Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Can Superb Service Exist with Scale?

I am sitting here in Timothy's World Coffee at the corner of Bay St and College St. The service is one of the best out of all the coffee shops I've been to, in many different countries including Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Canada and the US.

The service was friendly, and it looked like the owner was manning the cashier today. They also heated up my sandwich and brought it out for me. I saw other customers come in and the owner recognized them by name and remembered their usual drinks with a side of yogurt. I have to say that my sandwich was just OK but the superb service has definitely made me a repeat customer.  Their offer was $5.99 for the sandwich and it also came with a drink - usually I pay extra for the drink. So I would say this coffee shop also wants to offer their customers good deals (low prices).

Is it possible for companies with hundreds, even thousands or millions of customers to do this on a large scale?  To provide superb service and low prices at the same time?

If I think of companies that are attempting to do this, Flight Centre comes to mind with their travel manager services for small businesses, and I wonder how profitable that is.

As for other larger companies like Dell, their low price offer is based on the fact that there is low to no customer service (they do have Dell Kiosks in some places but limited number) and customers are expected to take care of themselves.  This makes sense, since deliverables should also be adjusted as your revenues go down, you deliver less - in this case, it's lower levels of customer service.

What would happen if one day out of the blue that Timothy's World Coffee generated so much goodwill and word of mouth that their lineup wrapped around the corner?  Will the owner still recognize everybody by name?  Will the staff be bringing out the customers' orders to their tables each and every time?  Will the coffee and blended drinks still taste as good given that they must increase the speed of their operations to decrease wait times?

Most start ups start out focusing on getting great word of mouth going for their businesses by totally babying their customers and I think PeerFX is doing this to a good extent as well - we want our customers to spread the word about our service.  What happens when we suddenly hit a point where word of mouth brings in tons of customers and we can't treat them all the same way we treated our initial group of early adopting customers?  The same way that this coffee shop is running itself based on great customer service and low prices, PeerFX aims to provide a 24/7 service at the best exchange rates for small to medium sized businesses.

Time to start planning ahead!

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