Loyalty: A One Way Street?

People who know me know a few things, hell even people who don’t know me personally know a few things if they’ve read any of the posts on this site. Of those things which I make no secret of are the fact that I enjoy spicy food and that I’m more than partial to the peri-peri chicken served up by Nando’s, the Portuguese inspired food purveyor which originated in South Africa.

Now, let’s be honest, Nando’s is, to all extent and purposes a mildly healthier alternative to KFC, haute cuisine it is not but with its extra, extra hot sauce it’s one of the few high street food venues where I can eat spicy food that is actually spicy. I also like the fact that you can eat it with your fingers if you want; no fussing around with knife and fork, just pick it up and make like you’re dining in days of olde…minus the flagons of ale, serving wenches and dysentery.

Nando’s are one of the many places that offer a loyalty card scheme, quite a generous one in fact. 3 stamps gets you a quarter chicken, 6 stamps and a half chicken is yours and collect 10 stamps and you’re feasting on a whole chicken. Sure, the chickens are small but they’ve got to make a profit which presumably they don’t make from the ridiculously overpriced sides, I mean really, £2.15 for a mousefull of coleslaw?

Anyway, I digress. I have a few loyalty cards on the go, two of which are waiting for me to collect whole chickens and one with 8 stamps so it’s fair to say I frequent the place quite a lot as I’ve already collected 2 whole chickens this year. On Friday a colleague told me that Nando’s were changing their loyalty card and asked if I had exchanged mine. It was news to me. So I quickly checked their website and sure enough, there was the announcement that the old cards would expire after 30 June 2012 but any stamps collected could be transferred to a new one.

Initially I thought the new card was an electronic version but no, same paper based card on which you collect stamps. What was a little annoying was I had only been in the Stratford branch the weekend before and no one mentioned then that my cards would soon be invalid, instead the branch manager smiled and said, “Wow you have a lot of stamps!” as I looked in my wallet for one that could be stamped.

So, Friday lunchtime saw me head over to the closest branch to exchange my loyalty cards. That branch was across the road from Liverpool Street Station. When I arrived there was quite a queue of people waiting to get their fill of that spicy chicken goodness and there was a staff member going along the line finding out the various group sizes and trying to match them up with available tables.

When I told her what I was there for she waved me inside where another staff member stood or rather propped himself up by the stairs clutching some menus. I looked behind him and saw 2 people ordering and started to make my way there until he came to life and asked, “What are you doing?” No “Hello”, No “How can I help you?” just a blunt, “What are you doing?” So I showed him my loyalty cards and explained I was there to have them exchanged for the new style.

After looking at me and the cards he replied, “No, you can’t” “Excuse me??” I asked, “What do you mean I can’t? Your website says I can exchange them before tomorrow” with an audible sigh he looked at his watch and replied, “You can’t do that now, it’s complicated for me at lunchtime.” When I asked how complicated it could be to stamp a couple of new cards he simply replied, “You need to come back later, maybe 6. It’s too busy now.” Again I looked up at ordering counter, where no one was waiting to order or pay but it was obvious I wasn’t going to be allowed to get there so I left and returned to the office, more than a little annoyed at the lack of customer service.

On my way back to the office I tweeted about the experience but it seemed that whoever was looking after the Nando’s Twitter account had gone to lunch, in fact despite mentioning it on Twitter 4 or 5 times there’s was nothing but silence from Nando’s, you’ll be pleased to know I resisted the temptation to accuse them of being too chicken to reply.

So, fast forward to 5pm and I finish work and head to Liverpool Street Station to catch the train home. Are you using your psychic powers to deduce what I was thinking? Yes, that’s right, I thought, “I better pop in to Nando’s to swap these bloody loyalty cards because I won’t be anywhere near one tomorrow” so across the road I go and who do I see? Why only the friendliest staff member Nando’s have.

Again, there is a large queue of people waiting to get in but this time I didn’t even make it inside, when I say I’m there to swap over the cards he tells me, “It’s too busy now for that.” So I remind him that he told me it was too complicated to do at lunchtime and he suggested returning later but now he was telling me it was too busy. His response was that if I’d arrived between 4pm and 5pm it would have been okay but they were now really busy, “It’s Friday” he emphasised as if I wasn’t aware of the day of the week.

As you can imagine, I was pretty pissed off by this stage so in my best sarcastic tone I asked when did he think I should return to have the cards exchanged, I could only laugh when he replied, “When it’s less busy.” At that I replied that I had no intention of waiting outside for the place to empty and that if they,  Nando’s, didn’t want customers to exchange their old cards for new they shouldn’t advertise that they can in the first place. It’s safe to say I stomped off in a fowl mood!

Needless to say the whole fiasco has left a bitter taste in my mouth and to-date there’s not been a tweet from the Nando’s twitter account asking if I’d managed to get the cards swapped over, in fact when I tweeted that fact today they still managed to ignore it. Is there really any point in having a Twitter presence if you’re just going to ignore complaints & criticism and instead just re-tweet compliments and praise?

If anything the experience has made me think about just what loyalty means, is it just a one way street where I’m loyal to the brand but the brand doesn’t feel it has to be loyal to me? One thing’s for sure and that is it will be a long time before I frequent Nando’s again, between the surly staff member from the Liverpool Street branch and the deafening silence from the Twitter account it’s obvious to me that Nando’s see loyalty as something they expect but don’t have to reciprocate.

2 Comments

  1. I totally agree with everything here it seems that companies are soon to retweet praise but as soon as you complain they shy away, surely big companies should be able to handle a little criticism! I’m so surprised at this as I’ve always had good service in Nando’s but I understand your frustration. It seems like most companies they’re only interested in your presence if you’re going to be spending money. I dread the day I ever have to return something to a store as I know the assistant is automatically gonna be really stroppy with me because I’m not buying anything! I guess like any large chain they don’t see you as a person they see you as another £20 walking through the door, loyalty schemes are just a gentle cover up of this!

  2. Hi Tilly, Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, I was very disappointed with my experience at Nando’s as until then it was my favourite place to eat out, both alone and with friends (tho a fair few refuse to go there as often as I’d like!) Finally this evening I received a response from their twitter account asking me to contact them via their contact form, so only 5 days of radio silence.

    I do agree with you when it comes to having to return things. In a few instances I’ve just not bothered as I can’t bear the grief that goes with it, which I guess is what a lot of retailers secretly hope for, more so before social media came along and spoiled their party ;-}

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