By: J. N. Halm
Convenience and increased comfort have been at the foundation of mankind’s greatest innovations. We began by writing by hand and then came typewriters. Now, we have computers to ensure that writing is much more convenient. We used to wait for pigeons to deliver our messages, and then came the use of the post. Telegraphs and facsimiles followed. Telephones changed the game. How much of this culture of convenience is accorded to the customer?
I remember days gone by when the whole family sat behind the television waiting for the major news. Now, you can have the news anytime you want it. It used to be that when one wanted a photograph, you had to either have a camera on you or you looked for a photographer and pray his photographs are any good. No more. The phone has eliminated that need. In times past, if you needed information about something, your best bet would be the library to look through an encyclopedia. Google and, to an extent, Wikipedia and other search engines have changed all that.
A look at the history of human inventions and innovations reveals mankind’s obsession with creating convenience at every turn in history. It is, therefore, no wonder that customers have also come to expect convenience in their purchases of products or services. The last thing a customer wants is to go through a struggle just to enjoy a product or service. When customers associate stress and strife with a product or service offering, that offering would not last in the market, if nothing is done about it.
Smart businesses know the importance of customer convenience and so they factor it into their sales and marketing efforts. Associate Professor of Marketing in the Department of Business Administration, Joseph M. Bryan School of Business and Economics, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Dr. Lew G. Brown, has defined “convenience” in the context of marketing as “a reduction in the amount of consumer time and/or energy required to acquire, use, and dispose of a product or service relative to the time/energy required by competing offerings.” In other words, smart businesses are always looking for ways to reduce the time and energy customers expend in accessing their products or services.
It has been proven time and again that customers do not mind paying a little more for increased convenience, with some studies claiming that, as high as 80 percent of today’s customers, are ready to pay a little more for comfort. Unnecessary hassle when accessing any service can be quite expensive. Therefore, if parting away with a little more money will save one from the hassle, then it would be worth it. The more convenience a business offers, the more it can charge for it. Therefore, convenience can be financially beneficial for any organisation.
Customer convenience can also be beneficial in another way. It can save the business money, especially when the customer does some of the work involved in the service. The advent of the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) saved a lot of banks money because customers were more comfortable withdrawing money from the machines than entering the banking halls to transact business. Banks needed fewer personnel to handle customers. This drastically cut down on expenses and saved the bank some good money.
Another importance of customer convenience is that it can be used to win back aggrieved customers. Customers who are not happy about something can be won back if the business can throw in a convenience that hitherto had not been available to the customer. For instance, a customer might not be happy about something she came to buy and the store might decide to exchange it for the customer. However, if the customer receives the item at home instead of having to come to the shop or office, that would be the use of convenience to lesson an unpleasant experience.
Customer convenience can take many forms. Brown proposed a five-dimension convenience model which involved time, place, acquisition, use, and execution. If one even takes a look at the marketing mix elements (whether four Ps or seven Ps), it becomes clear that an organisation can create convenience using any of these elements.
ATMs offer convenience of time. A customer could have access to her money at virtually any time of the day. Convenient stores and fuel stations that are opened throughout the night offer convenience of time. Saturday banking that is offered by some financial institutions is another example of convenience of time. Some banks have even extended their normal working hours to ensure that people who close from work can still pass through for an hour or so before they get home.
Location has always been a key area of a business’ setup that can be used to create convenience for customers. There are certain businesses that lose out on customers simply because their locations are not convenient enough for customers. If a customer has to suffer to get a place to park and has to worry about the vehicle being towed away by authorities, then that business is at risk of losing that customer. A major highway might seem like a good place to place a business but, if customers would have to wait for a long time before they get access back on to the main road, then that is customer inconvenience. Convenience stores are aptly named because they understand these things.
It must be stated that ATMs also offer convenience of location. They have become as ubiquitous as the banks that own them. Their locations are walking distances from major residential areas. I know of a gym that operates somewhere in the Central Business District (CBD) of Accra that offers busy workers the convenience of a quick workout before they head home.
Delivering goods purchased to the doorsteps of the customer is convenient. Many companies that are engaged in selling of building materials and the like have been advertising that they do these deliveries, obviously within certain locations. You can imagine my excitement when I read recently that Amazon.com was planning to use drones to deliver packages to customers. That is going super hi-tech in the customer convenience game.
The advent of mobile money payment is one way in which payment can become more convenient for customers. Gone are the days when one has to go and stand in a long queue just to pay a bill. These days, with just a click of a button, bills are paid electronically.
Convenience also results from fewer hurdles. Giving a customer too many things to do can easily become an inconvenience. The sheer number of documents and forms that customers have to fill sometimes become a deterrent. For instance, in some banks, customers do not have to fill two forms to deposit money. After the amount to be deposited is verified, the teller prints out a single sheet that the customer confirms and signs.
A look at the ways in which organisations can make customer convenience more prominent might give an indication that one needs some technologically-sophisticated approach to create customer convenience. This is not necessarily true, although technology plays a very important role in creating customer convenience. Sometimes, all the organisation needs to do is to think outside the box.
Convenience was one of the advantages of the “Koko King” breakfast porridge brand. The vantage positions its salespeople take by the roadside was not only giving them great promotions but it was also most convenient for customers. In places where the traffic is most intense, customers do not even have to park their vehicles. The vendors bring the food right into the cars. Koko King does not resort to any advance technology but it creates convenience by re-looking at the issue of place or location in its marketing.
Organisations that have nurseries or crèches for nursing mothers are actually providing convenience for the internal customer. Malls with play areas for children provide convenience for parents who come to shop. Auto sales firms that give you a vehicle to use while repairing or servicing yours are providing a great convenience. The list could go on and on.
To ensure that your brand becomes known for its customer convenience, it is important that the organisation maps out the entire customer experience. The task is to look at each step of the customer’s journey and find out how that step can be made more comfortable and easier for the customer. It is too short-sighted to just concentrate on the product you are offering or an aspect of it. The entire journey presents great opportunities for creating convenience for the customer.
The call for customer convenience is not something you can easily brush aside as a business owner or manager. The competition is wide awake thinking of ways to make the customer’s life a little easier. Your best bet is to do same. The fact is that customers quickly become used to conveniences. What was convenient yesterday might not necessarily be same today. So creating convenience is a never ending process. A business must always be on its toes.
It might be inconveniencing for the business to do so but that is the nature of the game. It might cost a little more in time and resources but failure to do so could spell doom. If you do not inconvenience yourself to create customer convenience, pretty soon, you would be conveniently out of the market.