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Top 25 fail to serve

Whenever I go into my local Costa in Next, close to Tesco in Hexham I climb the stairs and see the sign that tells me they are in the Top 25 UK companies to work for. They are owned by Whitbread and one of the better national chains with good coffee and a better range of cakes and biscuits than Starbucks. So if the sign says they are that good I should be in for a treat although usually my preference is to seek out an independent for reasons that will become clearer a little later.

Being early December there was a long queue and amazingly customers seem to put up with this in a way they perhaps wouldn’t at a smaller independent. Perhaps it’s their high expectations although they should have immediate reservations to see only two staff serving, one taking a delivery and none clearing tables. There were so many cups, saucers and plates lying around i wondered how they could possibly have enough crockery to continue serving! Anyway my wife, being there before me, stayed in the queue and I found a table to check my emails. One of the benefits in Costa is that you can get free O2 broadband.

My plan was thwarted by all the crockery with not a space to be seen and being full of goodwill I set about clearing my table and one or two nearby. The manager saw this and ignored me. I wasn’t doing it for thanks but then when another member of staff passed me and ignored me too I did think why was I doing this?

There’s no moral to my story other than to say Costa don’t employ enough staff and some of those they do, have little if any empathy for the customer. They seem to think that if you want a table and a place to put your coffee you will obligingly clear your own table.

Now I often go to Bradley Gardens, another coffee shop near Wylam. Like Costa they are a bit slow but there the similarity ends as the manager and the staff are so focused on the customer that people are patient and chat. The tables are regularly cleared and the range of coffee and food is to die for. It’s just a delight to be there.

I know it won’t change overnight because the big chains don’t care and position themselves where the customer flow is high on the basis that we will all put up with awful service. Funnily enough they have so much in common with Tesco 100 metres away. The only way we the customer can impact on this will be to turn our backs on the chains and vote with our feet.

Whenever you have the choice please support the small guys. Yes you may still occasionally get poor service but if you go to a National you know you will get the same service anyway and pay a 20% premium to clear your own table. We are one step away from the t-towel and I’m not joking.

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The power of combining ‘now’ and ‘next’

It’s easy to get caught up in the regular daily flow of business, with its countless pressures and demands, without making time to lift our heads and look ahead. The world we live in today is markedly different from even just a few years ago and its easy to get absorbed in the day-to-day whilst change happens around us.

The lives we live have changed and so have the products and services around us. For those involved in brand or service development you can pay a very high price for not understanding the customer or following trends that influence what they buy, where they shop or what they want from the organisations that supply them. Yes it’s impossible to spot every new opportunity but with considered investment, the risks can be minimised.

Any organisation ‘worth its salt’ will have a comprehensive research programme to keep their finger on the pulse as to what is happening now and in the short term in regards to their customers needs and wants – it’s the stuff of textbooks. Some of the more forward thinking organisations also appoint trend forecasters to seek out ‘weak signals’ – the first seeds of change – that are then clustered into themes representative of emerging attitudes and behaviours.

Despite the obvious synergy between these two business functions they are often locked away in separate departments, with trend forecasting seen as a bit of a secret society that some of the more traditional and pre-historic researchers may not pay heed to and pay a rather high price for not doing so. That’s why two North East award winning businesses have launched a collaboration to link two previously disjointed disciplines; which used together, can instigate powerful change, ensuring insights about ‘now’ are maximised and used as a foundation for uncovering what will happen ‘next.’

Explain Research, established 20 years ago as a customer insight and market research company counting major utility companies, financial services organisations and health sector bodies as clients. Trend Bible, a trend forecasting agency set up in 2007, helps companies predict what’s driving change and identifies future trends set to impact their business.

The benefits of this unique collaboration are clear. The value of market research can be maximised by using it as a foundation, a stepping stone which when combined with analysis and forecasting methodologies can pinpoint trends that will impact on business in the future. This allows organisations to respond to customer requirements now, but also look to the future and shape their business model around what is going to happen next.

For us, it’s obvious – if you understand ‘now’ and you understand ‘next’ you are a force to be reckoned with and in a few years time what is now a unique approach will be seen as the tried and tested way to develop brands and waves of new customers.