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Who are our customers?

Returning from another trip abroad I was standing by the bus stop at the airport, as instructed, waiting to be picked up by the bus to take me back to the car park where I had left my car for the past three days. I was shortly joined by several families who had no doubt received exactly the same information as me.

It was quite chilly and the wait was a little longer than I had expected but eventually the mini bus bearing the right corporate logo turned up. I showed the driver my ticket and he let me onto the bus with my carry-on luggage. As the father of the family behind me stepped forward to join me he was stopped by the driver telling him he could not bring his luggage onto the bus and demanded to see the gentleman’s ticket. The man obliged and passed a ticket similar to mine to the driver. This was immediately thrust back from whence it came with the gruff statement ‘you don’t want this bus your one will be along in a minute’.

When the aggrieved father started to point out that the logo on the bus was the same as the one on the ticket the driver said ‘I know, but this is #### what you want is ####.com’. A distinction that neither I, nor any of the other people being left behind in the cold had made, nor one that the lady on the phone had made clear to any of us.

Once we were on our way, just the driver and me in the mini bus, which could easily sit a dozen people, the driver radioed in to say he was returning with one passenger – the one he was told to pick up. From that point I was treated well, my name was used and was shown good attentive service.

On the way back to get my car, I kept thinking about those back at the bus stop. I appreciate that our cars will be in different car parks and that the mini bus that picked me up will not be going their way, but the name of the car park company is the same. As a customer, should they not expect good service from any part of the business that they are paying good money to use? I am not saying that the driver should have picked them up, but I am sure there are better ways of communicating with people (who are not “my” customer) with respect so that they are not immediately alienated.

I will continue to use the company as it is convenient for me; I am not so sure that those left behind will be doing the same, even though the poor service was not provided by the part of the business that they were paying. In the current climate we are all looking for customers, we know that we must provide exceptional service to existing customers if we want return business. Also, we need to be on the lookout for future clients; by definition these will come from people who currently do not do business with us. Therefore, surely we should provide exceptional service to those who are not currently our customers but who have the potential to be, otherwise why would they use our services in the future? In short everyone we come into contact with, is the potential life blood of our company, treat them with respect, help them the best way you can and smile :)

There is another way, see my next blog about the taxi driver from Casablanca.

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Improving Performance – Take a Meerkat Moment

We are currently coming to the close of a large delivery program for a company that is trying to instill new company values into the management team and beyond. Part of this new initiative is to try to focus less on the “whats” and more on the “hows”; something that many companies are trying to achieve and intellectually this makes sense.

We all know the old clichés, when discussing our people – you know the ones ‘our most valuable asset’, ‘a leader cannot succeed without a team to lead’, ‘there is no I in team (….add one of you own here..). Unfortunately it appears that a lot of the leaders we meet see their job as having two distinct elements; one, their team and two, their day job. With ever increasing, stretching targets there seems to be a focus on short term results rather than developing the team that we need to deliver them. So the day job takes over and team/individual development takes a back seat for now. We can always do that tomorrow, next week, next month….Unfortunately we might be busy now BUT when will we not be busy?

Case in point, on the current contract we are involved with, we talk about Adair’s action centred leadership and the group are asked to split themselves across the three elements (Task, Team, Individual) based on where they spend most of their time. In this case, around 90-95% of the managers said they spent the vast majority of their time in the task area. Admittedly as leaders we must make sure that we achieve the goals set but sometimes this focus keeps our heads down in the undergrowth and we miss the opportunity to seek out better ways – ways that would ensure that we do not only achieve our task but exceed it.When this is discussed in the training room, everyone ‘gets it’. All admit that there needs to be a different focus, and this is easy when you are in a training room when someone is giving you the time to sit and think. Many of these sessions allow our delegates to have “Meerkat” moments for themselves where they lift their heads up out of the undergrowth and can make decisions that are right for them, right for their people and right for the organisation.

Unfortunately in the real world it is up to YOU to give yourself the time to think, there isn’t a trainer setting up a syndicate exercise for you. If you want a “Meerkat” moment for yourself, you need to lift your head up out of the undergrowth and see what is happening. Then once you are aware, take the time to think more about ‘it’; not just the symptoms but also the root cause. At that point Kipling’s serving men come into their own, ask yourself; what, why, when, how where and who.

We have thought of some potential questions for you. We invite you to visit our website (www.appltd.co.uk) and ‘take the test’, to consider the potential for improving performance in your organisation. Obviously, only do it if you have time!

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Leadership – Strong or Weak?

Leadership - Strong or Weak

Jeff Randall writing in the Telegraph on April 30th (http://ow.ly/aMghj) beat me to it. The article is certainly engaging and looks at the need for a bit of “Di Matteo magic” or what he calls the personal touch at giant businesses like Barclays and Tesco to “drag them from the doldrums”.

I decided to wait until Chelsea had actually won something however, before commenting; Saturday’s fourth FA Cup win in six years was a “result” from all that improved Chelsea on-field performance. Working hard, trying, having better team spirit and morale are all great; but it is “results” that really count. That is certainly in football, and probably in most organisations that are trying to achieve something actually.

I had been watching with interest in these last few weeks, the growing form and confidence of the Chelsea Football team – so at odds with the form displayed before the 4th March 2012 departure of their former Manager, Andre Villas-Boas. Roberto Di Matteo was not an “unknown” – he is ex Chelsea player and was promoted from Assistant Manager to Interim Manager until the end of the season when AVB departed. However, it was the same squad of players, the same individuals, performing in the same stadium, at the business-end of three major competitions – Barclays Premiership, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League.

In the run up to AVB departing Chelsea had won one game in the previous seven; post his departure at the time of writing they have won 12 and drawn 4 of the last 18. They have won the FA Cup and will appear in The Champions League Final in Munich; just a few weeks back this was unthinkable. So what prompted this major turn-around?

There has been much debate about the role of Chelsea’s senior players. Just 10 days into the Interim Manager’s tenure was a second leg tie against Napoli in the Champions League which took place at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea 3-1 down from the away leg. It was a fantastic night of football and Chelsea eventually won 4-1 after extra time. There was much made of the role of John Terry (Chelsea captain and senior player), who was substituted early in extra time. A report at the time stated:- “This brings us to the most significant impression of all from the Napoli match. When players are substituted they join their team-mates on the bench and fret like the fans. Terry didn’t. He stood almost beside interim manager Roberto Di Matteo and bellowed instructions from the touchline, looking like nothing so much as an assistant boss. It was far beyond the brief of a player. You do not see this at any other major football club, and few minor ones. There’s a good reason for that – it blurs the lines of authority and is a recipe for disaster.” This article continued:- “The image Terry gave to the world with his touchline shouting and gesturing at Stamford Bridge last Wednesday evening was more than merely unfortunate. It gave the game away about how influential he believes he is to Chelsea FC. The answer is: Too much.”

The thinking then was that Di Matteo was weak, effectively allowing the senior players to run the team and tactics, evidenced by John Terry at this match, adopting a coaching role from the sidelines and standing in front of the Interim Manager.

My observation then and now is that Di Matteo allowing Terry to “lead” from the touchline does not necessarily mean that he is a “weak” leader? Leadership is not about doing it all, it is about harnessing all your resources to deliver the results that you want. Why not let Terry do off the pitch what he does on it? He is the team’s long-standing and natural leader; even without the title and armband that reads “captain”, he behaves no differently. Leading the team on the pitch is what he does; it is in him; he can do no other.

Rather, Di Matteo is clever in my view. Intelligently harnessing all the experience and know how around him, rather than allowing his own ego to dictate who knows best. Di Matteo appears quite secure in who he is and therefore unthreatened by those around him who might know better or have things to contribute. In handling himself in this way it is no surprise to me that the people in his team have responded well and have achieved unbelievable results against all odds.
This approach seems quite unusual in football, as if the key ability to manage people and get the best from them is somehow not required because it is “football”? However, it is also sadly lacking in non-football environments – where insecure leaders feel the need to be seen (and heard) to be leading, squash contribution, and actually reduce performance from what could be. They have the ideas, decide the strategy, drive change, communicate vision, set targets and establish standards.

To quote Lao Tzu – When the best leader’s work is done, the people say “we did it ourselves.” Now that would be one, very secure leader. So, how secure are you in your leadership role on a scale of 1 – 10? How do you know? How would those you lead rate you? What would it take to raise your score one notch? How about a leadership MOT check?

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Your window to The World

Your Window to The WorldI was driving down the M4 the other day and spotted a rather interesting livery on a removal van. To protect the innocent I won’t mention the name of the company but it is necessary to mention that the company name started with an A as in A……… Removals. The livery on the rear of the van in large font was A…… Removals Surprisingly Economical, written vertically with the capital of each of the four words in a different colour so that they stood out. My first reaction was a double take then a smile. Then I started thinking more widely about the message being transmitted. Having worked for a large blue chip company I applauded the freedom of choice as I am sure the decision was not made by committee and signed off by compliance after checking with a marketing control group etc. etc.

Then I started, rather surprisingly, thinking all of the red tape probably has a place in our lives. Why? Because I started to think what does writing the word A..E on your vehicles really say about you and your business? It might mean that you are fun to be with, it might mean that you are a risk taker, it might mean that you snub your nose at authority, hey , you might even be the type of person that I might like to share a drink with, BUT the $64,000 question is do I want you and your mates to look after my flat screen TV or my mum’s knick knacks which are not valuable but are irreplaceable , the $64.000 answer is probably not.

Like most personal and business relationships we are all judged not by our intention but by our impact. So whether it is those answering your phone, your front office staff, the way your management team lead your people or a few words painted on your van, it is not about what your intentions are, rather, it is about the impact this has on those that you are trying to attract or influence. What is your window to the world, your window to your customers (or potential customers) really saying about you?

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I feel sorry for the people on the front line

Sorry for people on the front lineA quick trip into one of my local shops to pick up a paper is providing me with a revealing insight into the how the business is run. It is a small store for a major PLC retailer……

I was in the queue behind an elderly gentleman, who like me, had just gone in to purchase a paper. The shop assistant handed him a small leaflet, whilst waiting for the till receipt to be printed. He indicated that he didn’t want it. “But I have to give it to you” she protested; reluctantly and very politely he took it from her. “If you then want to give it back to me that is OK!” she then added. Somewhat shocked he returned the voucher and left. I took the voucher when it was my turn, keen to see what all the fuss was about.

It was a two for one voucher for Merlin Entertainments Attractions. Every time I go in I get handed one of these presumably “because they have to”; even though I go in most days (convenience!), there is no appreciation that I have a small wad of these now. Or at least a street bin has!

It got me wondering about what this woman had been told would happen to her if she did not comply (how would anyone actually know?) with every customer. I also wondered whether the income received for this labour intensive “promotion” was worth the potential alienation of customers. They may be better walking around local streets and just pushing them through letterboxes. I also wondered what training she had had as to how to “sell” this leaflet and why it was important for her to do so – “I have to give it to you, but you can give it back” doesn’t seem to be a very effective selling technique.

Today my wife purchased some greetings cards. She was asked (bizarrely) if she wanted to buy a gift card for £10.00. When she declined the shop assistant indicated that if she bought a card and put £10.00 on it, the shop would add £5.00 and she could then use the gift card to pay for her purchases saving her £5.00. This is odd behaviour; I can only imagine the poor woman is tasked with “selling” more of these gift cards and has worked out that this is a good way of upping her performance. Of course, it is costly for her employers – the card comes at a cost, the discount is immediate, and it is not what the cards are designed for (they are gift cards, with a delay between the shop taking the money and the gift card being redeemed, if ever!). It all seems a bit desperate…………

So what are you doing that is counter-productive either in cash/profit terms or simply in alienation of your customers? How are your front-line staff actually delivering your messages to your customers? Next!

 

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Mr. Johnson’s Room

Mr Johnsons RoomI had a long journey the other day and arrived at my hotel very tired. I hadn’t actually booked the room myself, my colleague had, but I had the booking reference from him and had stayed there a few times before. The lady I saw on reception was very welcoming and I explained who I was and that I wanted to check in and here was my credit card.

 

“I can’t see that we have a booking for you Mr. Johnson and we are fully booked tonight.”

I suggested they try and look up my colleagues name and then they would see that he had booked two rooms.

Yes, they had a booking for him but not for me.

Also, Mr. Johnson had already checked in.

Well, I commented, a Mr. Johnson may have checked in but I was clearly another Mr. Johnson (with a booking reference and confirmation email!).

Ah, but sir your confirmation email isn’t addressed to you it’s addressed to Mr. C……

Well however you look at it Mr. C has booked two rooms and I would like one of them.

But Mr. Johnson has already checked in.

And so it went on.

 

Is it possible that you have given my room to this other Mr. Johnson?

Well, I don’t think so.”

“Well, I know you don’t think so but is it possible?”

“Yes, I suppose it is.”

“Ok, could you then establish whether this other Mr. Johnson had a booking or if he was booked under another name?”

“I’m not sure how I would do that.”

“If Mr. Johnson was in his room you could try and ring him and ask him.”

“Good idea………………..I’m afraid there is no reply.”

“Did he leave a mobile number when he checked in?”

“Good idea………..voicemail, but I have left a message.”

“I need to eat.  What time does your restaurant close?

“9.30 Mr. Johnson”

“Well then I will go and eat and perhaps you can see if Mr. Johnson- the other Mr. Johnson- replies to the voicemail”

“What if he doesn’t?”

“Well, if you are fully booked, even though I have a confirmation email, perhaps you could find me another hotel?”

“I don’t know if we can do that?”

“Perhaps you could find out, that would be useful?”

“OK, I’ll do that.”

 

Half an hour later- I got a call from Reception- “Mr. Johnson, the other Mr. Johnson has phoned in. He has replaced a colleague called Mr. Worthington at tomorrow’s conference so we do have a room available.”

 

I know I should have taken the opportunity to give some feedback and maybe tried to improve matters for the next Mr. Smith or Jones who books there but I was tired and whilst feedback is the ‘breakfast of champions’, “discretion is also the better part of valour”……….

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Is there anything else I can help you with?

Anything I can help you withI had to contact my old home insurance company the other day. We have moved house and despite having cancelled the insurance and the direct debit on the previous house we got renewal papers through.

What struck me first was how expensive it would be compared to the prior year. We live in an age where companies love to get new business by offering attractive first year deals but then look to recoup any first year discount as soon as possible. This doesn’t necessarily drive the most effective client behaviour as it encourages clients to shop around but I guess they work on the basis that a significant proportion of clients can’t be bothered to do so. They benefit from the inertia factor. The focus appears to have shifted from looking for long term/lifetime clients and offering them loyalty discounts for staying, to, chase new business and try and retain them for as long as possible.

Linked to this, when I phoned to explain that I didn’t want to renew I had the normal range of – for new policies press 2 etc but if you wanted to cancel then it was a “hot line” -presumably you got through to someone who was more highly trained and whose task was to try and retain you. I explained my situation and the fact that I no longer needed the policy so would not be renewing. They dealt with that part of the call but wanted to know where I lived now and of course what cover I needed on my new house. Reluctantly I gave them my new address so that they could send a confirmation letter about the cancellation but I explained that I already had cover on that property and did not want a quote. Later I did receive the cancellation letter with of course a quote – which was significantly cheaper than the renewal! I didn’t switch.

I’m not complaining about the call which was dealt with well overall but once the business part was dealt with the employee said- “is there anything else I can help you with?” I know that companies want to take every opportunity to “upsell” but what is this phrase for? No other need of mine was identified or even questioned. So, I replied “Could you wash my car for me?” Stunned silence. I then had to explain that I was joking but that the joke had a point. Why were they asking this question? They explained that they had been told to…….. I refrained from giving some free coaching and suggested they take the matter up with their Manager because this phrase on its own is meaningless and doesn’t reflect well on their company. I’m tempted to get a quote from them now and see if there is anything else they can help me with!

 

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Improving performance or cementing poor practices?

Improving PerformanceI was sitting in one of my favourite places the other day enjoying coffee, reading a good book and doing a little bit of people watching. It is amazing what you see if you just look. All of what we discuss in the training room happens in real life. It so happens that on the table next to me I noticed that there was a performance review being undertaken. Which is cool, as we often mention in training, getting the environment right adds great value to the process, getting out of the office can change mind sets and encourage a deeper discussion. Except, this wasn’t getting out of the office, it was the manager of the coffee shop undertaking a review with one of the baristas. Again this wouldn’t, necessarily, be a problem, however the manager insisted on continuing her day job whilst undertaking the review. The barista didn’t complain, seemingly happy with the way his review was being done to him. I choose my words carefully as that does seem to be a theme introduced by many participants on our training courses, their reviews are done to them. It is about what the manager wants to say, not about discussing ways to improve performance. Consequently, why engage with the process? Let’s just get it over with so I can get back to my day job, luckily it is only a couple of times a year. Many companies notice that performance management isn’t working and occasionally bring in some expensive consultants to redesign the process. However, generally, it is not the process that is the problem but the way the staff engage with the process.

So if you are a manager of people, reviewing the performance of others will be a part of your role. Only you can decide how big a part. You can decide where your focus is, you can decide whether it is something you do to your people or do with them. You can use it as a tool to engage with your staff or use it as another way to alienate them. Your choice, you decide.

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Thinking outside the box, outside the box?

Thinking outside the boxAn article caught my eye recently which reports on the findings of an earlier research report into the link between bodily experience and creative cognition. It has long been held that the way we think and perceive things is affected by our physicality; training has embodied this by moving people around (changing their physicality) during exercises, using toys to create tactile experience whilst thinking etc.

This research takes this a stage further and sought to discover, amongst other things whether thinking outside the box was stronger than a mere metaphor. Could creative thinking be constrained by physical

constraints (in this case a box), and enhanced by the removal of that constraint.

So, one of the experiments undertaken placed students doing identical creative tasks situated “inside” a large cardboard box, “outside” the same large cardboard box and another control group who knew nothing about the box (box-less). The findings were significant, in that the “outside” group scored 20 better in creative output than either of the other groups. The same results were observed when the students were compared walking in a confined area or walking free – the latter scored significantly better.

Find out more about the research at http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2012/02/29/147646374/thinking-outside-the-box-with-our-bodies-and-our-brains

So, just maybe physical environmental improvements and location changes can make a significant difference and impact the bottom line. Maybe taking team meetings off-site or even out-doors would result in significantly more creative solutions to hard-to-crack problems. So what could you do differently? – Now, that requires some serious thinking outside the box………