All generalisations are wrong

Several years ago, when I was an employee of a large blue chip company I was amongst a group of colleagues that were invited to a ‘fireside chat’ with a new head of department. Whilst he was sharing his thoughts with us he pointed out to us that ‘all generalisations are wrong’. In a moment of less than career enhancing excitement I pointed out that his statement was a generalisation and therefore must be wrong and consequently we all entered the paradox that he had created (with my help).

But as Robert Cialdini tells us (Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion) our brains are inherently lazy and have a tendency to go for the easy option – he calls it a “click/whirr” response. I believe that generalisations are part of this process. It is easier to lump groups together to make decisions rather than take the time to look at the individual pieces.

As an example, I have a close friend who sees himself as a socialist and has some very clear ideas about his values and beliefs, which are laudable. Sometimes, when we get together he gets into Banker bashing – all the fat cats, with their huge bonuses, ripping us all off. My background in financial services then leads me to stick up for the many tens of thousands of hard working branch and departmental staff who do care about their customers and try their best to provide an excellent service. However, it is easier to focus on the wrong doers and slag off the profession as a whole.

Of course, bankers are not alone. All journalists lie and cheat to get a good story, all politicians are more interested in fiddling their expenses rather than looking out for the interests of their constituents, all teachers are more interested in league tables than they are in educating our children, etc. Now there is a new kid on the block – the NHS. Because of the actions of a few, the NHS, which employs approx. 1.7 million people (the fifth largest employer in the world!), doesn’t care about any of its patients and their employees only begrudgingly provide a modicum of care if they have to and haven’t got anything better to do.

These bandwagons are very easy to jump upon. As we all know, behaviour breeds behaviour; so if we allow our beliefs (based on these generalisations) to influence our behaviour it will affect the relationships we have with these organisations/individuals and inevitably we will get the results that we deserve, which will in turn justify our beliefs. Put more briefly – life reciprocates our belief of it.

So, before we are swept away by these generalisations both in the wider world and in our own relationships (either in work or out of it) – stop and think. Am I acting/behaving based on what I know to be true about the INDIVIDUAL in front of me that I am dealing with or am I acting/behaving based on some generalist, received opinion of the masses. Make the right choice as you will have to live with the consequences of the results your interaction generates.

All generalisations are wrong!


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’. 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.


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?