Monthly Archives: May 2010

Come Fly With Me… (Or Not)

Without Freddie Laker and his Skytrain flights to New York which started in September 1977 we may not have the budget airlines of today. Until this point air travel was enjoyed by the rich, with luxury flights on National carriers being the norm. Freddie Laker challenged this dominance with Skytrain offering a ‘turn up and go’, no frills service at a fraction of the price of other airlines. It had taken him six years to get the first flight off the ground such was the opposition arrayed against him. Freddie Laker changed the rules. Air travel could be for everyone, it didn’t have to be a luxury, taking a flight could be like catching a train. The paradigm shifted and now budget airlines rule the skies.
National Carriers offer: Routes into major international airports, full service, large baggage allowance, a range of booking options and luxury travel.
Budget Airlines offer: Flights into regional airports, the option to buy ‘extras’ such as food and additional baggage separately, online booking as the primary customer interface and budget travel.
Paradigmeers have to struggle to overcome the ‘establishment’
Freddie Laker found that his dream of opening up air travel to more people by making it accessible had to overcome huge opposition. It wasn’t as if people didn’t want the service, they were desperate to use it, the market was there. But like many Paradigmeers he had to take on powerful groups who felt threatened by the improvements he was advocating. Eventually they proved too much for Skytrain and they stopped trading in 1982. One of the characteristics of Paradigmeering is the necessary struggle that has to occur in order to change the rules.

‘I Thank You’

A great story from my friend Mark Greenop.
As a child growing up in the Cumbrian coastal town of Workington he was often dispatched to the local grocery store for bread, cheese and the like.  The shop was run by a kindly lady called Amy Daglish who gave 24 hour service, 365 days a year.  This was remarkable because she was the only person who worked there.  Apparently you could call anytime day or night and Amy would be delighted to serve even if you had got her out of bed to do so. Whenever she made a sale she would say ‘I thank you’, in fact she said this all the time in response to any request.  Her kindness and selflessness made revered throughout the town.
When acknowledgements are heartfelt, genuine expressions it is so meaningful.  Unlike the ‘have a nice day’  which is so tarnished that even when you really mean it from the bottom of your heart the person hearing it perceives it as drivel.  My lads had a ski instructor that praised them with a ‘good job’.  From her it was the ultimate praise, when I tried it, well, I was met with derision. 
Amy had it right.  She had developed her own, unique, meaningful acknowledgement which when she used it it had the right effect.  These can’t be scripted by the corporate customer services department. It’s like trying on shoes, you’ve got to find the style that suits you and that fits. Even then, they need to be worn in until you’ve got them just perfect.  ‘Suits you, Sir’ is what we’re aiming at rather than a ‘Bothered?’ when it comes to this small yet so important parting comment.
Now that I’ve pointed this out you’ll all be self conscious about your ‘parting saying’.  Actually, you probably haven’t even noticed what you do.  Now is the time to take note, try a few out to find one that you feel comfortable with and then perfect it.
Take care.

5 ways to upset your customer

I’m not suggesting you create a charter which expects employees to deliberately upset customers.  I’ve come across many people who are masters at this without any encouragement or intervention.  There are even some restaurants that have made rude uncaring waiters their unique selling point which attracts diners eager for the ultimately bad experience. This is simply a technique which helps organisations find ways of getting to the next level.
Let’s take a building business as an example.  What can my builders do to upset me, their customer?
  1. Suck air sharply through their teeth whenever I enquire what this extra piece of work might cost.
  2. Cheerfully tell me some ‘cock-and-bull’ story of trouble and woe when they phone to let me down.  How many times can a van break down?
  3. Give the keys to a mini digger to my teenage son with the instruction ‘here’s the keys just in case your dad would like to play with it this weekend’
  4. Involve my wife in decision making.  She has yet to develop the counter-technique to point 1 in this list; sharp intake of breath through teeth followed by ‘I’m really not sure’.  This gets a cheaper price. Whereas when he comes to me with ‘Your wife would like …’ I ask how much?  He does no.1; quoting an extortionate price and pointing out how much she really wants it!  This is why my builder always talks to Mrs B first!
  5. Expose my neighbours to the builder’s crack.  This is not to be confused with the ‘craic’ or banter, which they like.

These might not be important to your customers but your team will know what is. Or better still, ask your customers what you do that they don’t like.   This gives you areas for improvement that will quickly make a difference. Oh, if my builder is reading this … it’s feedback.

Service Delivery Channels

I was behind a Staples (office supplies) delivery truck on the motorway recently which carried the advertising strap line ‘Three ways to buy’, with online, by phone and in store the options offered me by the lorry.  Since we had ground to a halt in an M6 traffic jam I reflected that this was indeed an interesting stationary choice.
This is nothing new, think tea, loose leaf or in a tea bag which was first marketed in 1904 by tea merchant Thomas Sullivan.  There are many other examples; the difference today is the range of options that companies want to offer.    Most have recognised the need to move on from a ‘take it or leave it’ approach, (although this doesn’t apply to their automated phone systems) to a ‘this is what we will offer you’ mindset.  Finding as many ways possible to deliver our service to us is the challenge.  Like the razor blade wars between Gillette and Wilkinson Sword it appears that organisations have to find one more than their rivals.
Is this what your customers want?  Have you asked them? Is this really important to people?  Most importantly is it worth the investment? Sometimes you need to try something new and completely different to find better ways to serve your customers.  I will be eternally grateful to the banker who talked their bosses into developing telephone banking.  Internet banking on the other hand may offer benefits but for me the convenience of telling someone what I want is far superior.
This is where we see the difference between those companies that ‘do to their customers’ and those that give people the experience they want.   A subtle yet telling differentiator.  Telephone Banking is the opportunity for the bank to give me a personal experience, to connect with me, to involve me in an interaction which is personalised.  I can become emotionally attached to their service.  This is far more difficult to achieve with an internet experience which is entirely functional.
Although ‘three ways to buy’ is a great idea, will I get three equally great experiences? 

Cirque Du Soleil

On Saturday we all had a trip to the Circus, not any ‘old’ circus but a spectacular experience which I can thoroughly recommend and which represents a great example of transformational change.
Nouveau Cirque as exemplified by the most excellent ‘Cirque Du Soleil’ has drawn audiences of millions back to the circus. When the traditional circus began to lose its appeal the popularity of circus performance has been reinvigorated by a new style of show.
Just consider the fundamental differences between the two styles:
Traditional Circus
Nouveau Cirque
Animal acts as star performers
Spectacular human performances
Local performances in a ‘Big Top’
Central Arena venues
Well known format to each show
Themed theatrical storyline
Traditional ‘brass’ circus music
Music composed as an integral part of the show
Ringmaster Compere
No Compere
Comic acts
Although Circuses have always marketed themselves brilliantly, walk an elephant down any high street or erect a large striped tent in the local park and it will draw attention. Cirque nouveau has tapped into the marketing of our time. Creatively using a range of internet-based advertising channels like the e-book I recently received for a Cirque du Soleil show with video clips to tease me into booking my tickets.  They have made circus ‘cool’ again.  Children want to learn how to juggle, walk on stilts and perform acrobatic dance moves.  Cirque nouveau has become part of popular culture as traditional circus was 50 years ago.
When did traditional circus stop being new and exciting and become the established circus?  When does nouveau cirque stop being nouveau?  Where does the next transformation come from? 
I may have the answer to this.  As we speak through the window I can see my son in our back garden.  He told me he was developing a performance using a set of wooden stilts he made in the garage this afternoon.  It seems he is going to use these on the trampoline.  He also appears to be reintroducing animals into the act as next door’s cat has, by the look of things, volunteered to assist. 
This may break more than the mould.  Sorry.  Got to go!

Sir Clive Sinclair

There are many examples of Paradigmeers who invented products that have changed the world.  Sir Clive Sinclair certainly belongs amongst this esteemed group for his early ground-breaking electronic calculators and the ZX Spectrum home computer.
What interests me is those products that broke the rules and could have transformed the world but didn’t.  The legendary Sinclair C5 was decades ahead of its time.  A personal, electric powered vehicle that was cheap to make, buy and run would seem to be the Holy Grail in personal transportation.  The quirky design was simply a step too far for the time.  It was limited to 14 mph and being very close to the ground it was too frightening for most potential users.  It could have gone faster but for the legislation affecting electric powered vehicles.  Adam Harper, a former C5 salesman turbo charged his machine and reached 150 mph!  He says; ‘Up to 100mph, it’s like running on rails, really stable.  At 110 – 120 mph, it starts getting tricky.  I’ll bet!
The market wasn’t ready, fuel was relatively cheap and at the time roads were getting ever more congested.  Perhaps the true ‘nail in the C5 coffin’ was that it wasn’t stylish.  It evoked the wrong emotion; the press led its demise by casting derision at the concept and then cut its throat with the ubiquitous health and safety scare.  To change the rules and create a revolutionary form of transportation is one thing, but in order for it to fundamentally change our lives there also needs to be a change in mindset.  The world has to fall in love with the idea.  In 1959 Alec Issigonis designed the Mini.  The difference here was that it captured the mood of the times; the car became a style icon to which people eventually became emotionally attached.  Importantly, this didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen.
Perhaps the C5 was ahead of its time, maybe we will all have our own electric vehicle before too long.  All I know is that when this happens I want the one that does 150 mph!

Lessons from the ‘No-Work’ Garden

It’s Friday.  Antics from the garden this week.
I came across an amazing book which has, on the one hand, revolutionised my life and on the other has given my family, friends, colleagues and neighbours hours of amusement at my expense.  It is called ‘The no-work garden’ by Bob Flowerdew, a well known gardening broadcaster.  I was particularly attracted by the cover photograph of a hammock bathed in sunshine swinging lazily amongst beautiful flowers. ‘I could be in that hammock, that could be my garden’, I though as I handed over the cash to buy the passport to my dreams.
As usual things aren’t quite that simple.  Why I ever thought all I had to do was buy a hammock and the gardening would happen as I dozed in the sunshine, listening to the blackbird chirruping in the hedge, gin and tonic in hand, is beyond me! 
It rapidly became clear as I signed up to the ‘no work’ ethos, that in order to achieve this state of gardening nirvana I would have to put in a huge effort.  To such an extent that in order to get in some extra hours I’ve started night gardening using a head torch to see what I’m doing in the vegetable patch. My local reputation is going downhill rapidly.  I’ve noticed villagers nudge each other when I’m in the Co-op.  As I pass, I overhear comments like – “that’s the one, the ‘no-work gardener’”.
I admit that I haven’t quite cracked it yet, but there are lessons which transfer to all activity:
  1. Don’t do things just because that’s how they are usually done. There might well be a better, ‘less work’ way.
  2. Make sure you have all the tools to do the job with you before you start it saves time rather than going back to the shed for them later.
  3. Find highly productive activity which takes very little effort (like grow fruit).
  4. Forget the highly groomed lawn; grow a wild flower meadow. High maintenance vs low maintenance.
  5. Design the garden in such a way that it keeps work to a minimum.
  6. No-work is a mindset which makes you question whether what you are doing is productive. 
  7. Setting up a no-work operation is initially hard work with but will eventually bring results.

Meanwhile, the hammock is in a cupboard gathering dust. I also have to pretend I’m eccentric when I’m in the Co-op in order to justify my behaviour, but the end is in sight.  Soon, the no-work garden will be mine!

Next Level: The past informs the future

In 1916, Henry Ford in an interview with the Chicago Tribune said that ‘History is more or less bunk.  It’s tradition.  We don’t want tradition.  We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we made today.’
Students of history learn about cause and effect.  Although Ford had the belief that he was the creator of a new world, he was in denial about the causes of his break with tradition and the ground-breaking step change this brought.  The industrial revolution took manufacturing production from small workshops to automated processes almost 100 years before.  Adam Smith wrote in ‘The Wealth of Nations’ 1776 about the division of Labour  in the making of pins:
‘the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some factories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them.’
Achieving further levels of excellence is always built upon the achievements of the past. The ideas don’t just spring out of thin air and will never be truly unique even if our egos would like to believe this. 
This doesn’t mean that innovation has to be evolutionary.  Ford saw tradition as a major inhibition that would prevent progress.  So where does innovation come from?  Who knows?  It’s there if you look hard enough for it.  We really have to create the conditions such that innovation can thrive. Even then, we have to be open enough so that we recognise a good idea when we see it.  How often do you hear people say, ‘I thought of that.’  The difference between successful innovators and the rest is that not only did they recognise what might take their organisation forward but like Henry Ford, they did something about it.

The Receptionist

I know this might seem a bit strange, but I really like sitting in reception areas.  It seems that other people regard them a necessary inconvenience but I find them fascinating places.  The flotsam and jetsam of the world pass through.  You get members of staff, some with their cheery comments to the receptionist and others, heads down in their own worried world.  Then there are the ‘suits’ usually grey with an uninspiring tie or the women usually in something black.  Some are VIPs who must be impressed and others who must be endured.  They all pass by the receptionist.
This area is a microcosm of the culture of any organisation.  On the one hand it is the formal face of the business.  It is also a window on staff culture which shows you how colleagues behave towards one another. In the centre, conducting affairs is the receptionist.
They come in all shapes and sizes.  I did a programme for a French cosmetics company where they performed like pouting ballerinas.  Immaculate make up, not a hair out of place with their polished unblemished skin.  All instructions were given in a slight French accent, always accompanied with a small Gallic gesticulation, usually a flick of the index finger towards where they wanted you to wait.  When they thought no one as looking the act was dropped and they reverted back to their East-End accents.
At the other end of the scale is the subcontracted security guard, highly trained as a bouncer but not much else.  Park outside the white lines of the bay at your peril!  He has followed you all the time you have been on the premises with his security cameras so he knows these things.  He insists you fill in all the forms – including some of his bits too!  Few people linger and he looks bored and a little lonely.
I have met some wonderful receptionists.  They make my short stay in ‘reception world’ a delight.   Their ability to make anyone who passes through feel welcome and special is an uncelebrated gift.  One of my favourites is at a call centre in Norwich.  I enjoyed her company for about ten minutes as people went in and out at lunch time.  Every single person who passed through was acknowledged and made the effort to respond.  She set the tone for the whole building.  She even filled in the forms for me. Wonderful!

Protagonists of change 1: The Activist

Do you have a difficult challenge to overcome?
Do you need to take action now?
Do you want someone who will persist until the goal is achieved?
Then you want … an activist.
Before we go any further, these are not ‘enthusiasts’, you’ll have to wait for them in a future blog.  Activists are quite different. Let’s imagine your ship is sinking in the middle of the English Channel.  Do you want to be surrounded by people who enthusiastically and tirelessly bail out sea water with an espresso cup, or someone whose first thought is to find ways to fix the leak?
Activists are a set of unique people who generate innovation in your organisation.  Many are unsung heroes, unrecognised by managers, or worse still, actively discouraged because they threaten the status quo.  But, without their new ideas the organisation will fail to develop and will lose ground to competitors. 
Can you spot them? They are an invaluable source of innovation because they see the big picture but are aware of the situation and always looking to solve problems rather than spend hours talking about it.  In a meeting they work to understand what is needed, often suspending judgement they ask insightful questions to clear away the debris so they can build a clear picture of what is happening.  Then, they act with purpose to get the job done, often showing great political acumen to get people on side. Most importantly they are prepared to take risks to bring about improvement.
The problem with activists is they are hard to control, which is why they often get squashed by managers who don’t share their vision or drive.  They can be seen as a threat, not only to their managers but also to the status quo.  Given a chance they will shine.  In fact, they should be positively nurtured and encouraged because they are the ones that bring about true creativity and positive change.
These organisational super heroes are all around us just waiting to be asked to demonstrate their special talents.  All you have to do is create a culture where they can thrive. 
Thanks to Mike Rix for the ideas