Sunday, August 06, 2006

Subway vs. McDonald's. (no, really)

I was driving on I-90 today and stopped at a Subway shop in Ellensburg. When ordering my sandwich, I noticed something new. I was offered mushrooms as a topping. This summed up the biggest problem this national chain faces, the reason it is not the #1 fast food chain yet: Consistency. Or the lack thereof.

Let's take a quick look backwards at the history and success of another fast-food chain, McDonald's. Consistency is the key to the international success of The Golden Arches. When was the last time you where offered mushrooms on your Big Mac or Deli Mustard on your double cheeseburger? This lack of service as some may see it, is what made the company do so well, and there is a good reason for it. If you grew to expect Grey Poupon on your cheeseburger and you went to a Mickey-D's across town only to find out that they didn't stock the condiment, you would be disappointed. There is one thing that people hate more than anything else: Unpleasant surprises. Disappointment is the best way to hurt your brand.

Now back to Subway. When I have gone into different stores of this chain, I have faced several variations:
Some offer spinach for free. Some charge extra.
Some offer double cheese on veggie sandwiches. Some don't.
Some are amply staffed (short wait times). Some are shorthanded (long wait times).
Some offer to toast your sandwich. Some make you ask.

This type of inconsistency results in unpleasant surprises on a fairly regular basis. Now, I am not saying that in business, you shouldn't offer extras (quite the opposite, actually). I am saying to make sure that you are not setting up your clients to expect one thing and get something less. Make sure that if they are surprised, it is the pleasant kind.

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