Archives for category: Customers

I was waiting for a colleague of mine a few Saturdays ago, in the lobby of the local credit union – which is a bit like a local community bank. When I got there there was no-one in the queue, and I had been in earlier, when business was very slow. Five minutes later there were 6 in the queue. Just my luck I thought, and it reminded me of the old adage about waiting for a bus and then three come at once – although I suspect that has more to do with bus drivers moving in packs because they can complete their route more quickly by alternating which bus picks up the poor punters at which stop.

Queuing theory is fascinating. The whole science of it fascinates me both as an observer and a not very patient queuer. Back in the day we would all queue for a specific teller, and it was always a trick as to which line to pick. These days you see banks employing one queue which then distributes to the next available teller, and you see it also in some parts of supermarkets, airport passport controls and retail outlets. But, then again, you still see situations where you queue for your teller of choice, like in, well, other parts of supermarkets, airport passport controls and retail outlets.

I remember doing a bit of queuing theory at college when I was doing my MBA. It involves quite a bit of calculus – a subject which always sends me thinking about the unbelievably clever soul centuries ago who invented those formulas in the first place.

I mentioned this to my colleague when he turned up. As it turned out, he had an even more nerdy interest in queueing theory than I did, and we then proceeded to debate the strategies of some retailers to offer fewer servers so that the longer queues deter people from revisiting, pushing them online, though it’s highly risky.

But, the fact that you can use mathematics to account for and plan around the sheer randomness of something like people turning up somewhere and queuing is amazing to me.

It seems to me slightly unfair that in the main most of us have to work 5 days for 2 days off. Your working week and your weekend; one is longer and goes slow, the other shorter and goes fast.

It’s an evolution I suppose. In earlier times we were working 7 days a week, because we were hunter-gatherers, or we were slaves. We were literally working to survive. Then comes the industrial revolution and the factory existence and it wasn’t uncommon to be working 6 days and get one solitary day off to recover. A hard life, and one which I’m sure a good number of people still have to endure.

Starting from the other end, if you’re working no days or one day a week, you’re probably independently wealthy, or you can rely on someone else to bring in the bread. If you’re 2 days on and 5 days off, or perhaps 3 days on and 4 days off, then you work part-time in my book. Nothing wrong with that at all. It works great for many millions.

Which brings us back to where I started. 5 days of work and 2 days of play doesn’t feel all that evolved to me. 4 days working, however, and 3 days to yourself – well, that feels a lot more equitable. If your work situation is flexible enough that you can fit your working week into 4 days, or if you can get by on 4 days’ income rather than 5, then that feels a lot fairer to me.

There are 168 hours in a week, of which we’re asleep for about 58, leaving 110 hours left. When you factor in getting ready for work, getting to work, lunch, getting back from work and getting changed, that’s about an 11-hour day, or half of the 110 hours at your disposal if you work 5 days. Half the hours are work-related, so my feeling is the balance of days should be closer to half as well.

We simply need to have the right culture and make the economics work for the 4:3 work:play balance.

Sport is in many ways the descendant of the gladiatorial contents from ancient times. You have your protagonists, or your actors, and you have your audience. The job is to entertain the audience of paying customers.

The other day I took my mother to a cricket match near where she lives. It was a match between England and Ireland, what’s called a One Day International, and the first of a 2-match series. England, as I write this, are the world leaders in this version of the sport, and Ireland are fast coming up on the rails into the top tier of international cricket. England’s pool of players to draw upon is massive, Ireland’s is tiny.

This was a 50-over match, so each team receives 300 deliveries from the opposition to score as many runs as they can. Whoever scores more runs, wins. A lot rides on the toss of the coin as to who decides to bat first or bowl first. The decision hangs on many things, like ability, confidence, the pitch condition, and the weather. Ireland has beaten England once before in a memorable ‘ODI’ in the World Cup over a decade ago.

Ireland won the toss and decided to bat first. ‘Uh oh, I said to my mum, ‘that could shorten the day considerably.’ Ireland were duly skittled out for about 130 – 300 is a good score – , lasting barely half the 300 deliveries they were entitled to, and England knocked off the runs required with about 200 deliveries to spare. Instead of the match being scheduled to finish at 6:45 pm, it finished about 3pm.

I was furious at what I considered to be arrogance on the part of the Irish captain to opt to bat first. He obviously felt he could win the match, but generally it’s better to bat second, because you know what the target is and you know the run-rate you need to get there. In my view, his thought process should have been: ‘You know what, this is a big step up for us, and a big chance for us to shine. It’s also the first game in the series, and there’s going to be an adjustment period as we step up. Let’s put England in, they’ll probably score about 300, and we can give ourselves a chance and not panic.’

What he also should have said was, and this is going to sound like heresy: ‘You know what, we’re in the entertainment business, and there are 15,000 paying fans out there, 90% of whom have come to see England play. They’ll get more value out of the day, and we’ll have more chance, if we bat second.’

We can’t forget that sport is in the entertainment business, with the emphasis on business. If you’re David against Goliath, you should let him do his thing first, give the crowd a show, see what he’s got and then you might see a weakness and sneak a win. You’ve got no chance otherwise, and people will stop paying to see what looks on paper like a one-sided show. After all, look what happened the last time?

Sometimes, in business and in life, you’re slightly ‘off your game’. You’re not quite there, you can’t put it together, the muscle and brain memory is not firing right for you. It’s a tough rut to get out of, without doing a reboot or calling it quits and sleeping on it.

In sport it’s easier to see when you’re slightly off your game, because it’s pretty binary. It’s either in or out, a hit or a miss. You either win the point or you lose it, win the match or lose it, pretty much.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was playing table tennis. I used to play competitively for many years and am currently getting back into it more regularly after a decade and a half on the side lines. The other day was one of those days when I was slightly off my game, and at a certain level of ability the margins are so small. The ball was clipping the edge of my bat a lot, rather than hitting the sweet spot, because my timing was slightly off and I couldn’t get either my conscious or subconscious mind co-ordinate the hundred or so muscles in quite the right way.

The ball was also missing the table by small margins, and hitting the top of the net a lot. With table tennis, the ball is maybe a quarter of the height of the net, so you get a lot of shots hitting the net cord, compared with tennis or badminton. When you’re sightly off your game, you hit the top of the net a lot, and the ball either comes back on your side, or dribbles over the other side, or else sits up for the other player to crush past you. Either way, it’s really hard for both players to establish any kind of rhythm.

A couple per cent degradation in your execution and the result is maybe 20% worse, easily the difference between winning comfortably and losing comfortably. Frustrating.

I know you either win a deal or lose it, and a lead either becomes an opportunity or it doesn’t, but business, projects and sales cycles feel a lot less binary to me. If you’re slightly off your game, you don’t necessarily get direct feedback from a prospect or customer. You don’t necessarily know that a specific campaign hasn’t converted a specific individual, or that your answer to a sales objection has been answered satisfactorily.

All you can do then is go back to the data and study the statistics over a larger number of similar circumstances rather than an isolated, specific interaction. And work hard all the time to reduce the occasions when you’re slightly off your game.

I travel on Ryanair a lot, at least twice a month. It’s an affordable, efficient and on time airline. I’ve written about the airline a lot on this blog, too many links to insert here and also I notice there’s no search function on my blog, which I must fix – but, trust me, I’ve written about Ryanair a lot.

They’ve improved the way they treat customers over the years. After flying with them hundreds of times, I’ve never had to amend a pre-booked flight before, however. It’s a scam.

Many months ago I booked a long weekend away for me and Her Ladyship to Rome. She’s never been, so we were really looking forward to it. Out on the Friday morning, back on the Monday evening. Perfect.

Then my good lady got offered a new job, a great job. The only snag was that she had to start the Monday we were flying back from Rome, so I needed to cut short the holiday by one day and rebook the return flights.

Firstly, they stiff you €40 per flight to re-book. Painful, but not the end of the world. Secondly, the new return flights were for some reason really expensive, more than the original out and back flights combined, so I parked the change for a day or two to think about it.

As luck would have it, the next time I looked at the new flights I was in a brand new browser session, and had forgotten to follow the process of re-booking the pre-booked flights. Lo and behold, the price of the ‘net’ new flights was less than half the price of the ‘rebooked’ new flights going through the re-booking process.

Armed with this insight, I looked at re-booking both the outbound and return flights and going somewhere much cheaper that Rome, either Edinburgh and London. The re-booked flight prices were over twice the price of making a brand new booking.

So Ryanair charge you €40 per flight to change your flights and more than double the prices for the pre-booked flights. It’s a really laborious, painful process in their legacy system, too. It’s also a scam, plain and simple.

The original flights to Rome were €370. Brand new return flights to London were less than €100. To change the Rome flights and re-book to London would have cost us an additional €180, after the €370 credit had been applied.

I’m now looking at cancelling the flights to Rome. I’m not hopeful of getting anything back.

Don’t change your flights once you’ve booked them with Ryanair. They have you over a barrel and will ride you like a rocking horse, to mix some wooden metaphors.

Software can help us improve our productivity and automate our operations, which in turn can feed better revenues and increase profitability. Many of us feel strongly that automating B2B processes are the way to go. Removing manual tasks helps people focus on the areas where they can really add value.

With new software coming in, it’s easy to forget that you’re not actually buying software, you’re buying change. This is where the problems start, because you need to manage change. It’s not something we humans are particularly good at it. It’s why 70% of change programs fail.

With any kind of change program, you also need to change your processes. Before you start the change, you need to audit, improve and tweak your processes. Then, with the new processes in place and properly embedded, you can bring in the new software, the change.

If you don’t do this, you’re simply spending money and automating the mess, the current mess you have.

And that’s probably worse than doing nothing at all.

I saw a consumer ad on the television the other day. Nothing particularly unusual in that, clearly. It was for a shampoo with caffeine in it. It got me thinking.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This is something I’ve touched on before, when retailers come very close to copying faithfully the famous brand names and piggyback on all that goodwill that took years and millions to create. Irish folk will also note the familiarity in name and offering between a native fast food provider ending in Mac’s and the US company beginning in Mc that has been setting the standard since the 1950’s. The Founder of the Irish company does have a surname beginning with Mc, so that’s his defence perhaps. They’ll also remember a national retailer whose St Bernard brand bore a striking resemblance in logo colours and typography to the St Michael brand of Marks and Spencer.

That, for me, is about imitation, flattery and profit. Or imitation for profit to give it a shorter and more accurate phrase. Anyway, back to the shampoo ad, which borrows heavily from an engine oil ad from 30 years ago. It’s probably easier if you watch this 1-minute video, which puts the two ads back to back.

Of course you can argue it’s an ‘homage’ – best if you pronounce that in the French style, otherwise the ‘an’ before it looks cumbersome – to the original ad, and clearly the two companies are competing in different industries, unlike the examples I cite above. But what is inescapable is that it is leveraging the brand equity of another entity for profit. A clever, deft use of other people’s money, yes, but does it cross the commercial line? For me, yes.

In the B2B sales and marketing conversation it’s hard to imagine anything more important than content. It’s important to have lots of content, because then you can design more workflows to build the engagement and you’ve a larger base of material to recycle from. But the quality is more important than the quantity.

In the good old days, by which I mean the noughties, it was about attracting people and then working the leads.

That doesn’t cut it these days. It’s no longer about aiming solely for a form submission with some precious contact details because someone wants to download an ebook or register for a webinar. If the content is poor quality, you lose them and they won’t come back. Today’s best companies nurture their prospects with good content and score their leads according to fit and the degree of interaction. Good companies only pass leads onto sales when those leads have passed a certain score and demonstrated they are interested to a certain degree.

The good marketing companies – with good content that they trust – are not passing over a lead as soon as someone submits their details for the first time. This is why the content has to be good. If it’s poor, it’s probably the end of the relationship before it’s begun.

‘Let’s maximise our webinar registrations and then call them all in case they don’t attend. Also, the ebook is not quite what it’s built up to be, so let’s make sure we follow up with everyone who’s downloaded; we don’t want to lose them.’ Nope, you already have.

This is the real importance of good content. It’s not a hook to get them in and lock the door behind them. It’s an invitation to build something, and throughout the ensuing relationship you’re only as good as the last piece of content they got.

One of the most vivid phrases you hear’ll – mostly in business – is to ‘crash and burn’. An example: let’s do loads of practice for this presentation to the company; we don’t want to crash and burn up there.’

It’s actually a horrifying phrase, especially if you’ve ever been – or known someone who has been – involved in a bad transportation accident. There must be a better phrase.

I have invented – and prefer, for the reason above – the phrase ‘physics and chemistry.’ It’s not as catchy, but it’s certainly less offensive.

When I was at school, we struggled with definitions of the differences between the two vast disciplines of physics and chemistry. Generalising grossly, physics is about movement, sound, weight, dimensions, and sometimes a little bit of heat. Chemistry, on the other hand, is concerned with much more heat, so that things combine, transfer and change into other things.

So a crash is a physical thing, burning is a chemical thing. When we experience physics and chemistry in business – or indeed in life – there is a sudden, shocking noisy event, followed by a major adverse change in our circumstances.

So there you go. Next time, if you’ve got something important going on, make sure you avoid the one-two punch of physics and chemistry.

Ah, the cold sales call. By cold sales call I mean the broad concept of any call to a person or company that may or may not remember you, or in fact know you.

I don’t know many people who enjoy picking up the phone and working through a list of cold names, trying to get through and then strike up a rapport with a near total or total stranger. Most sales people I’ve worked with, who are supposed to be good at developing a conversation, hate them and avoid them whenever possible.

They have good reason to, most of the time. A progressive, strategic and process-oriented business-to-business company shouldn’t have to make cold calls, but on occasion you can’t avoid them.

A couple of things I’ve learned about calling are these. First, you have to be in the right frame of mind. Positive, optimistic, keen to get things done. You have to want to embrace the call. An early and genuine ‘no’ frees you up to the next call where someone who’s not a time-waster might want to speak to you.

Second, it’s irrational to put them off because once we get started, we’re fine, we get through them. We just need to start.

Third, what’s the worst that could happen? Nothing much, except that the more we fail, the better we’ll get at them.