Train ticket fear destroys customer value

Tell me, what sort of organisation would advertise the fact that using their service creates fear in their customers, except perhaps roller coaster owners!

This is what British rail franchise company East Midlands Trains is doing at the moment. The intent of the advert is to address the serious problem of customers (that’s passengers to you and me) buying the wrong ticket. Up to One fifth of rail customers buy the wrong ticket as this BBC news report reveals.

One of the most worrying consequences for passengers is that if you ‘under-buy’, in other words make a purchase mistake you get a fine or as its euphemistically called a penalty fare. This means you are treated as if you are a fare dodger who has the wilful intent of avoiding payment. In other words the company regards you as a criminal. As harsh as this seems considerable effort is made by rail companies to make passengers aware that they need to buy the correct ticket in advance of travel.

All the same because of the complexity of their own ticketing arrangements passenger ticket fear is explicitly recognised by East Midlands Trains as fear of financial punishment and fear of being cast as a law breaker! Whilst the issue of rail fare evasion is serious I don’t think making fun of passenger fear in this way is appropriate.

I’d like to discuss two things in relation to rail passengers buying the wrong tickets from machines. Firstly the use of ‘fear’ in marketing communications and secondly the issue of value destruction. The latter is something we cover in our book Value-ology

Fear in marketing 

There’s an old adage in sales and marketing that ‘fear sells’. Disturb the customer about an inadequacy or a lack such as lack of beauty or bring up an anxiety such as fear of leaving loved one’s with huge funeral bills when you pass on.  Fear is marketing 101. BUT it seems to me that the  East Midlands Trains marketing team that came up with idea of, and authorised the use of ‘fear’ in the advert above have a mistaken understanding of the use of fear in marketing communications. Either that or they think it’s funny that their passengers are fearful. Why would you brag about the fact that your ticketing system creates customer fear rather than addresses a customer fear?! It looks like chopped logic to me. The marketing team are sort of in the right ball park but misses the point of how to use the idea of fear in advertising.

I do realise that the advert refers to an explanatory brochure that seeks to demystify ticket types but there is a difference in recognising customer feedback about their fears of buying a wrong ticket and then playing straight back at them in this way. I would have thought something more like:

Take the stress out of buying your ticket.

Buying the wrong ticket can result in penalty fare

You might worry if you have bought the right ticket for your journey

Our simple ticket guide will help you choose the right ticket for you

Value destruction

The potential for value destruction by dysfunctional organisational or individual activities has ben researched by marketing academics in recent times. See:

Ple,L. Caceres, R.C. (2010) Not always co-creation: Introducing interactional co-destruction of value in service-dominant logic. Journal of Services Marketing, 24/6 430-437.and

Echeverri P., & Skalen P. (2011). Co-creation and co-destruction: A practice–theory based study of interactive value formation. Marketing Theory, 11(3), 351–373.

Value can be destroyed by the supplier or the customer through a variety of means such as  impoliteness, aggression, lack of attention, humiliation and so on. .I realise that fare dodging needs a deterrent and the official identity of revenue protection officers serves a powerful purpose in that regard. The RPO’s are invariably  very polite and only assertive when they have to be. That said, the sense of potential public humiliation and edginess I have witnessed as a commuter as the Revenue Inspectors board a train (dressed in somewhat paramilitary body vests) is palpable. Even when the inspectors ‘let the wrong ticketed passenger off’ with a warning or just payment of a full fare rather than imposing a fine it seems to me that customer value is being destroyed. Fellow passengers have witnessed the interaction and so being ‘shamed’ in public is not ideal.One thing that seems to be overlooked is that the inspector-passenger interaction takes place in a public service-scape (see Servicescapes: The Impact of Physical Surroundings on Customers and Employees. Mary Jo Bitner 1992 Journal of Marketing). This means that all passengers within sight and earshot are also having their customer value (pleasant and relaxing journey) destroyed.

Of course in the world of behavioural economics you get people to change their behaviour with rewards and punishments. Yes dear customer we are cast as simply ‘dogs to be trained.Of course the whole purpose of revenue protection is to ensure cheaper prices (economic value) for us all. Seems sensible, but as academics Brock and Colgate point out firms rarely deliver just one sort of value. See Customer Value Creation: A Practical Framework J. Brock Smith and Mark Colgate Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice Vol. 15, No. 1 (Winter, 2007), pp. 7-23.

We use a  customer value model called the Value Onion in our new book Value-ology to show the interrelated types of value created by firms:


Surely the best solution to the revenue and fear problem is to have and indisputably simple and clear ticketing system rather than a Byzantine system that creates fear in customers and has the persistent latent potent to destroy experiential customer value?

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Bureaucracy kills customer value creation 

Do you have energy vampires in your organisation?

When I read this recent article from the HBR blog How to stop people who bring things down with bureaucracy I couldn’t believe how it totally nailed many of the more motivation sapping experiences of academic and commercial life.

Author James Allen describes ‘energy vampires’ who create diversionary none value add activities.

These activities however well intentioned adversely diminish the energy and action that should be devoted to the creation of customer value.

Of course most organisations need some systems and processes to function. Sociologist Max Weber pointed this out years ago. The problem occurs when bureaucracy becomes self serving and self perpetuating. Bureacracy can be characterised by mindless demands for information, defensive records of decisions and actions – ‘just in case’ something bad happens, a form for this a form for that, multiple sign off forms, lots of data creation and little insight and information agility.

One of foremost writers and researchers on Bureacracy is David Graeber author of The Utopia of Rules. He recently wrote an article for Times Higher titled Why Won’t Academics Break Their Paper Chains.

I would recommend any business person to read his work to see what can happen in large organisations when the value creating imperative of the business is smothered by bureaucracy.

One on the central themes in our forthcoming book Value:ology is about the value creating and proposing capability of people in your company. With Co-authors Simon Kelly of Sheffield Business School and Stacey Danheiser of Shake Marketing we emphasise that without a dedicated focus on value creating activity you will waste time, money and energy on irrelevancies.

So can you spot the tell tale sales of value smothering in your business? James Allen gives a clue when he says watch out for people that:

‘….fire off lots of missives that force your people to stop serving the customer and instead respond to yet another information request’

 

Creating brand love means being tough on value 

Brand Love
One of the big ideas in brand management is the creation of brand love.  This is where the solutions you sell and the customer relationships and experiences you create result in customers who are passionate and committed to your brand.

But have you stopped to really think through what generates this passion and commitment in the first place?

The only way customers will love your brand is if it delivers value in a way that matters to them. True value resonates with your customers. This means you need to be tough on value in your organisation to prevent it being treated as ‘taken for granted’ or ‘glossy rhetoric’.

Adding value and creating customer value are often snappy sound bites that are very easy for people to buy into.When this happens you could have a serious problem when it comes to establishing what value means for your business. Ask yourself honestly; does everyone in the organisation have an aligned view on what are people talking about when they talk about value in general and customer value in particular?

Get tough on value conversations in your organisation by doing three things.

  • Don’t confuse it with satisfaction because that is only about after the purchase. It says a lot about wants and little about real needs.
  • Don’t confuse it with quality because that is about technical standards.
  • Don’t confuse it with your values because they are about you and not the customer.

Are you sure your team knows the difference?

Organization psychologist Kurt Lewin said there is nothing more practical than a good theory. He said this to make managers realise that an assumption has a direct influence on practice. Mistaken assumptions about ‘what’ value is results in irrelevant marketing implementation.

You can think of defining value in your business as just as important as NASA getting the trajectory calculations right for a space exploration vehicle such as the Mars Curiosity Rover. Even a small miscalculation on launch could have resulted in Curiosity missing big the red planet by thousands of miles.

Let’s say you assume that the primary benefit your customer is seeking is the best price. This might seem reasonable because the customer always mentions the price in conversations. Acting on this assumption could lead you to being way off target. Deeper understanding of the customer through careful unpacking of what is going on in their business world reveals that they value your detailed expertise and network of suppliers which means the relationship they have with you helps them compete in their market more effectively. The real value is in the supplier relationship not in the price.

If you don’t ask tough questions about what people mean by value then there is a very real risk your plans, product developments and campaigns will be off target. Worse still you’ll get locked into a cycle of repetitive problem solving as one thing after another is tried in the elusive hunt for customer value.

Barbara Caroll and Aaron Ahuvia in their article Some antecedents and outcomes of brand love – Market Lett (2006) 17: 79–89 define  brand love as “the degree of passionate emotional attachment that a person has for a particular trade name.”. A definition such as this is helpful in focusing attention key brand love attributes.

The challenge for the professional marketer of course lies in creating specific actions that predispose the customer to fall  and stay in love with your brand. It’s issues like this that are at the heart of the work my publishing colleagues Simon Kelly of Sheffield Business School UK and Stacey Danheiser of Shake Marketing USA address when they talk of the need to create resonant value propositions and ensure that sales and marketing activities are aligned.

Brand love needs a bit of tough love too.

If you are interested in the academic research into brand love then the following might be of interest:

Fournier, Susan (1998), “Consumers and Their Brands: Developing Relationship Theory in Consumer Research,” Journal of Consumer Research, 24 (4), 343–73.

Albert, Noel, Dwight Merunka, and Pierre Valette-Florence (2008), “When Consumers Love Their Brands: Exploring the Concept and its Dimensions,” Journal of Business Research, 61 (10), 1062–75

 

 

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