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July 2008



Apple prepares to launch the IPhone, offering upgrades to last year’s IPhone purchasers. On the day of launch, a gazillion new and old purchasers try to register and the system collapses. Apple’s stock dips and there’s a big smile on the Microsoft campus. Not something Apple counted on? Why not?

On the plus side, you can sign up for a personal shopper and a personal shopping appointment in Manhattan at the Apple store — it’s free, it’s online, and thankfully unnoticed by virtually everyone standing in endless lines.

It won’t help with IPhone purchases. For that you get a voucher (when they replenish stocks), come back at a designated time, stand in line outside, to go stand in line inside, to eventually come out with the new opiate of the (reasonably monied) masses. Go figure!

Samsung has launched it’s ‘Instinct’. Not a bad contender for the cool design throne. Alas, they’ve launched through Sprint, which has NO international coverage package. IPhone went with AT&T, nobody’s poster child for overall excellence, but you can get global roaming.

It’s never just the product: it’s the system, your partners, the delivery, the whole gestalt of doing business with you and applying your promise to our lives. Have you prepared for the worst as well as the best? Are you as confident as to all your suppliers as you are with yourself? If not, why not?


More and more money for less and less could be an airline motto. There are still stunning experiences to be had, courtesy of Singapore Airlines and a few others, but it’s rare.

It seems when shoddy thinking is to be married to shabby service in substandard environments coupled with Olympian disdain and horrifying rationalizations and defensiveness, the airline industry is the place to go. In the US you are shouted at by TSA security personnel as if you were recently arrested renegades that had been foiled from launching a horrific plot, in Heathrow’s gleaming but still appalling Terminal 5, hacks try to get first and business class passengers to contort their carry-on luggage to fit into a ‘tester’ unit (this though airport shops have sold that very piece as carry on, it easily fits in the aircraft overhead as attested to from the flight you just got off, is accepted at other UK terminals and airports) and insist it’s ‘for safety’. Given that the airline would allow it and it fits easily in the overhead bin and is within the weight limit, if you challenge their ‘safety’ assertion, they look at you with glazed eyes and repeat the imbecilic mantra louder.

Why create sparkling terminals populated with utterly mediocre service personnel? And who hires them? Indifferent or ignorant leaders.

In Hong Kong, a private entrepreneur provides a ‘for pay’ buggy service. Given the propensity at the airport to shift gates from one end to the other, and the 20 minutes it can take to schlep from one end to the other, it’s a great idea and potentially a good business. One snag: they don’t accept credit cards! Hong Kong is one of the most technologically sophisticated societies on earth, you can use a credit card to go on the historic Peak Tram. But not in the airport for the buggy service? No, you need HK $100, or $7 US, or you line up at the money changer…all this while their buggies wait for you, able to charge no more while you stand in line, potentially losing other customers, aggravating the current one, for what? Either due to sheer laziness or bloody mindedness a great idea becomes something you’ll only opt for, if you happen to have some relevant currency.

This same lunacy applies to trolleys in airports, no longer free, where you are supposed to have a Euro coin, or US 25 cents, WHEN YOU’VE JUST LANDED. If you live in the US, or in the Euro-zone, you may have some appropriate change. But if not, good luck…look for that elusive money changer again!

If someone were going to write a rant about your business, what would it be? And how can you eliminate it, and possibly make it instead a source of glowing, effulgent testimonials?


Almost all human systems, all human Constitutions, laws, processes, interfaces, are about how to get humans to connect, communicate, guide their behavior towards each other, outline permissible as opposed to outlawed acts, in short about the parameters of interaction and the value we expect to get from it.

So why is it that as a consultant I am often sharing with leaders facts that make them sit up slack-jawed which I learned in an hour by speaking to a smattering of key people who believed I actually wanted to hear what they had to say? Winston Churchill once said, “It is an act of courage to stand up and speak. And it is also an act of courage to sit down and listen.” And the higher up you are in terms of corporate altitudes, the truer that observation is.

I’m stunned when we get people together in an offsite and help them have a conversation they should have had years ago…and which has been fermenting and incubating ever since, sometimes with disastrous consequences for the company. I’m delighted we could play so pivotal a role, and then amazed, that they waited so long, and needed so evident an inducement to get past whatever ennui or angst was holding them back…despite the magnitude of evident impact due to their alienation from each other.

Recently in the idyllically beautiful town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, we noticed that in the mouth of the statue of the first Lieutenant Governor (of then Upper) Canada, John Graves Simcoe (a man of some importance and historical prominence, he founded York, now Toronto, and was instrumental in introducing institutions such as trial by jury, English Common Law, freehold land tenure, and for abolishing slavery in Upper Canada long before it was abolished in the British Empire as a whole — it had disappeared from Upper Canada by 1810, but wasn’t abolished throughout the Empire until 1834) was a condom!! This was doubtless the result of some drunken revelries the night before. Despite my mentioning it to our very prominent hotel, and their doubtless passing it on to town authorities, it took over 24 hours before someone managed to extricate the condom from the Governor’s clenched jaw, and the package of them from his furled fist.

I can hardly imagine that a town that markets to families, is awash in tradition, carriage rides and re-enactments of the war of 1812, and has classic fudge shops and an apothecary, wants their main family park desecrated in this way. But doubtless, the information was passed on to someone who either didn’t care, or wasn’t listened to, was too junior to get anyone to jump to attention, and so it languished, until we mentioned it again and got it escalated.

I should mention that I don’t normally feel obliged to intervene in this way, but going to the Shaw Festival in this town is an annual pilgrimage, and the good Governor’s monument, arguably deserves a bit better.

In corporate work we often define ‘speed’ as speed from communication to action.

How fast are things noticed, how well are they passed on, how attentively are they listened to, and how fast are they acted on in your business? Or does the hierarchical level of the communicator determine much of that?

The history of things known in companies at various epicenters that went unheeded or stayed unknown until a company was literally foundering, or checkmated either by market forces or a new technology, or was flummoxed by a previously ‘off the charts’ fringe competitor who now was fast becoming the new incumbent, is heartbreakingly cluttered with examples truly too numerous to catalogue or count.


I have asked people everywhere if anyone enjoys automated call menus. Everyone says ‘no’, but everyone rushes to put them in. For whose convenience? It means we’ve given up competing on service, and all we can compete on is cost. Of course many things can and should be automated, but the technology and the savings that accrue should therefore allow us to focus our service personnel and experience, not abdicate on this front.

I’ve been told about the amazing savings I can get by booking tickets online for redemption. I go on, and find that just as I’ve booked mine, a second seat isn’t available for my wife. They haven’t designed the site so you can make two requests concurrently; you have to do it sequentially. So I end up calling anyway, to be told no more redemption tickets are available on that flight. This is based on historic load and profit analyses we are told…while I, the so called ‘premium’ customer who is supposed to be getting a ‘thank you’ for my loyalty, is sent away seething, realizing it’s a poorly put together racket for lowest common denominator service.

Someone wires me some money, New York to Dubai, for some services provided. Dollar amounts go through a US correspondent Bank. It sits there for a week…this via a medium that is supposed to be ‘instantaneous’. The Dubai Bank cites a form they need to credit the funds to my account. I call the person remitting the funds, who happening to be a financial services professional calls MY US correspondent Bank, who says the Dubai Bank should credit the funds without the form! The remitters original bank has washed their hands of the matter, as the funds have left them. Two weeks later, a form finally makes it from somebody to somebody and the transaction is completed. The Dubai bank is irritated that we want our money, the correspondent bank horrified that another bank in another country could have their own ‘procedures’.

There is ample technology, but when there is a breakdown, it becomes evident that no one clearly measures these people on problem solving, responsiveness, service, collaboration (with their own partners!), follow-up (we had to keep calling). And the amount of money I have banked on behalf of our global business with this bank over the last decade certainly merits a pleasant phone call manner and at least the pretence of interest in our getting our hands on funds that were sent to us…at the very least! Somehow, that memo must not have made it…

And sometimes, simple processes or ‘technology’ we have don’t get used. How many airlines tag bags in business class and first class for ‘priority handling’. And how often is any priority achieved? The tags are only meant to guide people loading the bags onto the plane to put the priority baggage on LAST, in a separate container that goes in last, so it comes out FIRST, thereby getting the priority bags quickly to the saps who’ve paid three to ten times the economy amount so they can experience something of what they’ve paid for in terms of value. Yet airport after airport can’t manage this simple act, leaving bags to come out such that often the first people who’ve cleared immigration (those who deplaned first) are standing around watching the bags of those who came out later and are still waiting to be cleared!

The technology exists, the process is known, it’s well within the human capability of people loading and unloading the bags, but the most ‘technologically’ sophisticated airport terminals fall apart on this simple measure — something of great value to people paying a premium, who are allowed to get on first, and get off first, all of which is pointless if they get out of the airport last due to a vagrant bag that comes out in the last container.

What technology do you have that you could use to produce value and is being sub-optimally utilized? What technology is distancing you from your customers, and how can you eliminate it, re-engineer its use or re-imagine the sponsoring process so it produces effectiveness where needed, efficiency where sought, and appropriate attention and customer engagement where desired?


Movie remakes are usually horrifying. To prove this point, note the recent monstrous version of BRIDESHEAD REVISITED. An elegant, nuanced, multi-faceted novel that had been done decent justice in the sparkling BBC miniseries of the same name (which launched the career to some extent of the amazingly talented Jeremy Irons) has been reduced to a two hour melodrama where the real stars are stately Manor houses and deluxe gowns, and panoramic shots of Venice, while flaccid and predictable love triangles play out. The moral tensions have been reduced to banality and any resemblance to Waugh’s original work is purely accidental.

Some apologists argue that two hours cannot match a multi-part mini series which has the luxury of time, and character development. Possibly true, but to watch it done right, revisit the marvelous rendition of E.M. Forster’s A ROOM WITH A VIEW, which gave Daniel Day Lewis and Helena Bonham Carter an early launch. That movie has Florence, and vistas, and charming wardrobes aplenty, but it also manages to convey at least the essence of Forster’s point about those who are original, authentic and alive, as opposed to those who are formulaic, trapped by convention and to some extent ‘dead’ as people. Discernment, can always be brought to play, as long as you realize what the essence is: costume drama and sets, or human emotions and interactions.

Similarly, be very clear if your business is about your television ads, gleaming retail space, or executive perks, or about the essence of what people are seeking: be it financial advice, a partner in building a new home, reprieve on a trip at a charming hotel, or whatever else. What is it they truly ‘need’ from the experience, what might they ‘want’, and what is truly essential and what is arguably incidental? Provide abundant lashings of the ‘essential’ and some good ‘surround sound’ can help — otherwise it’s just aggravating.


Things that drive us all nuts could be enumerated ad nauseum. These above have something in common.

They are frighteningly easy to fix (like Tom Peters’ eye-opening expose of all the ills of US Health Care that could be improved by working on known variables that could boost health performance and which are well within the capability of professionals, not requiring any big government panacea), require will, willingness, a concern for customers, a capacity to collaborate, an ability to locate some key root causes, fanatical unwillingness to tolerate idiotic rationalizations for mediocrity or incompetence, and a fetish for execution, getting one’s emotional delight from a wonderfully conceived, exquisitely delivered service experience that makes people almost line up to throw future money at us (well almost!).

It is about how we signal that we want a relationship with you as our customers, not just a transaction. People flee companies they work in, when they feel they don’t matter, that they are just replaceable cogs in an impersonal machine. We all wish to be significant, or at least to be treated that way. How much faster will you run from companies who fail here or run to companies who deploy their passion, their technology, their teams, and the capacity of their people to meaningfully communicate and collaborate on your behalf, to deliver real value?

Such companies clearly have real leaders, leaders worth following. Let’s follow their example and join their ranks. It’s far more fun, more fulfilling, and hugely more profitable! And it’s a perfect summer resolution! Now let’s show what we’re made of, by the speed with which we put that realization into dramatic action!!!!