Here’s a Christmas tale of woe for you all. I’ll leave you to decide whether I’m over reacting and am in fact probably the re-incarnation of Ebenezer Scrooge or if I’m the greatest champion of consumers against rip-off Britain since Matt Allwright from Rogue Traders.
It follows on from my blog about how much more cost effective it is to retain a customer as opposed to solely focussing on trying to win new ones and how a certain restaurant chain has attempted to completely disprove everything I’d written.
Let me set the scene first: I’m one of those fairly loyal customers. If I find a brand I like, I can be a bit of a creature of habit and stick with it. In terms of new business I can be quite hard to win over initially, but once you have me and providing I am kept reasonably satisfied I’ll keep coming back for more – particularly if you wave a good bargain in front of my nose every so often – because nothing pleases me more than value for money.
So this is where my story starts.
Last Wednesday, whilst ploughing through my inbox and sorting out the serious work related emails from the vitally important messages from the long lost son of the ex-president of Nigeria (who needed my bank details so he could transfer $10,000,000 into my account) something caught my eye. It looked like a bargain: ‘Eat all you want at La Tasca for £10!’
I could hardly contain my excitement – this wasn’t some scam email – it was a proper bargain from a reputable company! I knew I’d been a loyal customer of theirs throughout the year and I know it’s the season of goodwill and all that, but truly this was Christmas coming early.
I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming – surely there must be some sort of catch. I feverishly read the small print after downloading the voucher. The offer was from a slightly limited menu, but there was still a reasonable choice on it and for £10 I’m not going to complain. Oh, and it was only valid for two days – Wednesday 15th and Thursday 16th December. Well, that’s a pretty short lifespan but at those kind of never-to-be-repeated (until next month) prices you sometimes just have to throw caution to the wind and go for it.
So I decided I was going make a special journey to La Tasca. It was my duty as a loyal customer to reap the benefit of this voucher – not just for me, but for them too. Why? Because no doubt somebody in their marketing department had thought long and hard about a way to increase revenue streams from existing customers and since the success of this email campaign would definitely be monitored I for one wasn’t going to put this person’s job in jeopardy through apathy.
Originally I was meant to be meeting some friends for pre-Christmas drinks in Covent Garden – but with an offer like this on the table I could hardly keep it to myself. Let’s push the boat out I thought. I know we’re living in times of austerity, but I can spread the news of this voucher and give the economy a helping hand, albeit in my own small way. So our plans of Christmas drinks were changed to plans of drinks and a meal at La Tasca.
By the way, did I mention that it was one voucher per person? Well it was – but that’s OK, the kind people at La Tasca would let all of my friends have a voucher too – all I had to provide was their email addresses so that said friends could disclose various personal details deemed useful to the La Tasca marketing department and carefully screened third parties. Everyone signed up and was raring to go.
Now, I’m not one to ask for the moon on a stick or anything but I do have very strong views about brands acting honourably if they want my loyalty. And so the cracks started to appear.
The first one involved their online booking system. Half an hour after receiving the confirmation email of my reservation for four people I received a phone call from the manager. He was awfully sorry and he didn’t know how this had happened but their automated online system had somehow accepted my reservation by mistake. Yes, if in doubt blame it on the computers. Probably the Y2K bug or something I’d imagine. Not to worry, he said, we could still come in and eat here – just not reserve the table at a specific time.
This wasn’t the end of the world – we could spend our hard-earned cash in the bar at La Tasca whilst waiting for a table. We were meant to be out for a drink anyway.
So at 7.30 my merry group of friends stroll into the restaurant. There will be a table in 20 minutes, just take a seat in the bar and buy some drinks says the maitre d’. Not sure if that’s an appropriate description when talking in terms of La Tasca, but you know who I mean. But then she drops the bombshell – have we got vouchers? Why, yes we have actually – that was pretty much the inspiration for us changing our existing plans and visiting your restaurant on this freezing cold night. Well it turns out we can’t use them because they are “busy” tonight. Wait a minute – this smacks of Hoover airmiles all over again!
I thought I must have misheard. After all, the vouchers are only valid for tonight and tomorrow: if it’s busy tonight, 10 days before Christmas, then I will categorically stake my life that it will be even busier the next night; after all, Thursdays are always busier than Wednesdays. It’s the new Friday after all.
I read through the small print again – maybe there is something that says ‘not valid at Covent Garden because it’s always busy’ or ‘not valid in the evening as that’s when most people want to come here’ – that would be all that was needed to pacify me, but there’s nothing along those lines. Just that ‘the manager reserves the right to withdraw the offer’. This is the offer that is only valid for two days and it’s being withdrawn on the quieter of the two days “because it’s quite busy”.
Now, let’s be fair: La Tasca is not an expensive restaurant and it wasn’t going to really break the bank for my group to say ‘what the hell, let’s just eat here anyway’. But this is where my principles of brand loyalty kick in. I’ve been loyal to La Tasca. I’ve spent a lot of money with them over the years. I’ve given them my personal information for their marketing department to do with what they please and I’ve forwarded their email offers to friends who might be interested, thus helping them win new business on my time. I didn’t really ask for anything in return, but they tempted me with an offer I couldn’t refuse anyway. And how does this brand repay my unquestioning devotion at this time of goodwill to all men? It stabs me in the heart. Not literally, obviously, but definitely metaphorically.
I was apoplectic with rage at the injustice of it all – this time quite literally rather than metaphorically.
With one dodgy promotion, this brand has alienated a model customer for life. If I had never opened the email I would have been none the wiser to this dastardly malpractice and they may well have retained my business indefinitely. From my previous blogs you will see I have a long memory for shameful behaviour by brands and La Tasca has definitely made my “Easyjet” list. I vowed then and there that I would never set foot in a La Tasca again (unless it was to use their toilet without buying any food maybe) and I would make it my business to moan to everyone I know about this perceived scam.
The icing on the cake? The next day I got an email asking how I enjoyed my meal. The meal that I didn’t have. I responded with full details about my experience and I haven’t heard a peep out of them since. Perhaps they need a new research agency to help them out with customer insight – I expect they must be quite busy.
So, forget what I said in my last blog – this is one brand that should focus 100% on winning new customers rather than retaining existing ones. In this case it would definitely have been more cost effective.
Bah humbug and Merry Christmas.