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….

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…..

Edinburgh’s Trams are not a good User Experience!

We went to Edinburgh yesterday. When we go at the weekend, we tend to make use of the park & ride at Ingliston and take the Tram in to the City Centre. It saves paying a ridiculous amount for parking, and it’s a lot less stressful.

Over the past couple of years I’ve observed the process of buying a ticket for the tram. It’s terrible, and it seems as though no thought has been given to the passenger – particularly if they’re from overseas. For many people arriving at Edinburgh Airport, the tram will be their first experience with Scottish hospitality, and it’s not a good one.

First of all, there are signs saying that you MUST buy a ticket before you get on the tram. However, if you’re not a native English speaker, then there’s a good chance that you’ll miss these, and then run the risk of a fine (or on-board ticket as the website calls it) of £10.

The number of times we’ve arrived at Ingliston just as a tram is pulling in, and been unable to get on because we haven’t got a ticket yet, must be into double figures. In the winter, when the wind whips through, those 10-15 minutes can be awful. So cold!

I’ve noticed visitors from Japan & America struggle to pay with their cards – which don’t have chip & pin – at the ticket machines. The little keyboard that you’re meant to enter your PIN on is also too low – unless you happen to be 5′ 2″.

Today, on our way back to Ingliston, we witnessed a ridiculous situation. A young German girl had got on at Princes St without a ticket. The ‘Ticket Services Assistant’, to be fair to him, didn’t try to charge her £10. Instead, he gave her change so that she could get off the tram, buy a ticket, and then get back on the next tram. Is that really how we should be treating visitors to our country?

I think the trams are great, let’s get that out there. It’s just that NO THOUGHT has been given to making this a simple process for the user. It’s been designed entirely with the needs of the Tram Company at the core, and in my view that’s COMPLETELY THE WRONG WAY AROUND. It needs to be designed around the User’s needs – make it easy for them.

Have you used the Trams? What’s been your experience? Let me know!

6 hours on a train for a 90 minute meeting

Yesterday I took the train to Newcastle for a meeting. We’d been introduced after I spoke at an event in the City back in November, and had a great Skype call before Christmas. The next logical thing to do was meet face to face, so we could have a more in-depth conversation. It was also important to physically meet, not just speak online, as we may well end up working together.

The train journey from Dundee was three hours each way, and I got a tonne of work done! It was one of the most productive days I’ve had in a long time, with few interruptions. I’ll let you in on a secret – I was really looking forward to my time on the train!

It might seem crazy to go all that way for a 90 minute meeting, but I’m really glad that I did. Not only because we had a great conversation, but also because I used the time wisely.

Some of you reading this will be old enough to recall Mark McCormack’s book, What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School. Mark was the founder of IMG, the sports management giant, who built his business in the early days by managing the legendary golfer Arnold Palmer.

Mark was a great believer in jumping on a plane and flying to the other side of the US, just to meet someone face to face. In my experience people respect the fact that you’ve made the effort.

Have you ever done this? Travelled a long way just for one meeting? Do you think it’s still important in our online world in 2017?

Let me know your thoughts.

Gallery 48 delivers yet again

It was the autumn of 2015, when Mackie invited Mike Press, myself and Taylor Stillie for lunch in the D’Arcy Thomson to talk about a new venture he was working on. I still worked at the University at the time, Mike was still Head of Design Policy at DJCAD, and Taylor was the SIE intern. Mackie had plans to take over the old Westport Gallery shop and turn it into a Tapas bar and art gallery.

After a most enjoyable, and delicious, lunch we walked down the road and stepped into the shell of the old shop. Mackie had a vision for what he wanted to do with the space. Keep it clean, minimal, white walls so that most types of art will work. As he showed us around, it was as though he was seeing the finished article in his minds-eye, such was the clarity with which he described it.

Fast forward 18 months and Gallery 48 is now firmly established on Dundee’s culinary map. It’s a favourite of ours, the chilled vibe, friendly staff and amazing food combining to make it a wonderful experience. Not only does it serve amazing food, but under the watchful eye of DJCAD graduate Kristen Neillie, Gallery 48 also has its own program of events including Spanish lessons for kids and jewelry classes (there’s one on Mothers Day).

Today we parked the car at the Uni and wandered down Westport. Andy hadn’t been before, and after having a damn good start to the year, we decided that we’d celebrate with lunch before he caught the train back to Glasgow.  We were met by Julian, who runs the front of house, and shown to our table. Julian remembered me from previous visits, which is always a nice touch. We’d also spoken on Saturday as I was making my way back to the car having spent a couple of hours in town. He was standing outside the entrance with a tray of Serrano ham and homemade bread, tempting passers-by. I crossed the street to say hi, and sample the amazing food.

Andy loves his food and is a great cook himself, so he was in food heaven. Julian took us through some of the new dishes on the menu, all of which sounded amazing. One day I need to go in with enough people that we can order everything on the menu and sample it all! But I digress.

We asked about a couple of dishes – it’s not your typical British tapas. These are delicacies from different parts of Spain, old family recipies. We know this because Julian told us about a few of them, which are his mum’s recipe! His parents run a restaurant in Madrid, and these are Mama’s dishes. We ordered half a dozen, but it was so hard to choose.

The food arrived, and as expected it was amazing. Bursting with flavour! At one point Andy said that this was possibly the best food he had ever tasted. Coming from him, that’s pretty amazing!

We were driving today, so couldn’t sample the wines. Mackie and his team have curated a fantastic collection of Spanish wines, beers, and spirits, so when Andy and Becca move to Dundee in a couple of months we’ll definitely be back to make up for it.

As you know, I spend my life helping people to design great customer experiences. Well, there’s absolutely no need for my services at Gallery 48. Every time we’ve dined it’s been a wonderful experience. It’s not forced, it just feels right. There’s a family feel – you could easily be in Mama’s restaurant in Madrid. I always leave wanting to go back again soon. Which I’ll be doing.

These days it’s rare to have a good experience in a restaurant in the UK. We really noticed the difference when we were in New York last year – the standard of service there was unlike anything we’re used to in the UK. However Gallery 48 is right up there, every time.

If you’ve not been before, then you really should go. And if you do, try the Migas, and the Tenderstem broccoli, and the Chorizo. Ah shit, just try everything, it’s all delicious!

Going the extra mile

Yesterday afternoon I ran a customer experience workshop. In the second segment we broke the Customer Journey down into four phases – before, beginning, during & after, and looked in detail at what happens at each stage.

Most businesses focus on the sale and then getting the service delivered, then move on to the next sale. They don’t understand that a service is much more complicated than that. Instead, they focus on following the processes laid down. We heard some crazy stories yesterday about phone companies and delivery businesses and how they were making life miserable for customers. Why don’t people get that this is important?

We talked about the way the market views an industry – as customers, we make assumptions of how your company will behave based on our past experiences, stories we’ve heard, the emotional baggage that we bring. Very few companies realise this, so they don’t do anything about it. However, for those that do, and B&Q were an example that several people shared yesterday, then the rewards can be huge.

I remember B&Q as being a typical builders merchants, however it seems that in the past decade they’ve transformed. I remember them embracing the older worker and it seems that this has been a big win for them. They’ve hired people with life experience, helpful people who care and who want to help others. They also run classes, not just for adults, but for kids too.

When you think about it, that’s a genius move. They’ve differentiated themselves from other builders merchants. I now want to go into one of their stores and have a wander around.

We also spoke about how several of the motor franchises now have a very slick customer experience. I saw this first-hand on Friday when my car was in at John Clark Mini for its service. Whilst the process might be laid down by the manufacturer, the people on the front line still have to deliver it. Each time my car has been in to the Mini garage it’s been the same friendly, helpful experience. They make it easy for me, and that builds loyalty.

Which businesses have you dealt with that have gone the extra mile? That make a conscious effort to look after you throughout the service and beyond?