Archives for posts with tag: Travel

Whenever I come back to the UK from Ireland for work I suffer a mild form of culture shock. Perhaps cultural adjustment is a more appropriate term.

I know you’ve read it before on this blog. The sheer volume of traffic is a problem.

This time I found myself on the M6. Not the Irish M6, that glorious, blissful, never-packed stretch of motorway that speeds folk between the midlands and Galway. No, the UK M6, the 50-year-old main artery from the middle organs to the upper left ventricle in England’s complex circulation system.

How do the Brits get anything done? The traffic was nose to tail, with warnings of 45 minute delays further up the track. I took a diversion, got back on the motorway and discovered the ball of congestion had simply moved further up the road, to where I was heading.

Add to that is the fact that you are in roadworks situations and lane closures for mile upon mile, and even after you turn off and thread your way into Manchester, jewel of the North, the roadworks keep coming.

Of course, the signs had not caught up to the fact that there was a broken down coach in one of the available lanes, which we spent time crawling past.

There are people that spend every day in this. What happens to the national productivity as a result of the cumulative loss of productivity of thousands of individuals? Nothing happens, because the rich and powerful have people come to them or they’re working from a yacht with an impossibly gorgeous view, or else, like the heads of government, they’re being driven around the place so they can get stuff done as they go.

The person that suffers is the rank and file, the regular Joe and Jo who form the labour backbone and who have their commute times lengthened and their free time with their families compressed, all in the name of progress.

Sometimes, I’m glad I can do some of my work at home and on the phone. It keeps the wheels of productivity greased, in case of the occasional roadblock.

I had the misfortune of flying to London Stansted a while ago. It’s not my normal choice of airport; in fact, I hadn’t flown to it in a long time.

It looks a little bit tired. I flew in on a spectacularly normal Saturday, and landed on time, in fact a little early. For some reason we landed about a county away from the terminal, so we got a bus into the complex, passed through non-existent passport control and into the baggage area.

Where we waited, along with hundreds of other passengers, for our flight to be shown. The baggage area is organised in a way that from some positions you can only see a small fraction of all the baggage belts. The signs for each belt are too small, and the belts themselves are configured in a way that makes it hard to find your belt. I know, 1 should be next to 2, and so on, but not here, at last as far as I could see.

There wasn’t a member of staff anywhere to be seen on the concourse, who we could ask to chase our bags. I went to the Ryanair service desk after 25 minutes, who peddled the line that they’d only just been told of the problem. Really? Do I look like I came in on the last flight?

All you could do was stand around, so stand we did. We finally got our bags after a 45 minute wait. Unacceptable.

Come on Ryanair, you can do better, you practically own Stansted.  It’s all very well claiming the most punctual, on-time service and ringing your precious trumpet when we land on time or early, but if your punters have to wait an hour landing to get their bags and exit the building, it’s not really on time, now is it?

I suppose I shouldn’t have decided to bring enough stuff for a checked-in bag…

As a frequent visitor to England’s capital city, I’m a regular user of public transport. Planes, trains, tubes, buses; I hardly ever take a cab. A 1-day ‘travelcard’ allows me to use public transport all over Greater London.

I generally stay in the south-west or south of the city centre, so when I’m heading into central London I’m on the train to the giant termini of Waterloo or London Bridge station respectively, before venturing into the heart of the beast.

This is fortunate for me, because there is a rather splendid bus service called the 521. The 521 goes from Waterloo to London Bridge in a kind of upturned ashtray shape, passing Waterloo Bridge, Holborn, Cannon Street and London Bridge. Then it loops around and goes back from London Bridge to Waterloo, before repeating the process, all day.

What I find about big cities is that generally the bus is the mode of transport you get to know the last, but it’s often the most rewarding.

At rush hour there can be hundreds of people politely queuing for the service from Waterloo, yet the buses come back to back and hoover up 500 or so people every 10 minutes. From London Bridge, the queues are not as deep, and you also have the majestic splendour of the Shard to distract you as you wait around 3 minutes maximum for a bus. The views from the bus, as you can imagine, are spectacular, and you also get the buzz from being right in the teeth of the city and amongst the people, which you never truly experience on the train or in the soulless bowels of the underground. It’s a truly great way to see the city while getting from A to B, or from B to C.

If I was a bus driver I think I would like delivering the 521 service.

I think I’d like to try being a baggage handler. It looks like a fun job, active and physical, if perhaps a little monotonous.

Baggage handlers are a problem for the airlines. Actually, they’re a problem for the airports, but it’s the airlines that feel the problem. Baggage handlers handle baggage onto and off the planes in the full glare of passengers watching from the departure lounges. They are a wonder of economy of physical effort, moving tens of thousands of pounds of luggage every day.

Unfortunately, they also pay scant regard for the contents of bags, and from a customer-oriented point of view this is a problem. I recently spent an idle 20 minutes watching guys loading bags onto a conveyor belt into the plane’s hold. One chap pulls the luggage off the luggage truck, from the top bag down so that each stack falls closer to him, then pivots from the baggage truck 180 degrees behind in and throws each bag onto the belt. Then the chap standing in the door of the hold takes each bag of the belt and launches them left and right over runners in the hold.

The bags take a hell of a beating, to borrow from a well known Norwegian soccer commentator. And that’s just the parts of the process we see plane-side. We don’t see the bags getting onto the trucks outbound and off the trucks inbound. If you don’t have the sturdiest of baggage materials, you risk losing anything that’s remotely brittle or fragile, and that creates a bad impression with the paying punter, at least this one.

I think I’d be a gentler handler if I got the chance. But perhaps I’d be too careful, too slow, too poorly productive, and be relieved of my duties.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m a big fan of packaging, compactness and travel (here and here). The secret to good business travel lies in a combination of these 3 concepts. By good, I mean efficient, effective, optimised travel.

I’ve never really bought into the long haul travel idea of taking a pill and sleeping through the journey, especially the west to east flights which tend to be overnight. For me, even though you might be shattered, you miss one of the main joys of the trip.

Airline meals on long haul flights are a wonder. Compact and bijou, they are breathtakingly well designed pieces of real estate. Everything is compartmentalised, allowing the cabin crew to offer even those of us in cattle class options for our main course and to slot in a heated meal accordingly. The output is tasty, well thought out food combinations, hygienic and with the minimum of packaging, most of which can be recycled.

Aircrafts are all about the trade offs between space, weight and power, and so you can fit maybe 40 meals into a chilled cabinet on wheels that can’t measure much more than 30cm x 100cm x 75cm. Amazing.

I’m not talking, dear reader, about airplane accidents but about when competing airlines flip positions.

The two Irish airlines, Aer Lingus and Ryanair, seemed to have flipped. They seem to have swapped places with each other.

I’ve been banging on regularly in this blog, most recently here, about Ryanair’s blithe disregard for the customer. Something’s changed in the last wee while however.

Ryanair appointed a Chief Marketing Officer at the beginning of the year, a role that many of us senior marketing people could have done and would love to have done, and the changes are already bearing fruit. They were starting from a pretty low bar of course, which is why folk were probably queueing up for the job.

It’s working already though. Those obvious things we all would have done are now bearing fruit. Now it feels like Aer Lingus is the airline that is playing catch-up in customer service. It’s almost like it wants to fill the role that the old Ryanair made its own. I guess that’s OK, except, that it’s not the Low Fares Airline, not by a long chalk, so it’s a dangerous development.

The last thing we want is one Irish airline. Not good for competition…

Do you ever fly with ‘low fare’ airlines? I do, frequently. We are blessed with 2 in Ireland. One’s called Aer Lingus, the other is called Ryanair.

Aer Lingus used to be quite up-market. It still is up-market to the US, but has joined in the race to the bottom on the cut-throat European routes. The pilots are good too. As my son said to me a few years ago when he was 9 years old, ‘Daddy, can we fly Aer Lingus? Their planes land like shadows.’

Ryanair competes on price and punctuality. When it’s not punctual, you feel cheated, violated almost. The pilots are learning their trade while at Ryanair I think. The landings are as if they lose interest at an altitude of 2 metres and drop you onto the tarmac. Our landing the other day was bone-shakingly hard, even by Ryanair standards. We are talking a free chiropractic session thrown in for the fare.

Vertebra realignment anyone?

UK train travel is legendarily expensive, and usually fashionably late.

I had occasion to travel from a major city to London the other day. It’s a major inter-city service, chocka-block full, where not to reserve a seat means you’re making your own seat.

There was no wi-fi on the train. Yes, you read that right, no wifi. This is 2014, in the first world. Heck, they’ve had wifi on Irish trains for years!

I find that unbelievable. For an international visitor, business as well as tourist, you rely on a reliable wifi service. Not to offer one, as part of such an expensive service, boggles the mind.

The train arrived fashionably late too.

In the old days of travel, you never really knew when the bus was going to come along. Yes, there was a published timetable, but it only ever bore a passing acquaintance with reality. They came when they came, that was it.

Nowadays, as I observed in the UK recently, you have electronic signs telling you – presumably via GPS – when the next bus is due to arrive. I think this is supposed to manage your expectations better, but it still has only a passing resemblance to the agreed passage of time. This has the opposite effect of what is intended. Sometimes a bus will be 25 minutes away for half an hour, by which time you know it has been cancelled because the next one has turned up.

At other times the bus might be 8 minutes away, but the subsequent minutes are long ones, it being 2 minutes away for 2 minutes, then 1 minute away for 2 minutes, then ‘due’ for 2 minutes. Somewhere there’s an awful lot of rounding going on.

It’s progress, Jim, but not as we know it.

“Meetings, Bloody meetings!” So goes the refrain – and the heading – in the hilarious management training videos from John Cleese’s company in the 1970’s. A well-run meeting is a rare and beautiful thing. A poorly run meeting – well that’s the norm in most companies. They become a forum for delaying or avoiding decisions rather than arriving at them.

In the sales world good, well-qualified meetings with customers and prospects who have budget, the power to make decisions, a need for your product and a timeframe for making a change are worth their weight in gold. Poor meetings are a waste of your time and their time – and time is the most precious resource. They’re not even good practice.

Many managers work off the principle that the more qualified meetings you have, the more deals you’ll close. It’s largely right of course. Take two sales people with identical abilities, identical opportunities, but one with twice the opportunities of the other, and one will close 12 deals and the other will close 6. The more calls you put in, the more conversations you have, the more meetings you make, the more quotes or proposals you submit, the more deals you win, as long as you’re following a defined sales process.

It’s not only about working harder to be more successful though. It’s about working smarter, and coaching people to work smarter.  If you want your team to be more effective – ie more successful – and you’ve identified that your team needs more meetings, there are a number of things you can do to increase the performance of your sales team without having to add to your sales team. Here are ten of them:

– Is a face-to-face meeting necessary? Would a (video)conference call do? Could we do a web-based meeting?

– what’s the travel time like to meetings, from meetings, between meetings? Could it be better organised?

– could our sales team be better split geographically to optimise the number of meetings?

– is our team properly prepared for the meetings, so that they can close deals with the minimum number of meetings?

– what are the behaviours that drive more meetings? Better leads, better telephone work, better sales skills, better emails and collateral?

– who’s doing well at meetings that we can celebrate so that others can learn from their best practice?

– who needs coaching or other support to get more meetings?

– what sales technology can we use to help us manage the sales process?

– what sales technology can we use to optimise meeting routes and geographical clustering?

– what sales technology reports on meeting productivity can gives us insight to make improvements and correct poor behaviours early?

Maximising your customer contact and minimising your non-contact activities help you maximise your sales success. If your business is relatively high deal volume and small deal size, you need to make this your mantra. Meetings, blessed meetings!