they do now. Yet they also cost less if the film has been out for a while or for the less popular films.
  • Reactive deals on popcorn, sweets, hotdogs, ice cream etc. Does popcorn sell better in the evening? Make it cheaper in the morning then. Hot outside? Get some deals on the go with your ice cream and drinks.
  • Sell the above items in the screen just before the film starts. It’s a bit retro and a bit nostalgic but personally I’d love it and I reckon a lot of other people would too.
  • Get your customers talking. About anything and everything. Film buffs are some of the biggest geeks in the world (I mean that in a totally complimentary way) so let them geek it up together. Offer membership to clubs with discounts, deals, schwag etc, get involved in user communities, be in ‘their’ world both online and offline (and hire people from that world where appropriate. The rest will ‘work’ for you for free if you provide them with the opportunity to evangelise about the cinema and the films shown there).
  • Get people to ‘refer a friend’ to the cinema. Don’t tell them they get anything for doing this then surprise them with a free ticket to a film of their choice next time they go in.
  • Make the cinema space totally customer focussed. This could be extra chairs or it could be better toilets. It’s probably not a load of cheesy film quotes on the walls. Get a survey out there and see what people want, then do it.
  • Make everything cheaper for your most loyal customers. Reward the fact that they keep coming back. £13 for 2 tickets on a Sunday afternoon seems steep to me but if it’s only once every couple of months then fair enough. As an outlay every week it’s scandalous.

These are just some quick thoughts off the top of my head and I’m sure there may be problems with them. I still feel though that you could just do things a heck of a lot better in this particular market with a little thought and investment (of time and money initially). Focussing on the customer will improve your whole organisation from bottom-line to market share. Worth giving it a go?

Love to hear your thoughts on either the ideas or the film!


Jane said...

Haven't seen the film but loved some of those ideas! Especially flexible pricing - would be great for getting people in to the afternoon screenings on their 'duvet days'.

Virgin Trains could also do with empowering their staff a bit more - a lot of your suggestions would work there.

Also McDonald's - and as a first step they could stop forcing their staff to wear "I'm Lovin' It" T-shirts while they're sweeping floors. Almost a question of human rights really (isn't there one that mentions a right to dignity?)!

Kathleen said...

If you're talking about the AMC cinemas then Id have to agree. I can only name a couple of cinemas whose staff have excellent customer service skills which is a shame.
The ideas for improvement are good, however I personally think the number of cinema-goers are rapidly declining. Most, including myself, now have the mindset of, "It'll come out on DVD soon anyway"-I say bring back the retro cinemas and make seeing a film a good, relaxed day out again.

James said...

Thanks for the comments guys.

Jane, I agree, Virgin do lack that personal touch with customers. I don't mind getting the train but that's because it's such a straightforward journey when i do it. For those who rely more regularly on the service delays etc can really be a pain. At times like that top class customer service could make the difference between someone having a good but delayed journey and an absolute nightmare.

Kathleen, the cinema was actually my local Cineworld. It's by no means the worst I've been to but as mentioned, improvements could be made. I totally agree with you that less people seem to be going to the cinema.

I'd love to see it turned into a real event as you suggest, I think people would have an appetite for something they could 'make a day of'. As you say, when everything comes to high def DVD these days the allure of paying quite a lot of money to watch a film in a cinema isn't what it used to be.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you James, the comment you made about making everything cheaper for loyal customers is exactly what should happen. I must go on average at least 2x a month to the cinema and even though have joined the movie watcher club, the rewards i get back do not seem to justify the amount it costs for two people to go the cinema that often. A small popcorn or free upgrade to a large drink (which only costs 50p in the first place)doesn't really cut it.