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.

Dogs & Love Hearts – the Barnett Formula

One of the things I do is run workshops on Customer Experience. We do an exercise where I get participants to tell stories about good & bad experiences they’ve had. Over the past few months one name has come up again and again when it comes to good experiences – Barnetts Motor Group.

Barnetts are based in Dundee, where they have dealerships for Vokswagen, Mazda and Volvo. They also have a Volkswagen dealership in St Andrews, Fife.

I had two people in Aberdeen workshops recently tell me about their experiences buying cars from Barnetts, and how both now travel to Dundee to get their cars serviced. That’s pretty amazing – Dundee’s over an hour from Aberdeen!

I wanted to find out what makes Barnetts so good. A quick email to a contact got me an introduction to Paul Barnett, son of the founder Bob Barnett, and the current Managing Director. Paul replied quickly with a few dates and times that he could meet with me.

Last Thursday, I spent a fascinating afternoon at Barnetts, learning about how they run their business, and their relentless focus on creating a great experience for their customers. What came across loud & clear was Paul’s passion for the customer, along with his attention to detail. That was replicated in many of the people I met as we walked around the Barnetts base at Riverside.

Two stories capture their ethos beautifully for me.

The first is about Love Hearts. Every service desk has a tub of Love Hearts – the mini packs, not the full-size ones – below the counter. That’s done on purpose – it’s all about the element of surprise. If they’re on show, people expect to be given some, whereas when they’re hidden, it’s more of a surprise and people appreciate the gesture more. As we walked around, Paul checked that each desk was properly stocked, asking the staff member how many they’d given out that day. He explained that the mini-packs were chosen on purpose – he didn’t want to be giving out big packs of sweets, whereas the mini packs are just the right size for parents not to be concerned about the sugar level.

The second story is about dogs. Man’s best friend is welcomed with open arms at Barnetts. There are water bowls and dog chews provided at every dealership. How to deal with a customer that comes in with their dog is part of the induction process, which includes the following question:

A family comes in to the showroom – mum, dad, child, and dog. Who do you speak to first & why?

What do you think the answer is? Let me know below.

I spent a fascinating couple of hours with Paul. Much of what I learned, I’m keeping to use in my talks and workshops. I’ve given you just a little glimpse with these stories. The biggest message is that Paul leads from the front. He sets the standard, it clearly comes as second nature to him to behave this way. It’s also a daily challenge to get his team to think the same way, one that he relishes, and that’s delivered fantastic results for the business – Barnetts Dundee are Volkswagen’s most profitable dealership in the UK, and Volvo is in the top 3.

That speaks volumes for this kind of customer-focused approach.

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!

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?

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!

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!