Just got back from a vacation where I enjoyed live conversation so much that I forgot about online conversation. Didn't even read blogs much less write one. But I had some experiences on the drive home that struck me as mktg blog-worthy.
Being in a terrific hurry (I didn't want to be in a van with three kids and a week's worth of laundry for any longer than necessary), we stopped for a quick bite at an Arby's just outside Butte, Montana. We ordered their 5 for $5.95 deal and waited. And waited. And waited. The restaurant wasn't real busy--there was no one in the drive-through behind me--but the employees, who looked to me to be in their late 20s/early 30s, wore don't-bug-me expressions. Ten minutes and several glares from me later, we got our sandwiches.
Contrast that with a stop we made three-and-a-half hours later in Pocatello, Idaho. Pocatello, BTW, is not the place to find fast food off the freeway. Everything is on theIr main drag, which isn't readily accessible from the north/south interstate. So I'm driving down residential streets and navigating one-way thoroughfares and cursing the city planners under my breath all in the hopes of finding a place where my kids can stretch their cramped muscles and give their vocal cords and my eardrums a rest. We finally find a McDonald's with a Playland, order the obligatory Happy Meals for the kids and some chicken strips for the adults. Small snag: the chicken, said the teenaged girl behind the counter, would be a few minutes, but she would bring them out to us. No problem. Two minutes later, as promised, the girl had the meals in hand, with some extra strips to compensate us for the wait.
Now, I'm not a fast food fiend, or one who likes to eat out a lot. But I'm much less inclined to visit an Arby's than I am a McDonald's now. Didn't used to be that way. But to my non-discerning palette, the food is all the same, and, all else being equal, I'll go where I'm treated better.
My experience was not unique, but it underscores a trend I've noticed in marketing: it's getting harder to distinguish companies by quality or price. But customers notice the difference in the way they're treated, in the way they feel when they're interacting with our companies. Service is the big differentiator.