David’s monthly Random Ramblings


February 2010

This month we take a trip down the High Street and remember that careless talk cost jobs.

  • Fact Web
  • Beeny Axes Agents
  • Vote For …?
  • Web Perils
  • Crystal Ball
  • Squirrel Update
  • Screw It
  • Less Is Less
  • Death Of The High Street
  • And Finally

Fact Web

“The web isn’t a way of amassing money, it’s about sharing knowledge.” Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
Unfortunately not everyone is as altruistic as the web’s inventor. But the good news is that the great man has teemed up with the Government to provide free access to lots of data. I say free, but this is information collected by HMG for which we have already paid through taxation, so we should make sure that we benefit from it. As Sir Tim points out, “…when it is sitting there on a disk in somebody's office it is wasted."

Have a look to see whether there is anything of use to your business: www.data.gov.uk

Beeny Axes Agents

Sarah Beeny’s latest business venture is the property website www.tepilo.com. It allows house buyers and sellers to cut out the estate agent. By doing so, sellers can save themselves the not inconsiderable fees charged. A quick look suggests that it is very well thought out and should make the process as painless as these transactions are every likely to be. But would you use it?

Beeny herself admits that many people will go on using estate agents. Inevitably there is likely to be a great deal of ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’. Some people will be nervous of going it alone. And some just won’t want the hassle.

But talk to many people who have sold a house and you’ll find that dealing with the agent can add to the stress. So maybe there is a strong argument in favour of ditching the traditional High Street estate agent and doing business online. But read on …

Vote For …?

Some people always vote Labour or Conservative or Liberal Democrat. Nothing will change their voting habit. If you are running an election campaign, ignore them (but don’t annoy them). Your target is the so-called floating voter. The people who weigh up the arguments each time they vote.

So who do you vote for? High Street or Internet? We all know that politicians are very good with words but significantly less good with actions. Businesses, both High Street and Internet often promise only to disappoint. The committed may stay loyal but the floating shopper will move on. What will determine customer loyalty will be a consistent level of exceptional service, never for one moment falling below that level. That is only possible if EVERYONE in the team is at the top of their game for every moment on the pitch. But as we found with John Terry, off the pitch behaviour can still bring the whole thing tumbling down.

Web Perils

Or how to lose customers, your job etc.

I am convinced that businesses need to embrace the new media revolution to prosper. However, this needs to be done with care. Last week I read of a guy who had boasted on Facebook of a night on the tiles. He explained to anyone who was interested that he was ‘pulling a sicky’ the next day as a result. His boss was interested … and fired him.

Over the last few weeks I have been alarmed at some of the comments that I’ve seen on Twitter. As a result there are several businesses that I’d be wary of using and one or two individuals who I would be reluctant to employ. The upside of online media is that it can be read by anyone in the world. The downside of online media is that it can be read by anyone in the world.

Oh, and one last thing. Automated tweets on Twitter don’t work. Regulars soon spot them being repeated and ignore them. The advantage (and disadvantage) of Twitter is that it allows us to reveal a bit about our personality.

Crystal Ball

Do you remember my Silent Night item from January? I said that whenever there is a major issue involving Joe Public you can guarantee absolutely that the thing that turns a problem into a corporate catastrophe is a failure to keep the customer informed. Welcome to the world of Toyota!

What appear to be relatively minor technical problems have become front page news. Clearly there has been a problem in understanding fully the issues involved and putting in place a robust plan to deal with them. But a major recall handled well is a virtual non-story for the media. Toyota’s inept handling of the information has led to a PR crisis of the greatest magnitude imaginable. One thing is for sure; if you do not provide the media with clear and accurate information, they will make up the ‘facts’. To reiterate what I said last month, I trust that you all have a disaster plan in place that includes a robust media strategy.

Squirrel Update

Followers of the great squirrel drama may like to know that I’ve discovered that there are two of them. Both equally adept at helping themselves to the birds’ food. And it would seem that a fox is helping itself to fat balls left out for ground feeding birds.

Screw It

I like screw caps on wine bottles. Old fashioned cork often taints the wine or breaks up as you extract it. Synthetic corks can be nigh on impossible to extract. A screw cap is such an easy thing to deal with that it is difficult to see any rational argument against their use.

Recently I have come across one or two bottles where there has been a plastic lining inside the metal cap. Wowee! This tiny, low cost addition turns opening the bottle into a sensuous experience. The action is so silky smooth that you just want to open and close the bottle! I imagine that the principal reason for the plastic insert is to guarantee an airtight seal, but the real bonus is that opening a screw cap bottle is now an enjoyable experience in itself. And of course, the wine tastes better! Believe me, psychologically, that wonderful plastic insert will make you feel better about the whole wine drinking experience.

Is there one tiny improvement that you could make to your organisation that would transform the customer experience? That’s your challenge for the month. I’d love to hear how you get on.

Less Is Less

As regulars may have gathered by now, Seth Godin is one of my favourite bloggers. He points out that business school wisdom is that you do the least, spend the least possible to get a sale. But as he says, there is a crazy alternative that seems to work: do the most you can - over deliver. Putting a plastic liner in a screw cap for instance.

So whether you are operating on the High Street or online, doing less will probably cost you. Doing a little more, doing something unexpected may bring you a loyal customer. The art is in giving the customer a warm feeling whenever you have any dealings with them.

Death Of The High Street

"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Mark Twain.
We all know that the traditional High Street has been under pressure for quite some time. So is there a future for ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses? The answer id ‘Yes, if …’.

Why will Sarah Beeny’s venture work? Because many estate agents do not add value for their large fees. If estate agents, insurance brokers, book sellers or anyone else provides a better overall experience than buying online, then they will survive. If they don’t, they won’t. But likewise, if web-based businesses provide a poor overall experience, then the customer will move on. Nobody is better than their last performance.

And Finally

OK, so it’s not just with online media that you need to be careful:
“I've talked to you on a number of occasions about the economic problems our nation faces, and I am prepared to tell you it's in a hell of a mess … we're not connected to the press room yet, are we?” Ronald Reagan.

"Oh, Lord. I didn't mean to say anything quotable." US ex-Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.