It used to be hard to buy books from Foyles, the world-famous bookshop in London’s Charing Cross Road. The building was a warren; the layout was haphazard; staff were hard to find. To buy a book, you had to queue twice — once to pay and get a receipt from some hapless cashier in a barred cage, and a second time to collect your books.
No fun at all.
Nowadays, it’s a different store. There are friendly staff, clear signs, lifts, air conditioning, author events, a jazz café, a helpful website, the works. It’s a pleasure to shop there.
Somewhere along the line, Foyles realised it had to offer FRIES to its customers. French fries? No — ketchup and grease on the books would be a bad idea. I’m talking about FRIES, the hugely popular business acronym that I’ve just invented.
F is for Friendliness. The simple act of smiling and being friendly towards customers makes an incredible difference. The world’s friendliest man works in MVC, a record shop near where I live. You can’t walk out not smiling. (By contrast, I always used to walk out fuming from the local branch of Dixons electrical store. Before it was shut down.) And it’s not just people – marketing materials, shop fronts and websites can be friendly or hostile too.
R is for Reassurance. When you invest in a one-off product or service, it really helps to have some sort of reassurance about what you’re getting. For example, one of my favourite business gurus is Robert Middleton, who helps independent professionals to market their business. When you buy his services, you can read testimonials, take advantage of his money-back guarantee, and get access to ongoing support. These are all great forms of reassurance.
I is for Information. OK, we’re all drowning in too much data. (My digital camera came with 13 leaflets!) But helpful and relevant information is always welcome. Buy a book from Harper Collins’ Perennial imprint and you may well find a 16-page P.S. section at the back. There might be an author interview, a book-club guide, suggestions for further reading, and so on. Like DVD extras, the quality is variable, but when it works it’s great.
E is for Extras. It’s nice to get more than you expected. When you sign up for an online bank account with Egg, you get an online money manager, which can keep track of all your accounts – even those with other banks and building societies. It also gives you one point of access to all of them. It’s a fantastically useful service which really reinforces the benefit of opening an Egg account in the first place.
S is for Simplicity. Some industries delight in making things complicated for their customers. (Mobile phones come to mind.) Go the other way – make it simple. When I needed a new PC at the start of this year, I read a magazine review of a promising machine made by Evesham. PCs are assembled from many components (processor, RAM, graphics card, screen etc) and specifying one takes time and research. Evesham’s website makes it easy. There is a list of reviewed machines, which you can order as they are, or which you can use as the basis for changing specific components as you see fit. Simple and brilliant.
And what about your competitors? It’s always worth buying from them (if it’s straightforward to do so — buying a bridge from a competing civil engineer might be going a bit far. Ditto mortgages from another bank. But you could certainly get the forms…). For one thing, you can get ideas from taking their products or services to pieces. But also concentrate on the buying experience. Did you get FRIES with it?
All of this is obvious, but businesses don’t do it. Knowing that something’s important is not the same as acting on it — the mere knowledge is not enough.
So here’s a challenge for you. Everybody loves FRIES. So what could you do to make it easier and more pleasurable for your customers, consumers or clients to buy from you?
About the Author
Charles Kingsmill helps businesses become more valuable through better planning.