Monthly Archives: September 2011

Walk a mile in my shoes

OK, I’m back and this is not a whinge but, I admit it, I’m bored.  Having had my shoulder operation last Friday, followed by a couple of day’s horrendous discomfort, I now seem to be free of pain for good parts of the day (so long as I forget the break dancing).   But, with my right arm totally enclosed in a sling of vast proportions, baroque complexity and a rather sinister shade of black, I find that I am, well, disabled. I am not able to do all the things I usually do and having to depend on my dear wife more than I am used to (and perhaps more than she bargained for, bless her).

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Actual shot here, folks, of the Breg Slingshot3 for the inquisitive (this guy seems to actually be some sort of masochist).  Joking apart, whoever at Breg who designed this beauty knew what they were doing.

Now, of course, my ‘disability’ is only temporary and my wonderful surgeon tells me I should make a full recovery and the full use of my right arm and shoulder in time.  How do I know that Prof. Ernest Schilders is wonderful? Well, apart from his reputation, I have the video of the action that took place.  No, you don’t want to know the full details; suffice to say that what appeared to be solid engineering took place and that a variety of tools and screws were used that any DIYer would have …..given his right arm for.  Perhaps to show after Xmas lunch mmmm?

I also have to make special mention of Caroline, Fay and Quanzee; three more skilful and compassionate members of the nursing profession, you would struggle to find.  Thank you, ladies.

Perhaps I have always taken my own body for granted.  True it has never permitted Olympian feats but, by and large, it has done what I required of it and mind and body have always seemed in harmony. But now, with my right arm completely incapacitated, I have a taste of what a disability really is.  I have a small glimpse of how life must be for those who are, for whatever reason, not able-bodied (apologies if that’s not the correct PC phrase).  I, at least, know that I am going to be back to normal in time but I cannot simply comprehend the mental anguish of a soldier, or indeed anyone, who has lost a limb or a faculty that is never coming back.

OK, I have been getting progressively more deaf for years now and manage(?) by spending ludicrous amounts every couple of years on the latest technology in a vain attempt to claw back some of the loss since the last pair.  This has enabled me to maintain a business career and for my own little disability to go largely unnoticed.  This morning the beautiful Denise chauffeured me down to our health centre where I was to have the stitches removed.  Margret, our practice nurse, was kind, solicitous and perfectionist in getting the little critters out almost before I was aware of their going.  However, I did notice something new, just a glimpse mind, that while I was seated and the procedure was carried out, the two ladies in my life at that moment, and for all the right reasons, were robbing me of just a little bit more of my independence than I felt comfortable with.  What would it be like if I had suffered a permanent disability and really did have to rely on others more than I feel comfortable doing?

Typing has never been strength but this post has taken me more time than I care to admit, hunting and pecking with a couple of left-hand fingers.  I now know just how frustrating, truly frustrating, it would be if this was as good as it was going to get.  No guitar practice either.  So, I’m good folks, but spare a thought for those less fortunate than us; not just for their physical impairments but for the mental adjustments they have to cope with.

Looking forward to normal service more than ever….

Normal service will be resumed shortly

Are you a weekend warrior?  Or a daily doer?  Do you believe in the ‘no-pain, no-gain’ mantra?  Well, I have answered yes, to all of these questions in the past but now it’s confession time. If we listen to all of the opinion and advice, the exhortations and pleadings that are offered to us by the medical profession, the media and our political classes, then like good citizens we take our exercise and we believe it’s doing us good.  Some of us even grow to enjoy this pastime and indulge in multiple manifestations of the exercise thing.

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I hate to be a disappointment to all you good readers who have taken to turning to my blog in pursuit of truth, controversy, idle amusement or learned opinion but, sadly, I’m going to be out of action for some weeks.  This has come as something of a shock.

Over the years I have lifted weights, run, played squash, rowed, cycled, swum and hiked.  Whilst never in danger of actually winning anything other than self-satisfaction, I have derived great pleasure from all of these pursuits.  However, what they don’t tell us is that if we do all of this healthy stuff, then bits wear out; probably before they otherwise would have done.  First, I had to give up running due to recurrent problems with shin splints and ankle damage.  Then I had problems with my knees from cycling using the first generation of ‘Look’ pedals (no lateral movement).  Now I have learnt that my right shoulder has a rotator cuff tear and it also requires subacromial decompression.  I’m not sure what has caused this damage but I doubt that it was tapping away at the keyboard.

Having always been an early riser I have, as a consequence, enjoyed some extraordinary sights.  Sculling on a deserted Thames atHenley one late autumn morning the river was covered in a dense, low mist that just permitted my head and shoulders to break through into brilliant sunshine.  Completely lost in the magic of the moment and my exertions, I was brought back to reality by a shatteringly loud eruption behind me; glancing over my shoulder I found that I had sculled into a large flock ofCanada geese that were now rising into flight accompanied by a cacophony of beating wings and raucous honking.  Living now in the Yorkshire Dales, I have spent years cycling and hiking in this inspiring countryside.

During my business travels I have run in many parts of the world.  It’s so easy to pack your running gear and get out in the mornings and see something of the city or the countryside and sweat off the toxins from the inevitable prior night of overindulgence.  It was always fascinating to see the reactions of the locals at a time when running was not the mass pursuit it is today.  By far the most animated reaction I ever received was the whistling, gesturing and ribald comments from the morning commuters inRome.

High in the mountains above Nikko in Japan, a colleague and I collapsed into a small tea shop and pachinko arcade in search of refreshment after our exertions.  Sipping quietly on a wonderful cup of green tea and enjoying the surroundings, our tranquillity was interrupted by a group of young men bursting in, creating what seemed an amazingly authentic impersonation of Marlon Brando in The Wild One.  Catching sight of us strange gaijin, their noisy behaviour abruptly ceased, turning into furtive whispering amongst themselves with glances in our direction. Then, abruptly, the whispering ceased, they stood tall and strutted towards us with expressions as menacing as any I have seen.  With what appeared to be serious trouble looming, the real problem was not just that they heavily outnumbered us but that they had fanned out blocking the only exit.  I almost died with relief when the leader produced a large orange which he held out to me uttering in heavily accented English “Welcome Japan, please to enjoy our country.  Small gift for you”

Not only has exercise given me the space and timefor some of my best thinking but it has provided me with a store of energy that has exceeded that of almost anyone I have ever worked with, enabling me to keep focussed and relaxed when times got rough.  So, would I have changed my lifetime of exercise, if I had known that bits might wear out?  I don’t think so!  For me, nothing compares with the high from hard physical exercise (well, all right, maybe one exception).

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However, I now have to put myself in the care of our medical profession and face the prospect of 6 weeks with my right arm in a very sturdy sling.  Regretfully, it seems that I’m not going to be able to tap away at the keyboard, producing my views of business life for all you faithful readers.  If you’re new to my blog, do have a browse in the archive and share your reactions.  If you’ve been following me for a while, why not leave a comment or two and start a lively thread?

Play nicely whilst I’m away!


Destroying loyalty

Why do companies seem to have given up on attempting to retain customers?  Why do I now feel ashamed to mention my early career in marketing?  Where did it all go so wrong?  The answers are rooted in many short-termist, introspective and isolationist policies on the part of management.  Businesses are not by and large run on a holistic basis and are frequently focused on strictly functional issues.

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On average, US corporations lose half their customers every five years.  Research by the US Customer Care Institute reveals that:-

  • Seven out of ten customers who switch from one company to another give poor service as the reason.
  • Dissatisfied customers tell twice as many of their friends and families about poor service as do satisfied ones.
  • It is five times more expensive to gain a new customer on average than it is to satisfy an existing one.

Recurrent studies have found that the longer a customer stays with a company, the higher the profits generated.  This is not new and my time in businesses large to small tells me we are no different here in the UK.  The following are but a few of what are sadly common barriers to customer loyalty:

  •  Building labyrinthine complexity into pricing plans – have you tried to decide which the best value mobile phone tariff is recently?  Do you believe that any phone company genuinely offers its multitude of pricing plans so that we have more choice and will be more satisfied? Is it any coincidence that we have to threaten to move supplier before being offered a better tariff?  If you do think so, move along now, nothing more to read here.
  •  Outsourced ‘Customer Care’ departments  – a trend that started 30 years ago and  one that is till going strong clearly treats engagement with customers as peripheral and no more worthy of direct involvement than cleaning the office washrooms.  It’s not merely cultural or language differences that are created when you move your customer interaction functions to India (or toGlasgow or  anywhere outside the company), it’s the creation of a total barrier that isolates management from the true customer experience.
  •  Moving to part-time staff – some staff appreciate the ability to work part time but many have this practice forced upon them.  The ultimate extension was that most cynical policy, the “Zero Hours Contract” where staff is guaranteed no work hours at all, merely being required to respond at short notice when required.  In a well-documented and infamous variant, staff in a well-known hamburger chain was required to sit unpaid in the staff room when the restaurant became quiet. Any guesses as to how they felt about this practice? Research has shown that retail chains that stayed with full time staff experienced higher customer retention and higher profits than chains that turned to part time working.  Full-time staff was also found to be more loyal to their employer, more knowledgeable and was rated more highly by customers.  It is no coincidence that good staff retention goes hand-in-hand with above average customer retention.
  •  Creating loyalty premiums – many years ago I found to my horror that the interest rate on my hard-earned savings had been dropped to near zero by a certain northern British bank; my account, once paying a top interest rate was now classified as ‘obsolete’.  Hitherto unknown, this practice quickly became commonplace amongst our banks and building societies and the public quickly learnt to check rates and shuffle their savings accordingly.  How can the banks have imagined that this insidious technique would engender loyalty?  Instead, having inflicted this monstrous, zero sum game of monetary musical chairs upon us, we, their customers are now referred to as ‘rate tarts’!  Having rapidly moved my money, I watched the fortunes of this bank soar and then noted with grim satisfaction when they became the first to be exposed as insolvent in 2008.
  •  Inflexibility of some industries – if I want to buy a car, I can choose from a vast range of standard product offerings (all capable of easy price and performance comparison).  If I wish to wait longer and customise my new vehicle then I can choose from a vast range of options to turn it into something that as closely meets my needs as it is possible to get.  In comparison I remember an almost surreal conversation with my local bank manager some years back.  No, I didn’t want free breakdown service, travel insurance or yearly meetings with a financial adviser.  All I wanted was a stable interest rate for my savings (e.g. linked to the base rate) and the phone number of the branch manager to ensure I got problems resolved easily.  At the time I had business banking for three separate companies in addition to my personal accounts, so I wasn’t quite at the bottom of the pile.  After an hour of wrangling (I was bored that day) I managed to get the phone number (after I ultimately promised only to use it in the direst of emergencies).  No rate guarantees though.  Nothing else.  And the phone number was a pyrrhic victory; a few months later the manager moved and the phone was diverted to the call centre.
  •  Drip Pricing’ – I have blogged before on this subject (‘Don’t be a marketing drip’) but I am still amazed at how more and more companies are using this technique to pad out the price of a purchase.  It is common to find that on a like for like basis the ‘low cost’ airline is more expensive than the ‘full cost’ one.
  •  The small print – entering into any form of business with a bank, insurance company or many of the largest companies really requires the service of a commercial lawyer to unravel the terms.  It is quite beyond the capabilities of the average consumer to understand this legalise jargon. The banks and some insurance companies are also now following the lead of our politicians and issuing ‘amending terms’ which require you to sit for hours comparing documents and deciding what effect the simple change of one word has on a clause. Pure obfuscation.
  •  Complete dishonesty – No other way to put it – some companies simply lie or knowingly promise more than they can deliver.  Some examples: a mail order company advertises a product knowing full well that if they don’t get x number of orders they won’t either place an order for the goods from their supplier.  The airline tells passengers that the flight will depart in 30 minutes when in reality they simply don’t have any idea when the necessary parts to fix it will arrive.  The travel company offers flights toNew York “from £329” knowing they have no flights available at anywhere near this price.

Some companies have improved to the extent that they are shining examples.  After a recent visit to a Jaguar dealer I found a slight scratch on my car (it simply polished out, no harm done) when the customer feedback email arrived I mentioned the scratch.  Firstly, I got the service manager on the phone for half an hour, genuinely concerned, very interested in both my car and me.  I was quite satisfied with his apology but accepted the offer of a no-charge valet when next passing.  A few days later I received another call from ‘Jaguar’ extremely concerned and courteous, wanting to know if I was satisfied.  The matter of the scratch resolved, he passed on to seeking my opinions on the car and again we chatted for half an hour.  Being suspicious, I quizzed him as to where he really worked.  Not only did he convince me he actually worked for Jaguar’s design department but insisted I took his full name and phone number in case I ever needed assistance in future.

Eating my lunchtime sandwich one day, I took to reading the small print on the receipt I had received with a delivery from Lands’End (I really do get bored easily).  I discovered that they offered to repair any item of their clothing that might have become damaged – whatever the reason or age of the garment.  I sent back an old favourite casual shirt that had a torn seam and, sure enough, a week or so later, it came back completely repaired with a compliment slip.  A perfect generator of customer loyalty.

Do you recognise any of the above practices?  Do they happen in your company?  Or do you have any shining examples of companies that really set out to build customer loyalty?