Monday, 26 January 2015


I’m constantly hearing Boards talking about customer service and the need for excellence in this area. At the same time I think customer service is getting worse and worse; partly because everyone is getting very confused. In some ways customer service is the last arena of class warfare.

We were at Claridge’s recently at a splendid 60th birthday celebration. It was utterly wonderful and at every point the customer service was perfect. Everything happened at an intuitively right, prompt but not rushed pace. The waiters were charming and alert. The two waiters serving champagne at the beginning were young and with that assured level-gazed smile which suggested they actually knew just how good they were at what they did and they were enjoying us enjoying ourselves.

It’s all to do with training. Not training in process but training in attitude. Everyone at the hotel wanted us to have a good time. They were focused on us not on themselves.

On Saturday in the Times Giles Coren reviewed the restaurant Pachamama. It had the worst room, menu design, lighting, attitude and service on any restaurant he’d ever been to. It also had unbelievably good
cooking. He described its customer service like this:

 “It could only have made a worse first impression if someone had headbutted me on the way in.

But you can see the problem. Very modern cool waiting staff full of their “guys”, “chill” and “whatever’s”. Nice but desperate to show they weren’t serving as such, nothing so demeaning as that. At Balliol College, Oxford they used to call this “effortless superiority”. I think I’d call it “casually indifferent”.

At this same Claridges “do” a retired doctor I sat next to described the brilliant service she and husband had received from a travel agent - “call me any time” he’d said (so why is that unusual?) and the trip to Asia they’d been on during which she’d concluded Britain had become “a post-work society”.

The reality about Pachamama is that no one front of house seemed to have concluded good service requires good listening skills, a keen sense of observation, speed of response and never ever relaxing. When Orvis the fishing gear and outdoor equipment retailer said:

The customer’s right even when they’re Goddamned wrong

I gave him 100% for attitude but only 50% for marketing. Stroppy, drunk or rude customers sometimes need to be ejected when they are that wrong. And anyway when customer service is flawlessly attentive customers tend to behave well too. Witness the brilliantly trained and modern service in any Corbyn and King establishment - the Wolseley and others.

Making other people happy and solving their problems should be a joy not a chore.  So long as we fail to coach people in being able to understand what others are feeling then we’ll never create the nation of great customer servants that a service economy needs. Servant? What’s your problem? Civil Servants never seemed to have one.

Monday, 19 January 2015


I haven’t got Man Flu. I know that because I had my ‘flu injection. It must be something more serious. The symptoms are coughing, wheezing, snuffles and feeling exceedingly sorry for myself.  Here’s how I feel:

Whilst I really couldn’t give a toss about anything right now much less this blog which no one reads and if they do, well they probably wonder why, I thought it might be interesting to self-analyse self-pity. Because I’m not very ill at all; I’m probably just 20% off being at my best. My IQ has not, as it feels, plummeted. I just don’t feel up to tackling those really tricky problems we all have.

 I want to wallow.

And as I write this I realise that old fashioned word we very seldom hear nowadays “mouldy” describes how I am right now. Like a piece of old cheddar going a bit blue around the edges.
So it was with surprising attentiveness that I read this which a friend sent me:

Do you have feelings of inadequacy?
Do you suffer from shyness?
Do you sometimes wish you were more assertive?

If you answered yes to any of these questions ask your doctor or pharmacist about…

Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the safe natural way to feel better and more confident about yourself and your actions.

It can help ease you out of your shyness and let you tell the world that you're ready and willing to do just about anything.

You will notice the benefits of ✙ Cabernet Sauvignon almost immediately and, with a regimen of regular doses you can overcome any obstacles that prevent you from living the life you want to live.
Shyness and awkwardness will be a thing of the past and you will discover many talents you never knew you had.

Stop hiding and start living.


Cabernet Sauvignon may not be right for everyone.
Women who are pregnant or nursing should not use it.
However, women who wouldn't mind nursing or becoming pregnant are encouraged to try it.

Side effects may include:
Dizziness, nausea, vomiting, incarceration, loss of motor control, loss of clothing, loss of money, loss of virginity, delusions of grandeur, table dancing, headache, dehydration, dry mouth and a desire to sing Karaoke and play all-night rounds of ‘Strip Poker’, ‘Truth or Dare’ or ‘Naked Twister’


The consumption of ✙ Cabernet Sauvignon: 
may make you think you are whispering when you are not
may cause you to tell your friends over and over again that you love them
may cause you to think you can sing
may create the illusion that you are tougher, smarter, faster and better looking than most people

A few glasses later I’m feeling quite a lot stronger. I’m now able to cope with the e-mails and one or two other issues. The sun has come out and I realise now that the cheese wasn’t mouldy it was Stilton.

Monday, 12 January 2015


Isabel Allende the Chilean-American author who was awarded the American Medal of Freedom last year said:-
The longer I live the more uninformed I feel. Only the young have an explanation for everything.

I know how she feels. The part of me that agrees with her loves the freshness of thinking and the fearlessness of the young. The other part like Einstein - not that in any other way I have much in common with Albert the Genius - feels that the older you get the more insatiable your curiosity is.

That’s why I wrote my latest book “How to Solve Problems and make Brilliant Decisions”.

And it’s because of the book that the Dean of the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at Portsmouth, Catherine Harper, asked me to go to lecture there.

You don’t know Portsmouth?

It’s the Venice of Britain, on an island called Southsea, more densely populated than any other city bar London. Until relatively recently it was a city slipping backwards into the sea like Venice. Then some good news happened. BAE announced shipbuilding was ceasing in 2014 ending years of speculation and forcing a strategy of renewal on the city. And the University became transformed with a programme of investment and positivity. Its progress up the league tables especially those relating to student engagement are impressive.

Portsmouth is beginning to feel like a city of the future with its Spinnaker, Gunwharf Quays and its programme of redevelopment including the relocation of the football ground into the centre. But most of all the University. There’s a choice, I guess, of mediaeval architecture, delicious quadrangles with “keep off the grass” as a welcome sign, the smell of Mansion Polish or the future.

However, much I love Oxbridge I equally love the sense of entrepreneurial excitement of a brave new world called tomorrow.

More Gown than Town I think. Well done.

And the smell of tomorrow was in my nostrils at my lecture to which they’d attracted, enrolled or more likely, its being Portsmouth, press-ganged an audience of 200.

You know that sensation of forming your ideas as you speak and of learning, palpably seeing things differently as you stand there talking being quizzically watched by 400 eyes?  Well I had it and it’s great. There were some searchingly effective questions which made me on at least two occasions slightly change my mind.  To the lady who dismissed my condemnation of multitasking as unrealistic when you’re running a home, sorry you’re right. On reflection it’s that prefix “multi” that’s wrong. Like “Hyper” or “Uber” it sounds good. What I hate is something slightly different. It’s “Muddle-Tasking” which is failing to complete anything properly because you’re on a mission of serial screw-ups.

I loved this lecture theatre and the spirit of this new purposeful Portsmouth. And I learned how much you learn lecturing to smart focused people.

The longer I live the more excited I am about possibilities, potential and youth. I saw all three this week.

Thursday, 1 January 2015


More people go out on New Year’s Eve than any other night of the year. More people are kissed and pissed. The Lord of Misrule is having a ball having “give-me-an-F-fun.”

“Superstition”. I read recently that years ending in “5” are lucky. Really? Well there was 1815 (Waterloo), 1945 (end of WW2), 2005 (economic boom). Tosh! Or how about 8 being a lucky number? 2+0+1+5 = 8! So prepare for lottery wins this year.

“Prediction”. I went to watch Brighton play Fulham recently. People I’d never met kept asking in genuine interest “What do you think the score will be?” We know that no one could possibly know. We only have one certainty - economists are hopeless at predictions.

“Resolutions”. They’re like business plans of which it’s been said “paper plans are paper planes” Most good resolutions barely last though January so I’ve decided to make bad resolutions in future:

  • To drink much more good claret
  • To laze around a lot more
  • To eat fattening food

The consequence, based on how contrary human nature is, will probably turn me into a teetotal, busy, health freak.

It’s that contrariness of human nature that makes our lives so interesting. No one can really read the likely behaviour of electorates or consumers. A certain perversity of spirit seems to be in the air. But in a year of Putin putting it all about, an imminent, chaotic Greek election, a potentially  hung UK parliament, Tea Party antics in the USA, oil prices continuing to fall and economic slowdown we should be in for a great deal of …. ”fun”, which is how Mervyn King described the 2008 crash. I guess a Bank Governor’s “fun” is a Chinese philosopher’s “interesting”.

So on to “renewal”.

I came across the “Change House” recently.

“The Four Rooms of Change” was created by Claes Janssen at Stockholm University in the 1960s. Since then it has been used by management teachers including Roger Harrop, the motivational speaker who calls himself the “CEO Expert”. His books include “Win! How to Succeed in Business” in which he says:
“These really are the most exciting of times for business! Nothing is a given any more. Technology is moving at an incredible speed and the winners are keeping it simple - because it is!”

It’s a simple idea. You get lucky and complacent (“Contentment”).

Inevitably competition gets stronger and things go wrong - not your fault, of course (“Denial”)

You don’t know what to do (“Confusion”)

Until you tear up your preconceptions and create a new strategy (“Renewal”).

Quite a lot of businesses are in the “Dungeon of Denial” right now whilst I feel I’m probably on the Sun Lounge about to get a nasty tan.

We need to be ahead of change though what those changes will be is unpredictable so I advise you to get into that “Renewal Room” fast.

Have a happy New Year, enjoy change and learn a lot.

Monday, 22 December 2014


Yes, even now Christmas is being hijacked by people like me. And it’s this marketing exercise that especially fascinates me.

The marketing started in 300AD when in the Rome of the Emperor Constantine (recently converted to Christianity) the celebration of Christ’s birth was made to coincide with Saturnalia. The feel- good of a great blow-out got the Christian bandwagon rolling along nicely.

This coincidence of celebrating Christ’s birth and roll-out-the barrel party time continued happily until typically the mean old sod, Mr Austerity Cromwell banned Christmas. Back to normal and a lot more when Charles 11 returned to England.

Enter the four great apostles of Christmas early in the 19th century, first Washington Irving in America and his “Old Christmas” and the virtual invention of the Christmas that we know.

Then Clement Moore - a Theology Professor whose “The Night before Christmas” was written for his children, then was picked up by the New Yorker and has become a defining Christmas idea.
Dickens and Cruikshank, his illustrator, followed in 1836 and 1843 with Pickwick Papers and a Christmas Carol.

Around the same time Prince Albert, gluhwein king and Victoria’s husband brought us German Christmas - snow, sleigh bells, decorated trees and Victorian Christmas was born.

The bandwagon accelerated with Coca Cola’s Christmas advertising and the resounding “ho, ho, ho”s amplified as the toy business burgeoned and Christmas feel-good films filled our media.

Christmas became big business - lasting until January 6th in most of Eastern Europe and Russia but it’s the way marketers have shaped the event to such smiley and profitable effect that’s most striking. Washington Irving put it like this in his efforts to create a ‘marketing’ campaign (he wouldn’t have called it that) to quell social violence and appeal to everyone’s good nature:-

In the depth of winter, when nature lies despoiled of every charm, and wrapped in her shroud of sheeted snow, we turn for our gratifications to moral sources. The dreariness and desolation of the landscape, the short gloomy days and darksome nights, while they circumscribe our wanderings, shut in our feelings also from rambling abroad, and make us more keenly disposed for the pleasures of the social circle. Our thoughts are more concentrated; our friendly sympathies more aroused. We feel more sensibly the charm of each other's society, and are brought more closely together by dependence upon each other for enjoyment. Heart calleth unto heart; and we draw our pleasures from the deep wells of living kindness, which lie in the quiet recesses of our bosoms; and which, when resorted to, furnish forth the pure element of domestic felicity.

It has something else which enthrals me. It evokes and sustains such great stories and the felicitous layering of Christian, pagan, commercial and romantic stories and myths from  different geographies. Christmas stories are like Christmas cake, mixed and rich.

The pageantry and the atmosphere of this time never fail to astonish even hardened cynics and make those two words “bah! humbug” sound wonderfully festive too.

Happy Christmas.

Monday, 15 December 2014


Roger Scruton was talking about “kitsch” today - you know that kind of self-regarding sentimentality that happens every Christmas. Oscar Wilde clearly got (and despised) kitsch when he said:
A man must have a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of little Nell.

Yet in the past week I experienced what could have been kitsch but really wasn’t.

David Abbott’s Memorial Service first. David was co-founder of Abbott Mead Vickers, Britain’s largest advertising agency. In his eulogies people said things like “we shall not see his like again.” And in truth we probably shan’t. One of his co-founders, Peter Mead, has written a book called “When in Doubt Be Nice”. And they were nice. They created a business with real values. The AMV brand, more than others, really understood branding and here’s how in a speech David himself made:

"You care about two things.  You care about quality – in everything you do. From the chairs in Reception, to the way you answer a phone, to a piece of Typography, to the ideas you have, to the research you put your name to, to the meetings you hold, to the way you hang a picture, to the way you crop a photograph or write a line.

Quality is always possible and always under threat, but if you don’t seek and defend it you won’t be satisfied and you won’t be happy. The second thing you must care about?  That’s easy.  It’s each other. Take care of each other and nearly everything else will take care of itself.  It’s pat, but it’s true."

And the second bit of kitsch (only it wasn’t either) was the Aldrington Primary School Carol Service - that’s where our grandsons go. I recall a guy whose credo was the need to tell the truth regardless of the consequences. He visited a Primary School, went into a room where all the recent art was pinned up and said “but this is, well this is just rubbish - all of it. Kitsch rubbish.” Well the concert by any standards wasn’t kitsch. It was great, lusty, joyful with a few astonishing “I can’t believe they’re only nine” moments.

Whilst all this was going on I was working on some stuff about winning, you know zero-sum-game, alpha male stuff, “let’s do it to them before they do it to us.” And I’ve been wondering if being nice and trying to be a good, kind person isn’t a better strategy. In the end the world in which we live is about people it’s not about stuff. It’s how we empathise with each other that matters.

I recall Rodney King - the guy who was brutally beaten up by the LA Police in 1991 with the event caught on incriminating camera. King was no saint but he said something quite saintly.
Please can we all get along…I mean we’re stuck here for a while…we can sort it out

This is a kitsch picture though! Sorry.

Monday, 8 December 2014


It was 8.30pm after a long day.

And I was live…crackle, hiss and splat!

Wade Danielson is based in Texas and has launched the Entrepreneur’s Library - so far there are 106 Podcasts by authors whose books might be of interest to entrepreneurs - he’s doing these interviews at the rate of five a week.

And he asked me to do one on my “paradigm shifting” book (there’s a big opportunity for you in marketing and flattery Wade).

So dip into this.

Apart from sounding as though I’ve been imprisoned in a wonky tumble drier and the fact that I’m talking too fast and in a rather unstructured and impassioned way - system one in my brain at full tilt - it’ll do. It’ll have to.  If nothing else I’ve learnt how to do it next time.

Ironic isn’t it that with every presentation you (or I) do it’s only when you’ve done it you actually realise how you should have done it.