Archive for the ‘Random Rants’ Category

Improvement projects should make things better, shouldn’t they?

I travel by ‘bus and train as often as I can, not just because of the green aspects, but because I quite like it; I get to look around and to think in a way that I can’t afford to do when I am driving, but looking around and thinking can lead to seeing and realising. For someone who has a long record of customer service seeing and realising can mean trouble. Read more…

let’s stop using power words in CVs and bid documents

January 21, 2013 1 comment

Last week I got involved in a cyber-debate about the overuse of power words, in this case about their use in CVs, but the principle applies more widely. I have two main issues with this abuse of language; firstly that much of it is transparently nonsense (and therefore untrue) and secondly that it wastes my time. Read more…

midweek musings on how to treat people that you’re trying to win business from

Last week I had a message that someone had called my office asking for me. They declined to give a reason for their call.

The next day they called again, and then again. I knew by now who the company was and, having looked them up on the web, knew that what they were offering was of no interest to my business, so when I got yet another message I rang them to ask them not to waste their time and money. Read more…

Weekend Musings on Ethics

The next Monday Musing will be somewhat harder hitting that some, but the whole issue of ethics in business and public life is something that I think we need to get a grip on, hence some of my blogs and more public writings around now.

When I was younger there was a value in public service and that was still very much in evidence when I first began to meet with government figures in 1983, but it seems that much of that has gone. The people who we elect are there to serve us, or at least the greater good and not themselves. If you look at the code of conduct for even the humblest of clubs or bodies there will be something there about conflicts of interest and the like, but so few seem to even pay this lip service.

And then there is the incompetence factor. We have elected officials from this government and its predecessor who have failed in their duties to the public and yet have the gall to shout and point fingers at business people. Ethics? Honour? Sense of duty? Character? I was brought up to believe that these were fundamentals; where did we lose sight of that?

putting customers first takes more than just calling them customers

At one time there was great trouble throughout the land. The people were not getting their just desserts, but this had gone on for so long that they had ceased to complain and they had become stoic in their acceptance.

It came at first as a whisper, as the first stirring of a breeze breaks the calm when a hurricane is due and, like a hurricane the word was to sweep through the land uprooting the trees of resistance in its path. And the name of this hurricane was Customer First, although it was to have as many names as it had priests, for each was to brand it according to their own ways (and fee scales).

And Lo! The people did become customers; not just those in the shops and retail premises, but no longer they that travelled by train, ship, ‘plane or bus would be called passengers. No longer would those who occupied premises, whether domestic or for their trade, be called tenants. No longer would those in ill health and needing to see the physician be called patients. No longer (yes, yes, all right; we get the picture – ed).

From that day hence they would all be customers and all would be well. Their time of strife would be over and they could rest easy for, when they handed over their hard earned coin, all would be well and they would be treated in the manner to which they should.

And so the priests, gurus, mentors, consultants and trainers did prosper, their pockets full of their client’s gold, and there was great rejoicing throughout the land. Those who proclaimed the way of the Customer grew rich and, in some cases, famous. Those who had sought their help (he’s off again. Enough! – ed).

Ok, let’s cut the pseudo biblical stuff, leave this fantasy world behind and consider ours. Are you getting better service because your train operator calls you a customer? Or anywhere else where you have become “a customer”? I doubt it. Sure there have been improvements in some places, yes, but that is because people have been better trained, not because of a name change. You might argue that the name change brought about a change of thinking, but I would suggest that such influence was limited. When I travel in someone else’s vehicle I am a passenger; when I have treatment at the medic’s I am a patient and so on. I find inappropriate use of customer patronising, how about you?

Maybe I am in a minority on this (that would be good, I might have rights), and I know I am being a bit obtuse here, but the point of this missive is that you have to mean it to make a difference. Just calling something by a different name doesn’t, on its own, make a change. For me it is the equivalent of the old dodgy car dealer’s “change the plates and give it a re-spray”, and is about as salubrious.

My train of thought here came from having been pulled up for referring to the people who were renting premises as tenants. “They’re customers” I was told, but then the attitude towards them would not have been out of place for the inmates of a labour camp. Calling them customers made no difference to the way they were seen or treated, so why bother with the pretence. OK, this is an extreme example, but does calling me a customer improve my rail service? No, but what would make a difference is changing the service I get for my money. That’s the challenge.

let the train take the strain, or is the car better by far?

Recently I had a meeting near London Bridge, but which way to travel? I go up to town about 15 times a year on average these days, and I’ve had bad luck with trains to and from Swindon one way and another in recent years.

An additional issue is that the cost is very high if I can’t book well in advance, and I try to keep costs down regardless of whether it is I or my client who is paying. A spontaneous run up to The Smoke from Swindon will cost about £120 including the car park for example. Another problem is the latter; car parking is a bit hit and miss if I’m not there reasonably early and, if I get there and can’t park, I’ve driven 15 minutes in the wrong direction and have therefore wasted about half an hour by the time I get to the M4 heading East to try an alternative.

Over time I’ve developed options for driving part way, usually to Reading where there is covered parking next to the station, a connecting walkway to the platforms plus extra train options from other routes that converge there. Nett journey time from my house to Paddington is about the same as going from Swindon, but the rail and car park charge is so much less that, even allowing for a mileage charge at HMRC rates, I can still do the run for about £35 less that by rail from  Swindon.

Another option is to drive to Basingstoke. The extra mileage cancels out the slightly cheaper rail fare making it on a par with the run to Reading, but the traffic is easier and the cross country drive via my home town of Newbury is pleasant. The trains take me into Waterloo, so it is an easy walk from there to London Bridge, or across the river into central London if I’m going to, say, the IoD or Whitehall.

So I favour this hybrid journey of road and rail combined. Certainly it is less effective in terms of my green leanings, but it provides me with a cheaper and less stressful journey and, for the part I do in the car, is far more comfortable. Trains these days I find appallingly uncomfortable, and yes, I do understand that my size has something to do with that, but, whilst I accept responsibility for my girth, I can’t do a lot about my skeletal height and width. Train seating these days is clearly designed for dwarves and midgets and the lack of anywhere decent to park my carcass takes a lot of the pleasure away from what used to be a treat.

I loved taking the train, especially in the 80’s when I travelled around a lot of the UK by British Rail. And also trains in Denmark, Germany, France and the USA.

Even in my various spells of commuting into the City during the 60s into the 80s there was a bit more space and the seats were tall enough for me to have somewhere to rest my head, but then some idiot design team came in and refurbished all the carriages with small seats, plastic and strip lighting and the world of rail travel went on a downward spiral for me.

Now we have these ultra modern trains with their garish and lurid colour schemes that offer a period of torture rather than the pleasures of old. Yes, they are usually clean and reliable, but are they what we need to attract people onto public transport, especially given the, often extortionate, cost?

Such is progress.

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Why is it so hard to buy from some companies?

I understand that you need to have a set of processes to enable your company to run, and some of these will be around ordering, pick, pack, despatch and customer enquiries. This is a particular area of my own expertise, but why do you inflict this stuff on the customer?
Buying on line shows up the worst of this for me. Some examples:
• Crude product search engines that give you almost the entire inventory regardless of what you ask for.
• Page links that don’t work.
• Where you view the product, select a quantity to buy, get through a convoluted checkout process and only then get told that it is out of stock.
• Convoluted checkout process.
• Contact Us links that don’t work.
• Drop down lists in the Contact Us section that never seem to cover the query type that I have.
• Comment boxes that only allow too few characters for your query
Some company web sites are great; Amazon for example, but others are dreadful. Amazon relieve me of a lot of my disposable cash because they make it easy for me to spend with them and the overall customer experience is great.
On the other hand there are at least two or three companies a month that fail to extract funds from me because I can’t be bothered to go through all the hassle. Do people at these companies ever consider the customer experience? Do they ever try to buy from themselves? Somehow I doubt it.
And it isn’t just web sites. A lot of face to face experiences are no better. Two big gripes here; firstly the assistant who has to finish talking to their colleague when you’ve obviously arrived, and are waiting, to ask a question, and those places where you can’t enjoy looking without assistant after assistant walking up and asking if you need help.
Come on people. Things may be tight but there is money out there to be spent. Make it easy for folks to spend it with you.

Random Rants & Soapbox Favourites

Random Rants

These are any basic rants that I feel the need to get off my chest. Some will be the sort of issues that one of my bosses used to call my soap box moments: Those topics that make want to stand on a box on the street corner and preach about.  Others will be more general observations on life that I feel the urge to write about.

In many cases these rants will be slightly tongue in cheek – I try not to take myself too seriously, even if I am making a serious point. I mean to cause no offence, but if I do, then at least I have made someone think. Feel free to respond.

Bowen’s 1st Law of Public Transport

If the service before the one you are now waiting for had been as late running as the one you are waiting for is, you’d be on your way by now.

This is an old adage, coined 30 odd years ago when I used to travel by bus a lot. This blog entry was prompted when I had a trip by train to London. Knowing that there were 3 trains at about 10 minute intervals at that time of the morning I headed for the station. The first train had just hove into view as I locked my car, but pulled out bang on time as I walked up the steps to the platform. The next train was shown as 25 minutes late and that had pushed the one behind back as well. If the first one had been just 1 minute late I would have been on it. Such is life.

Technology, or Not Having Fun

OK, so I’ve been around for years. My first logistics job was loading this boat. The despatch notes were on tablets of stone and we had a hell of a job getting all those pairs of animals on board in that storm.

Technology came along though, and I’ve enthusiastically embraced things as they’ve hit the market, but when it lets you down….

Take today. Yesterday I set up two new web addresses for a project. I got the log in confirmations last night and the holding pages were in place. It was late though, so I didn’t upload the sites. I’ve learned not to do some things when I’m tired.

This morning both addresses have vanished, or are at least unavailable for access. So, having got up early to load the sites and set up the email services etc, I’m writing this.

The worst part is the lack of information; why are the sites unavailable? When will they be back? What do I tell my client?

So, at the moment, I’m not having my daily fun. It’s raining outside, the cat is bored and wants to walk all over the laptop and I haven’t had my breakfast. At least I can do something about the latter; a bowl of bitesize Shredded Wheat is very low tech, so that’s where I’m going now.