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….

Where Apex Hotels are going wrong

This blog is in danger of turning into the Hotel Inspector! That’s not the plan, it’s just that lately I’ve been spending a lot of time in hotels and, well, there are just so many things that you observe when you’re there!

In the last couple of weeks I’ve stayed in both Park Inn (you can read my post about that experience here) and CitizenM. I’ll be writing about CitizenM soon.


On Tuesday afternoon last week I met my friend Karen Slupinski for coffee in the Apex Hotel in Dundee. The plan was to have a catch-up there before we went to a Chamber of Commerce training event with the amazing Dawn Walton that evening.

We sat patiently in the hotel lounge for a good 10 minutes, but none of the staff seemed interested in coming and taking a drinks order. I’ve had this happen here before. So eventually I went up to the bar and called the attention of a member of staff. He slowly wandered over from the area where he’d been slicing lemons (!) and asked what I would like. I gave him our order, and the coffee arrived a short while later (without any fudge or a wee biscuit).

So he had prioritised slicing lemons over serving guests. I had a similar experience recently when I was a participant at one of Chris Marr’s workshops. Once we finally found the room (the internal hotel signage is not good and people frequently get lost), the course got underway. I have to say that the snacks and food were amazing, however there were a couple of issues.

Firstly, no-one could find the control for the TV. This was a problem as we wanted to run the presentation on it! Apparently there is only one control for all of the meeting rooms…..

Secondly, at precisely 9.38am, someone started hoovering in the lobby outside the room. Really???

Now don’t get me wrong, the Apex is a nice hotel. It’s just that they’re failing at all the little things that we, as customers, notice. None of which cost a lot of money, but which, if done well, make a massive difference to the customer experience.

I read a blog post recently which said that the vast majority of customer experiences are very boring, where there are very few opportunities to shine and ‘wow’ the customer. Hotels are a wonderful environment to get this kind of thing right.

I always come back to CitizenM. On Saturday when we checked in, we happened to mention that we were in Glasgow to celebrate Joanna’s birthday. A couple of minutes later, the guy we spoke to returned with a voucher for two drinks on the house. A nice little touch. That’s the difference.

It wouldn’t take much for the Apex to turn this around. My feeling is that staff are more focused on the jobs they have to do, than in delivering an excpetional customer experience. It’s a subtle, but important difference.

I’ve sent them my thoughts a couple of times, so it will be interesting to see if they’re prepared to listen. I’ll keep you posted!

A good hotel experience is about more than just how it looks!

This week I found myself in Aberdeen, the Oil & Gas Capital of Europe. Once upon a time, getting a hotel room up there was near-on impossible and if you could find a room, you’d be paying through the nose for it.


However as you may know, Aberdeen has fallen on hard times. With the oil price at an all-time low, the City is a shadow of its former self.

And so, when I realised that my schedule had me up there 3 days in a row this week, I decided to have a look for a hotel. It would just be much easier and I could get more work done than if I were driving back & forth.

A quick look on resulted in a plethora of options. I settled on the Park Inn by Raddison on Justice Mill Lane, in the heart of the city. Bed & breakfast, in a clean, modern, stylish hotel for £82 a night. Back in 2003 when I was staying in Aberdeen 3 nights a week I had to book 3 weeks in advance and even then I’d be paying north of £130 for a Premier Inn. Changed days indeed…..

I’d stayed in a Raddison Blue before, but never at their Park Inn brand. From the pictures on the website it looked lovely – modern, stylish, colourful, friendly. Just what I like, as many of you will know from my regular snaps / check-ins at CitizenM in Glasgow / London.

However, what I found once I got into the hotel left me less than amazed. You see, whilst the fabric of the hotel was excellent – nicely designed, quality furniture etc. – the experience wasn’t on a par. The hotel had no soul, and as any of you who’ve been reading my stuff will know by now, experiences are about how a service makes you feel.

On arriving at the hotel I was met with a sign that had been blue-tacked (WTAF!) onto the revolving doors telling me when the doors would be locked (between midnight and 6am in case you’re interested). Not a good start.

Walking through the beautifully styled lobby, I was struck by the fact that the hotel felt cold. Clinical almost. Something just felt wrong.

The girl who checked me in was friendly enough, but I’d have liked to do that myself if possible. The self check-in at CitizenM is one of my favourite things in life!!

I had to move up a couple of desks at the check-in desk, as they only had one card terminal instead of one at each desk. It’s the little things…..

I dumped my stuff in my room and headed out for a walk. It was cold, but good to get out and get some exercise. On my walk I decided to have dinner at the hotel, as I was on a webinar at 8pm and didn’t want to risk being late.

So when I got back, I made my way to the hotel restaurant. Again, it was an underwhelming experience. At 7pm it was pretty empty and everything seemed a little rushed. The soup was too hot to eat. It was tasty enough, just too hot.

The waiter was friendly and attentive, but not in the slick, professional way you would expect from the Raddison brand. Again, it was out of sync.

Yesterday morning I had a similar experience at breakfast. The food was distinctly average, the staff not so friendly, and the coffee was awful. My friend Allan Corfield was snapping from his hotel in Birmingham and the pics of his breakfast left me feeling decidedly jealous!

I finished my breakfast, left the coffee and checked out so that I could go out and find some decent coffee. Again, it’s the little things….

Actually the checkout was a pain, as I had to wait in a queue and I just wanted to get out and get some coffee!

Finally parking. The hotel is above a car park, and yet they don’t have a deal for residents. So I paid full price to park overnight. This wasn’t clear when I booked. Once again, comparing this to CitizenM, they have a deal with local car parks, so it only costs £10 to park when you stay at the hotel.

I realise that this could come across as just a moan. That’s not the point. Let me summarise and give you my thoughts on what went wrong here.

First of all, the hotel made a promise to me with the Raddison name above the door. That set my expectation level given my previous experiences of the brand. What followed didn’t meet that brand promise.

I like the styling of the hotel, but not the way they operate it. The two were out of balance. The hotel is modern, cool, funky even. The operating style not so. It would be more suited to a traditional, older, hotel. For me if you’re going to style a hotel that way, then you go all-in.

By all-in, I mean embrace the technology. Innovate with things like self check-in/out. Provide great food & drink. Think about the atmosphere you want to create. Use the music and lighting to create the right vibe. Employ cool people. Don’t serve shit coffee and average food. Think about, and attend to, the details. They matter.

Now maybe my experience this week was a sign of the times. The other guests, on the whole, didn’t look like the kind of people you’d expect to find in a ‘cool’ hotel. I don’t mean that in a judgemental way, they just looked more suited to somewhere like the Holiday Inn. I suspect the cheap price and central location was what led them to be there (plus corporate deals – there’s still a LOT of that in Aberdeen), and not the hotel itself. That felt almost secondary. If the hotel down the road had a £72 a night deal, they’d have gone there. The brand wasn’t the attraction for them.

If you’re not familiar with CitizenM, then I would urge you to go there. They get it just right. Down to the coffee, which in Glasgow comes from the guys at Dear Green. I love their coffee. I love the self-check-in, I love the friendly, international, staff. I love the brand and everything they stand for.

They’ve become our default hotel when we visit a City they have one in. We’ve stayed with them in Glasgow, London, Amsterdam and then in September we’re staying with them in New York for a week.

We know what the brand stands for and they deliver every time. Park Inn needs to think about this if they want to get it right.


We need to complain more!

We’re not very good at complaining in the UK. It takes a lot for us Brits to get annoyed and make a fuss. But that’s not helping anyone.

Let me tell you why.

Quite simply, if we don’t complain when we’re not happy, things will never improve. But we don’t do it. I make my living from helping companies better understand their customers and yet I’m culpable too.

We just don’t like to make a fuss. It’s not very British.

Recently I had a bit of a situation. I dropped my iPhone and smashed the screen. The iPhone 6 is a slippery devil, although to be fair I shouldn’t have been using it whilst I was on my bike in the garage. A combination of sweaty hands and a cold handset meant that it was probably destined to land on the floor. Shame it was a concrete one!

A few tweets later and I had the name of a company in Dundee that could repair it. I googled them and found out that they were open 7 days a week from 8am to 8pm.


So I got up early the next morning and was at their door just before 8am. Which was unfortunate, as the sign on their door said they were open 8.30am to 6.30pm. Why hadn’t they updated the website???

Eventually the doors opened and in I went. I was greeted pleasantly enough and the guy took down some details, punching them into his computer screen. This was when I began to get concerned.

Him – “What number can we get you on, so we can text you when it’s ready?”

Me – “Erm, you’ve got my phone. You won’t be able to text me!”

Him – “We’ll call you too, it’s no problem”.

Me – “But you’ll have my phone…..”.

Him – “Don’t worry, we’ll call and text you to let you know it’s ready”.

Me – “Okay. I’ll call YOU at lunchtime to find out what’s happening”.

D’oh! This wasn’t going well.

I called at lunchtime, no answer. I called back a little later. No, they hadn’t started work on my phone yet. “You can track the progress online if you go to this url”. Okay, that sounds better.

The webpage was awful, really hard to navigate. Turns out you have to click on ‘Invoice’ to get information. Obvs.

Eventually at 17.21 it refreshed. ‘Phone is an iPhone 6S, not a 6’. Well yes, I know that.

17.23 ‘Will cost an extra £25 to do this’.

17.24 ‘We don’t have a 6S screen in stock, so would need to order it’

17.25 ‘Have called customer and left a message’. On the phone that you have. Idiots!!

So now I have to hot-tail it through from Perth to get there in time and collect my (still broken) phone. I’m going to Glasgow the next day and need my phone. This is so frustrating!!!

I get home, google the Apple Store and book a Genius Bar appointment in Edinburgh for the Friday. I’m in Fife anyway, so it’s not a massive hassle to head over the Bridge and get my phone fixed properly.

I go there for my 4.50pm appointment and a very slick process gets my phone fixed within 70 minutes. I’m home by 7.30pm.

So did I complain to the company in Dundee? No, to my shame I didn’t. I just didn’t have the energy. I’ll never use them again and I’ll make a point of telling people about my experience.

But that’s not helping them. They won’t realise how pissed off they made me. How unfriendly their systems & processes are. What it feels like to be the customer, who just wants their phone fixed.

Nope, they won’t learn any of that. And so they’ll just go on delivering a sub-standard service. Because they don’t know how bad their service is.

This experience is happening day in, day out, across the globe. In the USA, people are better at complaining so the service provider gets the feedback and can deal with it. Maybe that’s why the service over there is better?

So if we want to improve experiences then the answer is quite simple. We need to start complaining more!

Upping the pace

It’s been an incredibly busy few weeks, and officially leaving my role at the University at the end of February has meant an even stronger focus on doing the One Thing that will move this business forward.

This week I’m delivering 4 workshops. Crazy! Three of those are on customer experience, it seems that this ‘language’ is finally beginning to hit the mark here in the UK. Customer experience is already big in the States, but as with many things, we’re slow to catch to here in the UK.

What’s interesting for me is that in the US, they are quite process or system focused, whereas our approach comes from the world of service design, so first and foremost it’s about people and how they experience a service. How it makes them feel.

Now, once we understand that, then it’s absolutely about creating systems and processes to ensure that we then consistently deliver an experience that our customers will enjoy. However the way we get to that position is fundamentally different. And it’s better.

You see, this is a co-designed process. We involve the customers and the staff in the company. We work together to design the new or enhanced service. And along the way we’re rapidly prototyping, trying stuff out and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

In the Lean Startup, Eric Reis talked about the Build-Measure-Learn loop. Well for us, there’s a whole phase before that. Ask-Listen-Prototype-Test, then we Build-Measure-Learn. It’s a lot quicker, and more cost-effective, to get to a solution that your customers will love. Involving them in the design is the clever bit.

If you want to learn more about what customer experience is, and how we go about creating great experiences, then you can sign up for our Free 7-day email course here.

Now back to the University. Although I’m not going to be there in the same capacity, you may not have seen the last of me just yet. More news soon…..




What’s happening?

It’s been a little while since I posted here, but I’ve been busy creating content elsewhere. Over on the Ashton McGill blog we’ve been writing about customer experience a LOT, and getting some great feedback. It’s led to some new clients and speaking opportunities, which is awesome. 

I’ve also been exploring new channels, and along with several of the CMA gang, I’m now on snapchat. Add me as a friend!

It’s been fun sharing stories, you’ll get an insight not only into my day but also into my life. 

Yesterday I ran a Design-Led workshop for the Board of Scottish Cycling. I can’t share the details with you yet, but it was an awesome session, introducing the team to the power of design thinking. This could be truly transformative for the organisation. 


I have 2 weeks (4 days!) left at UoD now and I’m super-excited to get full-time on A|M. We have so many opportunities right now.

So that’s where things are at. Have a great Sunday!

The Importance of Customer Experience to Content Marketers

Content marketing is a big part of our strategy at Ashton McGill and we’re always excited to share our new content, helping to share the benefits of customer experience, answering your questions and generally adding value.

A couple of months ago we joined Chris Marr’s Content Marketing Masterclass, a fantastic community where we learn about the nuts & bolts of content marketing in a friendly, supportive environment (shhh!! Don’t tell anyone!).

Since becoming part of the community both here in Scotland and learning from global experts like Marcus Sheridan and Mark Schaefer, it’s become clear to me that Content Marketing and Customer Experience are inter-linked.

You can have the best content, building the biggest audience, but if you haven’t got your customer journey dialed-in, then it’s all for nothing.

Content marketing is about sharing your expertise, it’s about authenticity and ultimately building trust with your audience. It’s absolutely CRITICAL, then, that you deliver a great customer experience. Get it wrong, let them down by shoddy practices, poor communication, or some other problem, and they’re NEVER coming back.

You’ll have lost their trust and that’s not a place you ever want to be.

So, as the content marketing juggernaut gathers pace, remember, dear friends, that you’ve also got to get the service right too. Before you get too invested in producing great content, take some time to look at your customer journey and make sure it won’t let you down. The consequences of not doing this are too bad to bear thinking about…..