Believe in Better

On Saturday evening we went to hear my good friend Lauren Currie speak at the University of Dundee. Lauren is one of the people who’ve inspired me on my journey in the world of design over the last decade, so it’s always a delight to see her.

When she introduces herself on stage she’ll typically say, “I’m Lauren Currie and I believe in better”. It’s a simply phrase, but one that sits at the core of everything she is and does.

Lauren has this ability to make you look at the world in a different way, to see the things that aren’t working, and then to do something about it. All with a focus on social change and making our world better.

It’s become a mantra for me too over the past few years. It’s why I do what I do. Why I get involved in the things that I do. It’s a question I ask of myself each and every day – are you really making things better today?

Let me explain.

My world is the world of business. It’s where I’ve spent the last 30 years of my life. For several years I’ve been trying to find my ‘thing’. Where can I make most impact; how can I help people the most?

It was staring me in the face, and it was my son & business partner Andy who helped me to see it. You see, I’m an accountant. Always have been and always will be. An accountant with an ability to communicate often complex things in an easy to understand way. An accountant who’s embraced the world of design and who believes in better.

That’s why we setup our accounting business last year. We could see that the world of accounting wasn’t delivering what customers needed. Accounting needed to change and we were up for the challenge of leading the way.

We’re now 9 months into the journey and I believe that we’re making a difference. But there’s still lots to be done. We’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Do you believe in better? How can you use your skills and experience to make a positive difference? I’d love to hear your thoughts….

Let’s talk about paper

It’s been a week of talking about paper. Specifically, organisations that continue to insist on printing & sending information to customers, whether they like it or not.

In 2018 there’s really no excuse for doing that. The common refrain is, “well, we’ve always done it like that”. However that doesn’t mean you should be.

Last weekend I recorded a video about accountants posting financial statements to their clients for signing, without any explanation of what these statements mean. It’s a practice that many accountants have used for decades, but what we found in our research before we launched Ashton McGill was that clients really dislike this. They often don’t understand what they’re being asked to sign, it feels cold and impersonal, and there’s no attempt to explain or educate.

That video generated a lot of interest and people shared their individual stories with us. We got a bunch of enquiries on the back of it, and so for we’ve won 3 new clients as a result. There’s a message there for the luddites who insist on continuing to send stuff out in the mail……

The second example this week was a local college whose finance department insist on posting paper invoices out to customers. This seems to be a practice that many education institutions still use. They also expected us to phone them to make payment. I mean, really?!? Their process couldn’t have been less customer-friendly if they had tried.

And yet we see this sort of thing time and time again. Systems designed around the needs of the organisation, without any thought for the user or customer. Systems that are never reviewed, they just do it that way because……..well, because that’s how they’ve always done it.

Surely we can do better than that? You have my email address, you know my name, company, and our physical address (because you insist on mailing stuff there!), so why not email me a copy instead? It’s costing you money to post documents to me. Not only the paper cost, the ink, the envelope, the postage, but also the cost of someone’s time to do this.

Then I’ve got to do something with the paper documents. I’ll sign them if I have to (assuming I understand what I’m signing!), scan them, then email them back to you (see the irony there?) before shredding them. What a waste of time.

So, come on. If you’re the recipient of this type of behaviour, then insist they change (unless you like receiving mail!). And if you’re printing, stuffing envelopes, sticking on a stamp, then mailing them – ask yourself why? More importantly, ask your customers what they want.

We don’t need to print. Not only will it save you time, it’s also better for the environment. It’s time to be better.

Making life easier

Dundee’s a great place to live, we’re well connected by road & rail (just need to work on air!), which means that most of Scotland is little more than an hour away.

These days I prefer to take the train wherever possible. It’s less stressful than driving, and it means that I can get some work done, or catch up on reading and writing whilst I travel. Or, like last Wednesday evening, have a nap – you can’t do that if you take the car!

Travelling means that you’re going to be using a variety of services to get from A to B, and last week it struck me how much easier my life is today compared to even just a couple of years ago thanks to well designed services.

Here’s the story of my day.

5.15am Got up far too early, although anything after 5am now feels like a lie-in – that’s what marathon training does for you!

6.20am Get in the car, drive to Perth. Decide to try and park at the railway station itself – save a long walk later when I get back (I have an easy run to do this evening!).

6.45am Arrive at Perth Station. Plenty of parking spaces. Walk over to the parking meter to find that they now use the Ringo app, so I can park without any of the hassle of putting cash in the meter. Lovely!

6.50am Grab a coffee from the new Costa. It’s not Gordon Street Coffee, which is nestled next to the entrance to Glasgow’s Central Station, but it’s a big step up from the manky old station cafe!

6.55am Collect tickets, which I’d bought online on the Trainline app

7.00am Get on the train, get the MacBook out, hook into the free Scotrail wifi, and get to work!

8.20am Arrive at Glasgow Queen St, having got a tonne of work done, including a blog post on business partners, which I not only wrote but also posted whilst travelling, as well as engaging with commenters on social media!

8.30am Walk to Tinderbox in the Merchant City. Grab a flat white and fire off a few more emails.

9.15am Order an Uber from my phone.

9.20am Uber arrives. Have a great chat with the driver on my way to the east end. Turns out his wife’s family are from Dundee and he used to run a shop in Invergowrie!

9.27am Arrive at Rogart St. Uber takes the fee automatically and I access the app to leave a 5 star recommendation for the driver, thank him for his banter, and leave him a tip.

9.28am Realise there are two Rogart Streets (separated by a big building) and I’m in the wrong one! Phone Angela, let her know, then walk round. Google maps let me down (although maybe it was me, not paying attention….)

11.30am Finish a great meeting, call an Uber.

11.35am Uber arrives. Chat to my driver, John Paul, on the way into town. He offers we some chewing gum and asks if I’d like to charge my phone. I learn that he’s ‘running his own business’ with Uber as it gives him more time with his 6 year-old daughter. He likes Uber, it makes it easy for him and he doesn’t have to deal with drunk idiots.

11.50am John Paul drops me at Buchanan Street. I message Diane to let her know I’m on my way for lunch.

12pm Arrive at Princes square for lunch with the lovely people from Xero and several of their other accounting partners. We talk about all sorts of stuff, including many of the apps that make up the Xero ecosystem. These apps enable us to tailor Xero to each client’s specific needs. Compared to the inflexibility of Sage this is a total game-changer!

2.40pm Send a DM to Craig to let him know I’m running a little late for our coffee meeting.

3.05pm Arrive at Wilson St Pantry back in the Merchant City. I’ve had too much coffee today, so order a Red Bush tea. Craig orders peppermint tea. Rock ’n roll! I’ve known my namesake Craig McGill for the best part of a decade now. Most of our chats these days are online via twitter or LinkedIn, so it’s good to catch up in the flesh. The hour or so we spend goes by in a flash. I leave feeling energised and inspired.

4.41pm Catch the train back to Perth. Reply to a few emails (thanks to the free wifi again), then get my headphones out, pop on some City & Colour, and then snooze until we get back to the Fair City.

5.45pm Walk out of the station to my car. Jump in, head home, then get out for my run.


Now just imagine what my day would have been like five or so years ago.

Firstly, you could never get parked at Perth Station! Then you’d need a handful of pound coins to park, assuming you were lucky enough to find a space and a working parking meter.

Forget getting decent coffee.

Then the taxi experience. The last time I jumped in a black cab in Glasgow (May of this year), the driver had dropped the F-bomb at least a dozen times before we’d even made it past George Square! And the taxi was mingin’.

I know Uber aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you take their culture and behaviour out of the equation, the concept behind the service is pretty damn good! Every time I’ve got in an Uber in Scotland the service has been significantly better than the traditional taxi experience.

Then the train. Free wifi is something that we take for granted these days, but it makes a huge difference to the travel experience. I’m always grateful when I get connected.

Even the simple messaging tools that we have today make our lives easier – twitter, whatsapp, even good old texting make a difference. I grew up in Perth, and met my wife Joanna there when we were at school (1986!). As you may know, Perth has two public parks known as Inches – the North & South Inch. One day back then Joanna and I had arranged to meet at the statue at the Inch. Only she’d assumed the South and I’d assumed the North. As hormonal teenagers, we both thought we’d been stood up! No text messages in those days…..

So life is undoubtedly easier today in many ways, and businesses like Uber, Airbnb and even Scotrail are succeeding by focusing on making their customers lives easier.

So here’s my question for you – what are you doing to make your customers, or users / visitors, lives easier?

Why are you still charging by the hour?

When I worked for Ernst & Young back in the early 90s, we had to account for every 10 minutes of our time. Each hour equated to 6 units, and we had a weekly target of billing a minimum of 75% of chargeable time.

In reality, most of us were billing over 100% of our time – working 70-80 hours, that was how you got on in the firm back then. Time was our currency.

The legal profession worked on similar principals, charging clients for the amount of time spent. It was a model that worked really well for the Professions – you could plan with certainty and huge profits were made.

Little has changed over the past 20 years.

So why do I have a problem with charging for time? Quite simply, it rewards inefficiency. The longer you spend on something, the more it costs me as the client. Where’s the incentive for you to innovate, to think out of the box? No, it’s easier just to load time onto the client.

But the world has changed. That kind of behaviour is no longer acceptable.

However the majority are still doing it and that’s where the opportunity lies. Modern firms think like businesses. They’re designed around the needs of the clients, not the needs of the firm.

Pricing is fixed. As the client, you know exactly how much you’re paying and what you’re getting for that. It’s much fairer. If you can innovate and find more cost-effective ways of delivering your service, then that’s absolutely fine. As long as both parties recognise the value that’s being delivered, at a fair price, then no-one will have a problem.

The days of the accountant & lawyer dictating terms are over. For those that don’t adapt, it’ll be a bleak future. Put the client front and centre. Focus on delivering value.

It’s what every other kind of business has to do, now it’s time for you to think like a business too…..

Daily(ish) CX Review – La Fabrica, Girona, Spain

Thursday 27th April 2017
Service – Coffee & food
What they did well – In a word, everything! La Fabrica is a coffee shop (but it’s SO much more than that!) in Girona, Spain. It’s the brainchild of former professional cyclist Christian Meier and his wife Amber, an enclave for the many English-speaking professional cyclists that live in Girona (65 according to one google search!), and a destination for cyclo-tourists and visitors to the City. As a former bike racer (purely amateur!), coffee has always been a big part of cycling for me, so when we found La Fabrica on our long weekend visit last week, I was in heaven.
The coffee was amazing. The cakes, to die for. They also stock a fine selection of cycling merchandise. I could happily live there. And the service each time we visited was fantastic! Amber even shared the recipe with me for the truly outstanding breakfast bowl that I had on Sunday morning. I can’t praise them highly enough.
What wasn’t so good – My only criticism, now that I’m back in Dundee, is that there isn’t one over here. Can we tempt you Christian & Amber? This is Scotland’s sunniest City, and according to GQ Magazine, we’re the ‘coolest little city in the UK’. You know you want to…..
Any other relevant details – What struck us as soon as we found La Fabrica was how much thought had been put into its design. The cafe is up a cobbled street, in a stunningly beautiful old building in Girona’s historic old town. The internal fit out is just perfect. The black ceiling compliments the old stone walls, and the cycling memorabilia is tastefully displayed. Some cycling cafes overdo it, but not at La Fabrica.
The attention to detail is evident everywhere you look. We’ll definitely be going back to Girona, and one of our first stops will be La Fabrica. Until then, we have our memories of this divine oasis.
Score – 10/10 

Daily CX Review – Run4It, Dundee

Wednesday 18th April 2017
Business – Run4It, Dundee
Service – Buying clothing
What they did well – It’s been so cold in the mornings lately. I needed to buy a new long-sleeved running jersey as I’ve got a few thermal tops, but only a couple that will do when the temperature is in the low single digits.
For several years now I’ve been a customer of Run4It, stretching back to 2006 when I met Duncan Riddoch, who’s one of the owners – I was an organiser of the very first Garioch 10k, and they were one of the sponsors.
The service at Run4It is always good. The staff are keen runners themselves, and take an interest in the customer. They’re not pushy or in your face like some retail staff can be. They let you know that they’re available if you need any help. We always end up chatting about our training and races. It’s more than just going into a shop – you feel welcomed and with your ‘tribe’.
I got my jersey – a charcoal Ron Hill number, and picked up a couple of gels.
What wasn’t so good – Not their fault, but the parking down at Dock Street and the Waterfront just now is a royal pain in the ass. That’s something that we’ve got to look forward to for the next couple of years. It must affect their trade?
Any other relevant details – Run4It have always been good at connecting with the local running community. Sure, I could go online and probably buy the same product a little cheaper, but I feel good about supporting the local store. I know that I’ll need to change my shoes in a couple of hundred miles, and I’ll be going back to Run4It to get measured up and have my running gait checked on their fancy machine. You don’t get that experience online!
Score – 9/10

Daily CX Review – Starbucks, Dundee

Tuesday 18th April 2017

Business – Starbucks, Overgate Centre, Dundee

Service – Coffee & muffin (it was skinny, don’t judge me!)

What they did well – The staff are always friendly here. I visit quite often when I’m in town, so a few of them know me and will smile and say hi. Little, personal, touches like that make a difference.

What wasn’t so good – I don’t like the size of the coffees that Starbucks sell, they’re just too big and milky for my taste. However, I noticed that they’ve recently added the ‘short’ size to the menu. I had a ‘short’ latte at the end of last week, and it was just the right size for a latte. Progress.

Any other relevant details – one of the reasons that I use Starbucks is that they make it easy for me. I have a Starbucks card, with my account set to always have £20 of credit on my card. The card is linked to the Starbucks App, which lets me pay directly from the app. I believe that it’s also possible to order from the App, although I’ve not tried that yet. Want to build loyal customers? Make it easy for them!

Score – 8/10