Monday, May 30, 2011

Back Alleys and Sunshine

In the grey Vancouver winter my neighbourhood is quiet. We stay inside.  We use our backyards to access our vehicles in the garages that line the back alley.  We sneak out back to take out/bring  in the garbage.  We think of the back alley spaces as a means to an end.  Then the rain stops and the sun starts to shine. And the beauty of our neighbourhood and our back alleys becomes clear.  

I love the...
  • laughter of kids playing street hockey and the calling of "cars" in multiple languages
  • back yards of the Vancouver Specials, which are really just drive ways, lined on either side with thin patches of gardens planted full of tomatoes, peas and carrots
  • conversations with neighbours over the back fence
  • sound of multiple lawn mowers almost creating a symphony together
  • way kids don't see race, culture or religion, but instead see a friend to ride bikes with, even if they can't pronounce each other's names
  • water washing down the alley from cars being washed
  • laundry that appears almost by magic on the line the instant the sun peaks out for an hour
  • smiles and hellos as you walk along the alley
  • kids knocking on the gate asking if my son wants to play
  • sound of children yelling, screaming, crying and laughing
  • that the sense of neighbourhood and community is not lost
I love the back alleys of South East Vancouver.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Loyal Customers - true loyalists or just too lazy to change

Last week I attended a lovely event put on by Microsoft and the folks at Hotmail.  I found myself sitting in a room of 20 women or so and feeling embarrassed to say "My name is Tracey and I've had a Hotmail account since early 1997."  I was the only person in the room, who didn't work for Hotmail, that had kept their Hotmail account since the beginning.  I was proud of my dedication to hotmail, even through the rough spam heavy years (although truth be told nothing will ever beat the spam-fest that my Telus email account has become).  I stayed through the rise of gmail. In essence I stayed through the lean years when everyone else abandoned ship.

And that loyalty has paid off.  Hotmail began a real shift in the last few years.  They realize they took a lot of things for granted and dropped a few balls.  And increased functionality in their product has been great.  So over the past 2 years instead of choosing to open new accounts on other platforms I added to my existing hotmail world.  I did have a gmail account for my other blog for a while.  But it is now lives in my hotmail, along with my other 3 email accounts that all come into my hotmail hub.  So instead of having to come back to hotmail, I'm still there.  My loyalty has paid off with a better product.  And I right where I want to be.   Even if it makes me the only geek in the room.

But lets be honest.  Did I stay with Hotmail because of a strong sense of loyalty?  Did they give me fantastic customer service that I would never dream of leaving?  Did they offer me discounts or loyalty offers?  NO. 
I stayed because, really I didn't want to change my email account.  Yup, I was too lazy to change to something else. 

Apparently this is true in many aspects of my life. If it ain't broke I don't go out of my way to fix it.  I present the following as evidence:
  • Same bank since 1986.  Yes, I've added other banking products at other banks/credit unions. But my main account is still with the same bank.  Why? Well to me all the major banks come with their pros and cons. So why switch unless I really need to.  I always figured I'd change when I bought a house and had to figure out a mortgage (but I live in Vancouver and lets be frank a house isn't going to happen soon).
  • Same hairdresser since 1999.  Now I love my hairdresser and she continues to deliver a great product. She doesn't offer me price discounts.  But I feel she takes care of me.  I feel she appreciates my business and doesn't take me for granted.  So I'm loyal.  No cheating. Not even once in 12 years.
  • Same hotmail account since 1997.
  • Same car since 1999.
  • Same Internet provider since 2000.
  • Same cell phone provider since 2001.
I think you get the picture.  I'm a creature of habit.

So does this mean these brands can assume I'm a true brand loyalist?  No (except my hairdresser who I would recommend to anyone).  It just means I haven't been given a reason to leave for someone else.   

Unfortunately many brands read my loyalty as good points for them.  And then they leave me alone.  Well, except to perhaps offer me a discount to upgrade my service (and why is it I'm always suspect of their offer to help assess my products to make it better for me... always feel it is better for them). Yet, I see many of the same company's offering new customers a great bonus to lure them over.

Here is a novel idea.  What about spending a bit of time really nurturing your existing customers to ensure they become true brand loyalists.   Instead of just lazy customers.  Hotmail is certainly an example of a business working hard to keep my business.  They took a hard look at their product (and past mistakes), made some real customer focused improvements and are now reaching out to their loyal customers.