Archives for category: Customers

A spent a few enjoyable hours the other day in the company of the excellently apostrophised and excellent Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2018. This weighty tome’s reputation precedes it, as you probably know, and justifiably so. This was my first owned copy and it is indeed an invaluable resource.

It’s true what they say, and it’s repeatedly endorsed by all the published authors who contribute guest articles: everything you need to know about publishing and getting published is in this book.

One thing that struck me though was this: is the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook for young people? You wouldn’t have thought so. In fact, the readership is probably on the older side. All those people who’ve promised themselves to be true to the notion that they’ve a novel in them, now with a little more time on their hands and a still-burning ambition.

My point is this: the book is over 800 pages long and packed with useful information. Packed being the operative word, since…

..the print is tiny, really hard to read, even with reading glasses on. It’s a book for young eyes. I know it’s not simply an option to raising the point size a couple of points and making the book 1,000 or 1,200 pages long, since that might price the book at the point where people are put off. It’s a good job, though, that the information is invaluable since the size of the type is a turn-off.

Also, I have a suggestion for improving this esteemed organ. Why not have a section listing the literary agents by genre? There is a section doing the same with publishers. It should be relatively easy to do, and stops the reader having to wade through every single agent blurb to get to the nub: do they specialise in my area? This might also stop the majority of agents from the lazy, don’t-want-to-miss-the-next-big-thing catch-all of listing that they cater to ‘all’ fiction and non-fiction genres, all of whom I ignored.

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There’s no such thing as a free lunch, or so the saying goes. There’s always some implied barter or quid pro quo implicit in the donation of a free lunch. The donor is expecting something in return – usually.

I was on Liverpool Street in London the other day. There’s usually a homeless man selling the Big Issue near the pedestrian crossing across from one of the station’s exits. He’s not a British national, as you can hear from his extremely chirpy ‘Good morning, ‘ave a good day’, accompanied by a thumbs up, to hundreds upon hundreds of passers-by during the 2 rush hours.

I was feeling particularly virtuous, or so I thought and I went up to buy a copy of the Big Issue from him. Sometimes I will give the Big Issue vendors a quid or two and not take the magazine, but on this occasion I fancied a read. I hadn’t read it for a long time.

A young chap, late 20s I would say, got there first, so I waited behind him. Except that the young chap didn’t buy a Big Issue, or slip him a quid or two. He gave him a lunch, a lunch in a paper carrier bag that he had just bought, and walked off.

What a lovely gesture it was. Thoughtful, easy to do, and for a few quid he’s made the man’s day. I’m slightly welling up as I recount the story. I felt that my own magnanimity has been seriously compromised as I profferred my cash for the magazine, and rightly so.

If we all made the young man’s gesture once every month or two, what a difference that would make.

The lunch donor didn’t look for anything in return, except perhaps his own reflected feel good factor. Maybe there is such a thing as a free lunch after all.

It’s been some thirty-odd years since I last drove in France. I managed to correct this shortcoming over the summer with some long distance and local driving on holiday. In this post I offer you 7 observations about the experience.

  • They drive on the right (I’m starting with the obvious one. It pays to remember this one at all times…)
  • Their road signs are excellent. Why can’t every country adopt a visual picture that shows a 130 below a sun, and a 110 below some rain, so you know what speeds you can drive in what weather?
  • People obey the speed limit almost all the time. This might be something to do with the frequent speed cameras and the zealous gendarmerie
  • They don’t signal you in, flash you in, or wave you in, to allow you to pull out, or across or in front of them
  • They don’t acknowledge you when you signal them in, flash them in, or wave them in. I don’t know why this is. For me it completes the transaction and is simple good manners
  • They ignore or don’t see your offer and simply pull out, across or on front of you. ¬†I don’t know why this is either
  • They touch park with gay insouciance

I don’t know if this correlates with your experience, but it certainly correlates with mine :-).

Your staff are your greatest asset. They form the culture of your organisation, and culture is almost everything.

It’s our job as employers – and plain common sense – to protect our staff. We get the staff we deserve, so it’s our responsibility to look after them.

I was reminded of this fact lately, when a story emerged in the English football premier league about a player who had transferred from a Spanish club to an English club at the very end of the last day for club transfers. Except that he didn’t. The papers had left the selling club, had been received and processed by the buying club, and all the papers except one had been received by the governing body. The last paper was received 15 seconds outside the transfer window, so the transfer hadn’t been completed properly.

Who suffers the most here? The player himself was in limbo, a kind of non-self-imposed purgatory. He wasn’t on the staff of either the selling club or the buying club. Both clubs were firmly in self-protection mode and distancing themselves from the situation.

In my day-dreaming moments of being a world-class footballer I naively imagine that my responsibilities would be to country first, club second, and self third. With money, stakes and ego all unbridled in football these days, that priority list looks more like club first, self second, country third.

It’s a pity that clubs can’t reciprocate, putting the player first and protecting their staff. It’s the staff that win the trophies, isn’t it?

Almost everything we do is guided by self-interest. It’s human nature. Heck, it’s in every sentient being’s nature, otherwise it would cease to exist.

This rule seems to apply to us humans at all levels of the famous Maslow hierarchy of needs, from the basic acts like food and warmth to the more sophisticated ones like self-actualisation, which I think means achieving our potential.

When we do something with family and friend interests at heart, there’s probably a degree of self-interest in there too. Even when we do something for people we don’t know, in an act of charitable kindness, self-interest figures in the mix, aside from the simple satisfaction we get from our generosity of spirit, time or money.

It always comes down to that, the underlying reason for why we do stuff.

The question for me is this. Can we rise above it? Can we do something that’s genuinely not self-serving? Not all the time, but once in a while, perhaps occasionally?

Sometimes automation adds to a process rather than improves it. It automates the human chaos.

The first time I encountered the McDonald’s automated self-ordering system was at Dublin airport a year or so ago. It simply took too long to order my early breakfast meal so I went to the counter and did it the old-fashioned way.

I was again reminded of this fact recently in France, when my whole family was in with another family for a special treat. There’s hardly ever a queue for the ordering ‘machines’, but it took simply ages to navigate through the menu 7 times for each order, then figure out which part of the restaurant we were in so the staff could deliver our food. There appeared to be no option to go up and order the old fashioned way.

After we had got our meals I watched a Welsh family trying to order deserts and coffees. They couldn’t find the screen with the coffees. It had disappeared. They didn’t have much French, and tried to enlist the help of a staff member, who tried to do the same with her slightly broken English. She couldn’t help so then had to find another staff member to help. This staff member then said ‘the coffee machine is broken and coffee is not available today, sorry.’ Obviously someone had the ability to disable the relevant screens when a product is unavailable, but this was not apparent to the customer. 15 minutes had passed during this process.

A more traditional ordering system might have taken a third of the time, even with traditional queueing, and gone like this:

‘Hi, can I have 2 McFlurries and a coffee please?’

‘The coffee machine is broken and coffee is not available today, sorry.’

‘OK, just the McFlurries then please.’

People, process, technology. If you don’t get the mix right, you make it worse, not better.

Many books have a beginning, a middle and an end. An introduction with an outline, a body and a conclusion. They tell a story. You start at the beginning and you work through the end to follow the narrative flow. This is true for works of fiction and non-fiction, or business books and leisure books.

Occasionally, a book is a collection of self-contained, separate topics that don’t fit into this conventional format where the narrative hangs the content together naturally. I’m coming to the end of the drafting stage of a self-help book I’m writing. It’s more than a hundred different ideas around a very broad topic, loosely arranged into 4 themes. Each idea fits into the typical length of blog post that I’ve been writing for the past few years.

The challenge Рwithout the guiding structure of a narrative flow Рis arranging and presenting the ideas in an order that works for the reader. I could present each of the themes in turn, but that might appear uneven. Or I could sprinkle all of the ideas randomly, but that might appear disjointed. Alternatively, I could go for a mixture of the two approaches, but I might not be able to build momentum to get the reader to the end.

I’ll get to the bottom of how the book will hang together, but it’s an interesting challenge.

 

4 years blogging. That’s 620-odd Monday-Wednesday-Friday posts over 208 weeks. Blimey. It’s a long time, isn’t it? For nearly 7 and half per cent of my entire life, and roughly 20% of the existence of the medium, I’ve been blogging regularly.

The one thing that strikes me when I hit these milestones is this: where the bloody hell has the time gone and why is it going so damn fast? It doesn’t seem that long since I penned my first post on ‘domino chain’ theory, complete with fancy self-made picture.

Over this time I’ve stayed very true to the blog’s strapline, putting into words my ‘musings on things that I come into contact with’. True to that, I’ve written on a range of topics, from sales and marketing through to language and communication, behaviour and attitudes, cultures and conflicts, travel and tribulations.

As I’ve always said, I enjoy the discipline of penning the regular post, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the odd one too.

How long will I continue doing this? Well, to borrow from the gambling phrase that sits under all ads, at least in this country: when the fun stops, stop.

It’s a bit of a mouthful, this blog post title, but stay with me for a minute or two please.

I fell between the consumer cracks the other day. I needed a product immediately, and I don’t live in a big metropolis where I can get something delivered to me within an hour of an online submission, nor would I take that route for one item.

I needed some fresh sour cream for a taco dinner with the family. It was the only ingredient I didn’t have. I needed it within the half hour. It’s safe to say that it’s a fairly long tail item, even within the realm of fast moving consumer goods, or FMCG. There is one large supermarket, one medium-sized supermarket, one small supermarket and one corner store within a few minutes’ drive.

I went to the large supermarket, my regular place, first, where I normally get said ingredient. They were out, and there was none in the back, as the manufacturer fulfils them directly onto the shelves in the morning. The corner shop didn’t stock sour cream. The medium sized supermarket was closed (it was 6:45pm). My last resort, the small supermarket, didn’t stock sour cream any more because it was an item they never sold much of and went off quite quickly.

Boom, no sour cream for dinner. No-one to blame here, except me for leaving it too late. No criticism of the retail outlets; why they should go the extra distance for the chance of making a buck or 2 on an obscure item?

Just one ticked off consumer, a casualty of what sometimes happens with in-store long tail FMCG goods.

Do as I say, not as I do. This is the standard coaching refrain. We expect the people we coach to put our instructions into practice. We demonstrate by our words not our actions. This can be for a number of reasons:

  • They’re better at it than we are
  • We can’t do it that way
  • We cant do it that way any more
  • We don’t do that way because we do it in an engrained way we can’t or won’t get out of
  • We do a short-cut version of it because we know it inside out but we need them to learn all the steps and how the steps relate to each other before they’re good enough to expedite the whole thing

This is a tough ask in coaching because we’re trying to lead by words, not by our actions which is the standard way to inspire people. At some point every coach will hit this if the people they’re coaching become better at it than they currently are. That’s what you want as a coach, at least a good one.

In business this is slightly different. We’re supposed to coach rather than manage, otherwise our direct reports don’t get a chance to learn it for themselves and grow into the role, eventually expanding beyond it. In business you can’t expect to instruct someone how to follow a process and then not follow the process yourself. Chances are they won’t follow the process you want them to and they won’t respect you either.

The answer, in sports as well as business, in fact in everything as well as business, is to come clean and be honest. ‘I don’t do this myself because [insert honest reason] but I’m advising you to do it this way because it is the best way, and you will get the best results from it.’ Then you have to let their actions, and their results, do the talking.