Monday, November 18, 2013

The Day I sparked a revolution!

I have always enjoyed blogging, but more for the pleasure of writing as opposed to a desire to change the world, but on a recent trip to London I discovered the full power of social media.

On a previous visit, I penned a blog entry about Starbucks (Anticipation is a dish best served hot). They had a made a change to my favourite breakfast sandwich and it sparked my ire. However, on a trip to London last week where I needed to grab breakfast on the go again, I had little choice but to return to Starbucks, partly because of their proximity to my location and partly because I remain "hooked" on "tall skinny mocha's with no whipped cream".

I searched for my old favourite, expecting to acquire and consume it with sub optimal satisfaction, knowing that the lack of sauce would make the meats taste dry. However, there was no sight of of this old sandwich. Instead, 3 new breakfast baps were visible on display. A bacon butty, a sausage butty and a Great English Breakfast sandwich. I was impressed with the new offerings and contemplated the bacon option, but was concerned about the meat being limp. I prefer my morning bacon crisp, the way the Americans do it. My eyes moved along to the sausage bap, and it certainly forced a tingle on my tongue, but in order not to make a mistake of gargantuan proportions,  I studied the final option ... the Great British Sandwich. This was not dissimilar to the breakfast I used to enjoy so much at Starbucks. Bacon, Sausage and egg. All the wholesome ingredients needed to start a good day, but there was no mention of sauce. Was I destined for disappointment again. Was I again going to be subjected to a moistureless meal? It was the same on all 3 offerings. None mentioned any sauce.

By this time, I was getting late. There was no time for procrastination and I had to make the difficult choice. Begrudgingly I selected the full breakfast option, asked for it to be heated and ordered my coffee. As I paid the amount due, the cashier asked me if I would like ketchup or brown sauce. After I had properly registered to significance of her question, I asked for ketchup and had to fight the restraint to leap for joy.

I received my sandwich and drink and continued on my way to my meeting enjoy a soft and moist sandwich that was bursting with the traditional flavours of an English morning and feeling proud of myself at what was no doubt a change made by the Setbacks company sparred on by my blog entry some months earlier.

I imagined he corporate board meeting at Starbucks headquarters in Seattle and the powers that be understanding the significance (and danger) of my powerful voice online and knowing that if they didn't address the concerns I so vociferously raised, there could be a mass exodus of customers from the chain in support of the little people against big corporations.

So hard evidence now exits that my voice on this blog carries significant weight and Starbucks was should be commended for listening and making a call to action and I am indeed proud of the mini revolution I (nearly) caused!

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Art of The Apology

How hard is it to say "I'm sorry"?

From my experience on being on the receiving end of a lacuna, it's extremely hard.

I started a new initiative in our business a few months ago. In an effort to better communicate our shift from being a product based company to a "customer experience" company, we began an initiative to move our standard product catalogues into a lifestyle magazine.

An initiative started several months ago has proven to be one of the most fun projects to work on. It drove collaboration and creativity within the company and really forced "the creatives" to think outside our traditional comfort zones and analyse deeply what experiences our customers value most during and after using our products (as opposed to their thoughts on the products themselves).

So after months of hard and detailed work, we had the final draft and sent it for printing ... and what a disappointment! When we received the finished result, a bunch of rushed excitedly to the conference room to see what the printer had delivered, but his sheer carelessness (there's a separate lesson for blindly going with the lowest bidder) ensured our pet project was undistributable.

What should have been our pride and joy. What should have come out as a bright, glossy, vivid magazine came out as dull and drab. The colours were off, the printing misaligned, and overall, it was an immense disappointment.

However, most disappointing of all, was the reaction of the printer. His initial response was to dismiss the errors we immediately found as a "one off". To challenge that, we tore through all the boxes and looked at numerous copies. Each one had fatal flaws ... yet the printer continued to defend his work.

As disappointing as the poor end result was, I was ready to be tolerant and accept that mistakes happen. All this printer had to do was accept and acknowledge his mistake, apologise, and agree that his responsibility was to remedy this. Unfortunately, getting an acknowledgment out of this guy (let alone an apology) was harder than squeezing blood from a stone.

Ultimately, he was forced to accept and will now be reprinting the whole batch at his cost, but due to his exceptionally poor attitude, he has lost us as a customer, and with that, any chance to regain the losses incurred from this job with future business.

I know that emotions and egos play a role in all of this, but on a strictly business matter, I am continuously baffled at how few companies actually take advantage of the chance to apologise and show their professionalism in pro-actively finding a solution for a problem caused. On the flip side, on the rare occasion that a company or company representative does do this, it usually impresses so much that they gain additional loyalty from me (despite the screw up).

It's a shame (or perhaps just a continuing opportunity for those who do this right) that more companies don't "man up" when they do something wrong and then deal with it and fix it effectively. In my experience, the worst that can happen ... an upset client yells for a while, but then HAS TO calm down as once you acknowledge the error, what more can he / she do?

Maybe (or maybe not), this printer has now learned a lesson, but in the meantime; good printing companies, please apply here if you want our business ... there's a vacancy!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Inane and Banal - but one is better than the other

I'm a big fan of movies, and Hollywood has certainly delivered some quality classics over time.  Gone With The Wind and Casablanca from a bygone era and Master And Commander and The Pursuit Of Happyness are a couple of my  contemporary favourites. One is a courageous story of leadership and the other a heartwarming tale of success despite extreme adversity. 

So it was time after a recent flight that I felt compelled to write this blog about a film I saw on board. A Good Day To Die Hard. 

I enjoy a good action movie, and in general, the Die Hard franchise has provided some pretty good movies to date. But this one,  even though I inexplicably sat through all of it,  was utter tripe. 

Tripe - no other word to describe it!
To give credit where it's due,  some action some action sequences were pretty incredible,  especially the car chase through Moscow,  but how stupid and ignorant do the producers and directors think their audience is for making the plot the way it was? 

I'm sure I will miss a number of points,  but I will try and recount the number of scenes where reality takes a complete back seat in this movie (and I'm not going to include parts were the baddies get hold of helicopter gunships and chase Bruce Willis through the streets with it,  destroying half the city,  while he still escapes unharmed,  save for a scratch on his head and a slightly dirtier white t-shirt.. because that is the essence of an action movie). But with this action,  there has to be some semblance of reality to keep the movie credible,  and to me this is the "art" behind good film making of this genre. 

Anyway,  so here's the list:

The central courtroom in Moscow is blown up and a subsequent car chase takes 3 cars (including an armoured vehicle) on a wild chase around the central streets of Moscow,  but there is a complete absence of any police presence... anywhere! 

Bruce Willis grabs a tough Muscovite in the middle of the street to commandeer his car,  and at 60 years old,  manages to knock the Muscovite out with a single punch... Yet later in the movie,  our "hero" is smacked in the head with the butt of a rifle (something that should have cracked his skull), but Bruce Willis just shakes this off with a chuckle. 

The plot then takes us to Chernobyl.  A place in Ukraine (that's a different country for those with the intelligence of which the movie was aimed),  and they reach there by car!  from Moscow!  in a couple of hours (let's not even get into the issue of them having to cross borders in a stolen car without documentation and carrying weapons!) !!!

Some of the baddies enter the closed reactor of the power plant wearing radiation suits,  but those immediately outside seem to think they are safe in normal clothes. Better still,  when those inside the reactor measure the levels of radiation (which shows as extremely high on their iPad... what app is that they used by the way?) they spray a magical liquid around and instantly the radiation levels drop to zero instantly so that they can remove their suits! I bet Gorbachev wishes he had access to that 25 odd years ago! 

During the climactic last fight, Bruce is thrown sideways from helicopter (from at least 50 feet high and more than 100 feet sideways, through a glass windows,  landing and sliding across rubble) and just gets up and shakes off the mild shock to the system and runs back into action. 

And at the end,  Bruce Willis and his son (his partner through the movie), just return home... after destroying huge sections of Moscow (and Ukraine) without any issue.... As we are supposed to take for granted the incompetence of the Russians that they must have let them go "scot free" and probably even thanked these two individuals for dealing with a problem that the entire Russian law enforcement and intelligence community were unable to. 

Now I am not a formal movie critic, and don't even claim to be a connoisseur of fine productions,  but I know crap when I see it,  and this was it! Action blockbusters are mostly pure fiction and meant for entertainment,  and I'm the first to defend holes in plots as they make the storytelling easier,  but taking it to a level of insulting the intelligence of the viewer just makes me angry. 

I'll readily admit that  sometimes, I quite like watching brainless rubbish,  but the plots need to have some level of credibility. Indeed,  on the same flight as I just mentioned, I watched (and enjoyed)  another movie of questionable cultural relevance called Cockneys Vs Zombies... and to prove I can appreciate inane rubbish, I'll confess that I loved it! 

Great entertainment!

Set in East London,  zombies take over the area and a couple of immature wide boys and a group of OAP's (pensioner's) in an old people's home fight off the invasion. 

It's banal to the extreme, but made with good humour so you don't need to question it. You just laugh at the situation,  like how a man on a zimmer frame out runs a pursuing zombie. 

great comedy
Cockneys Vs Zombies caught the essence of London's East End culture and stereotype like any good guy Ritchie flick and gelled it with the violence and gore of a Tarantino offering,  and put it all together with some classic British humour to make a thoroughly entertaining movie that you could watch and enjoy without needing it to be credible. 

So much so, that ironically,  I bought more into believing the zombies movie than I did the Die Hard movie.

Come on Hollywood, time (and audiences) have moved on. You need to do better!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

My moan for the month!

So I played my son at Call of Duty (COD) this weekend and got suitably battered!

I still love playing video games myself, but am more a fan of sports games (versus my son's love for battle games). Also, because of my lack of time I play quick games and mostly on my mobile devices with touch screens, so what chance did I have against my battle hardened son on our PS3 and a game like COD?

I like to think I am still young (at heart and physically), but picking up that controller ages me instantly! I grew up in the early days of TV consoles and my "weapon" of choice was the classic Atari controller. A simple 8 way joystick and one action button. The controllers of today leave my mind boggling. What is going on with those things? I cannot understand how "youngsters" these days can get to grips with them and work with them so fast (and I feel aged by simply discussing this and having to refer to the next generation as "youngsters").

COD controls on the PS3

perhaps the only answer?
I try to get a hang on the functions beyond the basic functions of motion, looking around and then shooting, but by the time I work out in my head how to reload, select a weapon, crouch down or simply  understand where I am on the landscape, my son has pounced down a hill, come up behind me and slit my throat with his knife. He also commands drones and A10 bombers at will, and has an Arsenal of weapons on call depending on the situation and how he would like to execute his opponent. It's a tremendous act of concentration, hand to eye coordination and finger dexterity and I question how the humble human had of only 5 fingers can manage this kind of control at all.

It's actually very cool to see in action  ... the only reason I'm moaning about it is because I am jealous I can't do the same!

Monday, May 13, 2013

It's not fare !

For those who know me well, my diary planning is done (anally) well in advance. This gives me some benefits, but also (frustratingly) limits my flexibility. I am trying to change. I am trying to allow for some more spontaneity in my life, but but its very nature, spontaneity can't be planned for ... and sometimes there is a price to pay!

My travel planning is done at my desk with my calendar open on month view on a large screen. I have different coloured categories to highlight different countries I visit, and this makes it visually easy to see which territories I have covered (and have not covered) recently, so I just add additional blocks where I see gaps and just make sure I keep to my commitment of sufficient time at home.

The downside of this became apparent last week just before I was due to fly to London. I was booked on the first Emirates flight in the morning to London. It's a good flight. You suffer the pain of waking up at 5am, but this gets you practically a full day in London as a result ... and 7 to 8 hours on an A380 is no hardship, and allows for sufficient opportunity to relax and recharge before arrival.

Emirates has a plethora of flights that leave between 9-10am each day, and most of my trips allow me to depart during that window. The biggest single advantage of that being that I can take my daughter to school and then carry on to the airport. 45 valuable and cherished minutes in the morning which we thoroughly enjoy together.

Last week, however, I said good bye to the kids at bedtime to be ready for my 5.30am departure to the airport in the morning ... only to wake up at 2am with the sudden realisation that it was a bank holiday in the UK! I had a full diary planned in London for the week, bu this day of arrival had been reserved in my diary to visit the passport office ... something that would now be futile.

But now my brain was awake, so my body was quick to follow. As long as I was alert at this time, I could be productive and catch up on some pending tasks, and then catch up on the pending sleep abord the plane.

I called Emirates to ask if they could move me to their flight that left 2 hours later. The one that would allow me to get to the airport via my daughters school. Being a newly recognised "Platinum" member (and probably also because it was 2.30am), I was dealt with quickly and promptly.

I was told there was availability on the flight I wanted and my ticket was transferrable and the correct fare class to move to the new flight ... but there would be a GBP200 flight change fee!

Now I understand commercial logic, and Emirates is a business and I don't begrudge them setting these "fare conditions". It is their right (as it is for any airline) and they are running an growing very successfully, but I would have thought they cold look to build in some allowances that might allow for a human "soft" touch.

In this case, it's the middle of the night and they have 2 planes leaving (one in 6 hours and one in 8 hours) and both have seats available on them ... I wouldn't have thought that it would hurt them to allow a move (for a Platinum premium class traveller) without a penalty.

I do understand they are a large airline carrying tens of millions of passengers a year and they can't legislate in a manual somewhere on how to deal with possible exceptions, but I would have simply thought they could empower some front line staff to use their initiative. It happens in some exceptional companies (Four Seasons hotel and Zappos to name just 2 examples) and makes a massive impact on customers and their resultant loyalty.

At the end of this, I come out frustrated, but remembering for myself to keep preaching to all in my business and especially the front line staff;  business is not about (or should not be about) systems and processes and following guidelines set forth in a manual .  It should solely be about delighting the customer ... and from that the rest will follow.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The lady who wasn't for turning

I was just 8 years old when I went with my parents to the polling station near our home in North London. I knew nothing of politics, nor the economic trauma that the UK was suffering from other than experiencing the power cuts we had been having at home. Over candle light, I was told about the reasons and explained about the 3 day week. At the polling station, my mum and dad each took me into the booths with them and guided me as to which name to mark an "X" against. At that age, to me, the name I marked may as well have been Mickey Mouse, but it turned out the choice of Margaret Thatcher was significant and historical. The next morning, I remember waking up with my father excitedly showing me the newspaper, letting me know that I had voted in Great Britain's first female Prime Minister.

Maggie Thatcher reigned supreme throughout my school days and my formative years of having any interest in politics and her influence formed many of my opinions on economics and international affairs. It was a time of economic turmoil in the UK with trade unions destroying he countries competativeness and the Cold War raging on Europe's Eastern front, and this formidable lady led the country with energy and guts and by example through some of the best years it has ever seen.

Through strikes, wars and European Union, Maggie Thatcher led with conviction and selflessness. In comparison to the bulk of todays politicians who appear to be concerned only about their own image, legacy and their next election, the Iron Lady always did what she thought was right. Her fight to reach the top was not easy and she had scant regard for popularity contests … for her this was a cause, to which she dedicated her life. She made Britain great again following a time that it had been on its knees.

With especial consideration to the time during which she led, she cut a divisive figure. Loved by some but despised by others, I find it hard to believe that today people look back on her legacy and still don't unanimously agree that she was game changer for Britain, and for the better. She led Britain to economic and political power globally. She stood shoulder to shoulder with Ronald Reagan and Mikhael Gorbachev. She had a cabinet that is, in my opinion, yet to be matched in terms of strength, ability and confidence, and led them with a confidence that had not been seen since Winston Churchill and certainly has not been repeated since.

Her "downfall" after 11 years in charge may have been inevitable. During her time, the country had changed. The Britain that Maggie had inherited had long gone and in its place was a more prosperous land. There was new confidence in the people around her who felt they may be better placed to take the reigns. People who felt Maggie had had her time and felt she was no longer in touch with the political needs of the country. During this time the geo-political landscape had turned almost 180 degrees and while I personally don't agree that Mrs. Thatcher had lost her touch, change is inevitable and change is (for the most part) good, so perhaps her time had duly run its course. It's just such a shame in how her term came to end. While it would have been appropriate for her to have a respectful send off for all she did for the country and the world, it may in fact have been fitting that she went down fighting rather than gradually disappearing into the distance. She wasn't the type to roll over to the whims of others.

Margaret Thatcher, a grocers daughter from Grantham made more than a mark on the world and played an influential role in my life … not only from own personal learnings, but also from being able to benefit from living in the better and safer world that she was so instrumental in creating and shaping.

Thank you Maggie… Even if you aren't missed by all, you will certainly never be forgotten.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A new WEIGH to fly

I delayed posting this entry to avoid it being taken as an April Fools joke.

Samoa Air just announced a revolutionary new fare policy for their flights ... "Pay as you weigh".

Personally, I think its a stroke of genius. no doubt controversial, but it makes perfect commercial sense and is a bold move by a marginal carrier in doing something really innovative in airline ticket pricing.

A slimmed down version of me can obviously see the benefits of this, but my larger brethren will no doubt be the ones who see fault in this change.

I fly frequently, and usually with little luggage, but I have also been caught out sometimes with excess. This pinches me most, not because of the extortionate amounts airlines charge for this, but for 2 other reasons:

1) I fly so often without using my baggage "allowance" that I feel I should somehow get credit for that on the few occasions I go over (after all, the airline is making additional profit on my seat on those days I am travelling "lite"), and

2) Airlines profitability (amongst several other technical things) is based upon filling capacity at the minimum weight possible, but there are those that are heavier than others and that will affect the flight economics, and yet the baggage allowance granted to all is the same!

As the airline put it themselves,"You are the master of your airfare ... Your weight plus your baggage items is what you pay for. Simple."

They say they are keeping airfares fair, and I think that sounds right. Turn up at the airport, put your luggage on the scales, pop on the scales then yourself and your ticket price is calculated.

I do see some technical issues with this in so far as how you book in advance! I suppose you have to put your weight into the booking system and get your fare. There are bound to be a number of ladies (and some gents) trying to get away with white lies at that point, and then how tactful do the check in staff have to be with those culprits when they turn up at the check in desk!

I dont see this transforming the airline industry worldwide overnight ( I am guessing Samoa Air can get away with it as they are presumably a virtual monopoly where they fly), but I think it is very interesting to see a traditional business take a really fresh look at how things are done and be courageous enough to challenge a generations old status quo.

I think that's good innovation and I hope it works for them ... it's good enough motivation for me to keep the weight off!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Honest Abe

I've been "away" for a while. Busy with work and (surprisingly) there has been little of late to inspire back to writing, until my last flight to Moscow.

I had the pleasure to watch the movie 'Lincoln".

One of my great regrets in life is not paying enough attention to History in school. Its a subject I thoroughly enjoy, and am fortunate to have a second chance to study it now through my kids. While my interest and knowledge has grown tremendously in the years since I left full time education, the focus of my learnings has been more on Europe history … I have very little knowledge about the far flung British colony that Christopher Columbus discovered by accident when he was actually looking for India!

The movie of Lincoln tells the incredible tale of how "Honest Abe" was resolute in his fight to free the slaves. With the Civil War raging, he was man of clear principle who didn't back down under untold pressure until what was right was done.

Many will know the story already, and as its historical, there is no spoiling the story by revealing that Lincoln succeeded in this noble quest, but the telling of how it was down is remarkable.

It was a different time and then only resemblance's of todays politics with those of old were that corruption is / was rampant and that the majority of politicians are pompous windbags who are self serving without truly considering or reflecting the desires of their constituents.

What is notably different is how the President of the United States, even at a time of Civil War, could move about freely in his own country without an entourage of security,allowing him the freedom to truly connect with the populace.

Of course this "freedom" suited a character like Abraham Lincoln … he used that opportunity for "good".

So this movie touched me, not only by its story (of which I wasn't aware previously), but also by its telling. Lincoln is an exceptional production. A story so beautifully told and filmed on sets that give us a real feel of what the country would have felt and looked like a century or more ago at a time of great strife. There are no glamorous costumes and great reproductions of the interior of the White House … instead the film is played in a remarkably "honest" environment and is backed up by some superlative acting performances, namely from Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field, but it is capped by a masterful rendition of the great leader himself by Daniel Day Lewis.

Now I know that this is the movie most prevalent in my mind right now, and I will be doing a great injustice to a number of movies and actors that don't spring to mind, but I rank this as one of the compelling acting performances I have ever seen. Mr. Lewis portrays a man who is clearly troubled by the state of his nation. A man who wants to right a grave human injustice and takes the responsibility to do this, despite the great cost involved. He also manages to show a real human side to the President who is also a caring father and husband. He does this all and yet leaves us in no doubt that Abraham Lincoln was a leader and a good man and the acting (by everyone) never betrays that we are watching a story from a time gone by.

Thanks to all of those who made this movie and have given us a great new piece of performance art … I now only wish I had seen it on a "big screen"

Monday, January 14, 2013

Fortune in misfortune

Christmas in London was crazy. Meeting friends and family, and trying to slot in a few working hours and some miscellaneous long pending tasks. One of these was to renew my passports. I had put this off for a long time, dreading the infamous long queues and more importantly the inconvenience of being without my passports for a number of weeks.

Fortunately, my father, by circumstance, was forced to renew his passport a few weeks earlier and shared with me what a pleasant, smooth and fast process this was ... So early on 2 January I went to the passport office and that same afternoon I had 2 brand new passports ready for travel.

Feeling relaxed and knowing I wouldn't have to do this again for a few more years, I was caught off guard this morning at Heathrow airport when checking in for my flight to Moscow. I was not accepted for travel having a (valid) visa in a cancelled passport! With some important meetings that I needed to attend in Moscow this week, I couldn't afford to just abort my trip, so started calling around and finding out what to do (full credit to Aeroflot staff for their friendly and helpful attitude ... they could have made it so much worse!).

I received differing information from this process taking 2 days, to being available the next day, to getting this done within 2 hours. Having this unplanned day free in London by default, I decided to chase the option of 2 hours. I left my check in suitcases in the left luggage at Heathrow and rushed by train and tube to Notting Hill Gate to meet the Russian National Tourist Office. I was greeted there by some very friendly Russian ladies who did assure me that I will have the visa in my new passport within 2 hours. I checked for flight availability, and there was indeed an option to travel the next morning, meaning I was only going to lose 8 working hours ... which I could make up at the tail end of the week.

Feeling relieved, I went to find a decent cafe in the neighbourhood where I could wait out this 2 hours until my passport was ready. I wanted wi-fi, so considered the usual suspects of Starbucks, Cafe Nero and EAT when I passed a nice looking "shop" called Recipease. It appeared to be owned (or branded, or licensed, or franchised by Jamie Oliver).

As I walked in, I was hit by the unmistakable smell of delicious freshly baked bread. It was beautifully laid out with a pizza oven at the back and a plethora of different foods around the store. I asked a friendly helper who approached me if they had a restaurant and if they had wi-fi. Upstairs and yes she answered. I climbed the stairs and made myself comfortable as I waited for my travel matters to be sorted out.

The menu was excellent. Some light and healthy fare mixed with some wholesome filling main dishes. I opted for the Crispy Haddock Sandwich which was served on a seeded bun with lettuce, mushy peas and tartar sauce. It was fresh and crunchy, but the bun was huge! Maybe it's my aging years, but I ended up eating the "sandwich" with a knife and fork and only the bottom half of the bun (I would have mocked such a diner in my formative years).

The staff were well trained, knowledgeable about the food, polite and helpful. The restaurant was comfortable and homely ... it was a lovely find by chance and I hop to be going back again on future trips, perhaps with time and opportunity to explore the shop downstairs.

Right now, my phone has just rung and my passport is ready to collect.