In my world

28 August, 2009
Umer Ashraf is a young entrepreneur who owns the Glasgow-based iCafé chain of shops. He recently opened smoothie and juice bar Paradise Bay in Oban, on Scotland's west coast
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As I sit here on the comfy sofa at iCafé on the Great Western Road, sipping a latte, I can't help noticing some wee things that could perhaps be a little better and, of course, things that we already do superbly, like this latte in front of me.

When I arrived, I was served by one of the newcomers, who very kindly asked me if I'd like something sweet with my coffee. "Perhaps one of our lovely muffins or a pastry, sir?" she asked.

"I'm off cakes and pastry for a few weeks my dear, but thanks for asking," I replied.

Of course, she didn't know I am the managing director of the company and may well still not know, which is even better, as it gives me an opportunity to have a true customer experience without any "sugar-coated" treatment - not that we have any in my company. I'd like to think we are very transparent with things.

In this very competitive marketplace, where every coffee shop, deli or sandwich bar is after the same customer, it's important that we have some fundamentals absolutely nailed down. What is it that we stand for? What makes us different? Why do our customers come back time and time again? Is it our products, service, experience, location or price? Whatever it may be for your company, I think we will all agree that it's not just one, but a combination of factors. The key, however, is the consistency of the "package". An establishment may not do the best coffee in the world, or may not sell the tastiest muffin in town, but if they have consistency each time, they have a formula that works. Logically speaking, they meet customer expectations every time; the customer knows what they stand for and they stick to what they know best.

Here at iCafé, we try to make each part of the business the best it can be. Of course, no one is perfect and there is always room for improvement, but if we have this mind-set of continuing to benchmark our previous achievements in terms of sales, mystery shop results or other performance and sales measures, we will continue to travel in the right direction.

Some of the measures worth considering for your outlet include mystery shopping, surprise visits, feedback from family and friends, from regular customers and from staff members' friends. We have to remember that not everyone will be honest with their answers, and mystery shopping provides only a snapshot of a business at any given point; it may not give you the true picture but it is still a very popular method now used by thousands of companies.

The best method in my opinion is one's own approach to all the above. There isn't a one-size-fits-all formula out there. After all, most of us know what we are looking for and would probably know our company's weaknesses and strengths inside out, we just have to go through a brainstorming session and nail down some key areas.

Nothing changes overnight, but the first step is to acknowledge and realise what needs to improve or change, think of a plan, and what we will hopefully find is that half an orange tastes as sweet as a whole one. On that note, I wish everyone happy holidays and thank you for reading my column.





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