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.