Something Fruity For a Friday

Just a short story about fun, friends and food.  We had a great time eating out with some lovely new friends, at a local pub. Nothing new there, other than a slightly odd experience with desserts.

Now, I continually say that I don’t have a sweet tooth. It’s not true, and I was sulking slightly because there was nothing on the menu that I fancied. With our friends having Banoffee Pie and a Cheese Board, my wife ordered her favourite – Raspberry Eton Mess. Now, there’s usually some excitement and anticipation about Eton Mess – it’s made in many different ways, and looks and tastes different depending on the chef.  But this one was very different. Unless I’m very much mistaken, it was  Strawberry Eton Mess.  Maybe in Theale they grow raspberries with the seeds on the outside. Or maybe not. They were definitely strawberries, and not raspberries.

And I still haven’t stopped laughing about it. When someone serves up completely the wrong fruit, doesn’t even mention it, and expects you not to notice, then I think I’ve a right to tell the story. Meritology talks about being distinctive. But what this pub did made them #standout for all the wrong reasons. There are 218 pubs in the Reading postcode district (thanks to for that statistic!), and we’ll be trying one of those next time. Maybe they’ll have raspberries in their Eton Mess. And maybe we’ll get what we ordered. Simple really.

The Centre Of Everything

Ever had a situation when someone made you think? And I mean really think. When you say to yourself – crikey, I hadn’t thought of that. They come up with either a brilliant idea, sparking suggestion, or just point out something you really hadn’t realised. Here are two of my examples:

First, the wonderful Jost from The Henley Partnership pointed out that we had the word “really” in seven of the titles for our 2015 learning events. So, when I’d stopped laughing at my occasional dopey side (I should have spotted that) we immediately changed the wording to something less repetitive and more obvious to the reader.

Second, we were at our Planning Day last week. By the way, that’s a very dull name for an event that’s great fun and brilliantly productive. I’m working on that! We bring together 20 HR and business professionals, from our 25 corporate members, working in groups to magically produce the rabbit from the hat – a programme of masterclass events and learning sessions that develops (fast) the capability of their directors. And one of our special guests made the following observation – “Mark, you don’t have many sessions about customers”. As observations go, it was pretty obvious. But it made me think. So hard that my head hurt. I’d argue that the customer agenda is implicit and even omnipresent. But is it really? Do we need to be very explicit about the fact that the customer is at the centre of everything we do? Otherwise, why do companies exist? What’s the point of doing business? You may define your customers differently, but we all have them. No disrespect to the third sector, or any company where the intent is about simply doing good, but I’m here to serve my customers. And I think most of you are too…

So I need to make sure we signpost the customer agenda, or run more events about that specific topic. Subconscious or conscious, we need the business brain to recognise that customers are the most important item on any agenda (the cognisance), and spend more time developing our ability to deliver the value they want and need (the capability). And then people like me need to spread the word about why customers are so important (the contagion). And hence this blog. I’ll get down from my soapbox now!

And P.S. thanks to the wonderful members of The Henley Partnership, for their wholehearted support and brilliant contributions to what we do. You are valued even more than you realise. Most of my ideas are inspired by yours.  And please keep making me think.

When Relaxation Kills Rapport

Yikes! Apologies for the slightly aggressive sounding blog today, but it helps me make the point. I’m just off the phone to a big motor dealer. I was enquiring about a vehicle they’ve just reduced in price.

Two things. Firstly, I got the usual “we’re getting loads of interest in this car, so I’d better see if it still available” line (we all want something more, if it’s high in demand or scarce, right?). I’m OK with that, mainly because it could actually be true. It’s a great car, at a good price. Secondly, I was asked if I’d been to the garage before, and spoken to any of their salespeople (because I guess each salesperson “owns” their own clients, or has to share commission if the customer has dealt with someone else previously).

Now, I seem to have a decent ability to make people feel relaxed when we’re chatting over the phone. And here’s what happened next. I said I’d only been before to wander around, and hadn’t spoken in detail to anyone. So he decided to laugh, and say that I’m “fair game then”. Ouch. I have visions of a small guy with a big gun. Slightly too aggressive. Unlikely to care about me as his customer.

Unfortunately, he killed our rapport stone dead. Like the animal his mind is hunting. And I don’t like being hunted. I might just turn and bare my teeth. Or at least be more stubborn about the deal we make.

OK, so we were relaxed, he was excited by a possible sale, and it’s just small talk. My point is simple. When involved in sales and service, be careful how much you relax. When relaxed, and without inhibitions, it’s amazing the daft things people say. And you don’t want to #standout for the wrong reasons.