Wake up and smell the Coffee ….. get social in your own businesses

Businesses need a very large cup of coffee to give them the wake up call.

Some of you may have seen the Telegraph article about the tweet from the British Gas MD, Stephen Beynon who tweeted “45 minutes on hold to @nationalgriduk – I give up”. The Telegraph goes onto suggest Stephen reads his own customers tweets which include “Can you please explain why your advisers are unable to change an address over the phone and put me on hold for 45 minutes?” and “On hold for 50 minutes with no answer, now on hold for over an hour with no answer, surely this isn’t acceptable British Gas?”.  So Stephen, welcome to our world, it doesn’t just happen to you on a Wednesday in August.

So this prompted a couple of thoughts in my mind – Why don’t big bosses or any leader for that matter know what’s going on their own business and why don’t they understand the power of social media?


Customers are contacting you every day – we are all Customers you know!

I have been responsible over the years for some of the UK’s biggest contact centres in service, retail, logistics industries. I started as a contact centre operative for the RAC emergency service many, many years ago. I am passionate about the people who work in contact centres, the leaders that lead them, and the customers who contact them – it is a tough but enjoyable environment. We have now over 1 million people in the UK who work in contact centres.

The toughest job for me over the 20 years? no it wasn’t the people, no it wasn’t the technology, no not AHT’s, no it wasn’t the constant ‘cut costs and improve service’ – the biggest frustration is that really no-one (apart from a few colleagues – I will always remember you) wanted to really know what went on. I had to be the Customer Service pest, the irritation at meetings, briefings, stand ups. I was the leader that would always say at senior manager meetings and then Boards Meetings as I became a Director, “would you like to know why our Customers are contacting us?”. Marketing & Brand functions would spend millions on customer research, even more millions to get customers to buy and buy again – if only some of that was diverted to internal research and analytics on why customers contacted us, and in particular those contacts where the customer didn’t want to have to contact us – it’s now called customer effort.

All leaders including the CEO’s and other C level Executives need to get real

Many of you will have also watched the TV Series Undercover Boss.

udercover boss

Ian Golding a colleague of mine and I have many a rant about this, as we both get extremely irritated by the bosses on this programme. The story quite simply is that they film bosses (CEO’s) that go under cover (not usually in that much of a disguise and very few recognise them) to go back to the floor and understand what is going on in their businesses. This programme has seen bosses from DHL, Carluccio’s most recently, N-Power to name a few. I find myself shouting at the TV – why do you not know what is going on in the business either you own, or get paid a lot of money to run. You will see and hear amazing things like “I will get that buzzer fixed so that the food gets delivered hot to our customers” – “I didn’t realise our staff are on minimum wage” – I didn’t know that’s what our customers thought of us”. …..How can you not know this.

All leaders should have the passion to know what their teams are doing and what the customers they are serving think and feel. This does not matter what industry you are in, whether B2C, B2B or B2B2C. So ask yourself the question when was the last time you spent time with a customer, a supplier and a colleague understanding their World.

Everyone is a Customer of Someone….

100% of customers are people. 100% of employees are people. If you do not understand people, you do not understand business.”

I love this Simon Sinek quote – we are all customers, we are all people – we all use something that someone else has designed, processed or made. Today’s buzz word is service design. As a leader you should know what your people are doing whether this be in Finance, in Operations, in Customer Service.

As a Director at one of the UK’s largest parcel networks, I spent at least 2 days a week ‘out in the field’ either visiting Customers/Clients or in the depots. No – this wasn’t easy, my diary was crammed packed with meetings, conference calls and more meetings to review meetings – I did 12-14 hour days like most senior Executives. But I always blocked out these two days, occasionally it reduced to one but not often. Why? – because when I joined my role was to improve the network – I had to reduce the costs by millions, we were loosing millions of pounds a week, our people weren’t happy and some of our customers weren’t happy. Many of my senior colleagues hadn’t been to a depot in years, and certainly hadn’t spoke to a customer. So I planned each week the parts of the country I would be in to cover off 117 depots and service centres.

Over time I spoke with hundreds if not thousands of people to understand their World. What amazed me, is that the network had been built by people for people (not machines) – parcels did not deliver themselves and yet so many mistakes had been made. Bad service design it would be called now.

Hand Held terminals had been designed with screens and keys strokes that simply weren’t needed, adding seconds to a already time pressured job. Why?

Vehicles being used that prevented them simply jumping into the back of them when they pulled outside a customers house, so they had to go and unlock the doors around the side or back of the vehicle. Why?

Extra engineering lines in the depots which meant double and triple handling of parcels, adding precious minutes. Why?

I could go on … Why? – it had been designed by people who didn’t do that job, people who had never delivered a parcel or sorted one in a depot, in their life. Process designers, IT designers, engineering designers and whilst they thought they were doing the right thing, making the right cost decision – it just didn’t work properly.

Can you imagine Steve Jobs when he and the team designed the i-Phone – getting a team of people who had never used a mobile phone or even like them, to design one. So why do other business do that.

Piranha’s to Wolves – social has changed us


Previously we would act like a piranhas – Why a Piranhas? Well in general they are shy and don’t bother anyone or anything, only when they are frightened or anxious do they bite and then a nasty one at that. So you could say that we are in the main placid customers only when something really annoys us do we get really angry with a company and call them, email them or complain to them.

However social has caused us to behave now all ‘pack like’ – you could argue that was what Stephen Beynon did yesterday. We post our comments, our concerns, our complaints even and wait not only for the company to react, like a victim would, but also for other customers to now join the pack and hunt them down.

But have our issues got worse? or is it now that we know we have a voice and we have a ‘pack’ that will support us. We are no longer a lone voice and single piranhas.

Social though is just another service channel and whilst it is great to see the stories of CEO’s and Execs personally responding or getting involved – hundreds of thousands of customers use other channels too, so don’t forget them, the forgotten ones.

So the morale of my story – wake up and smell the coffee – calling all leaders, look at your diaries now and see when you have time planned in to talk and listen to PEOPLE (your customers, your suppliers and your colleagues) – and even better go and do their jobs for a day, I can tell you your to do list will be a long one! and your feet might ache … mine did on my parcel delivery days.