A dog’s dinner

Another reminder spotted on the streets of Seattle, that the United States is the home of innovative products and services, and that nothing is too niche.

Dine with your Dog is an ‘additional’ service provided by the Three Dog Bakery.

Henry Ford didn’t succeed by asking his customers what they wanted

The June issue of Inventique, the newsletter of the Wessex Round Table of Inventors has an interesting article by Sir James Dyson, the renowned inventor of the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner, amongst many others.

He quotes Henry Ford the pioneer of popular motoring, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Although familiar with his line, “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”, I hadn’t come across this one before.

What I like about it (although some might say that it was written with the benefit of hindsight) is the way it illustrates the limited thinking of most business people. In particular the approach that seeks customer requested minor improvements, instead of radical leaps. It is only those with a vision of the future who are able to make significant changes to the way we lead our lives.

Ford MondeoWhat is ironic about the Henry Ford quote above is that it was the Ford motor company of the UK who produced one of the blandest models in recent memory, in the shape of the MK1 Mondeo. The cautious styling of this car was a direct result of the negative press the revolutionary Sierra received when first launched in 1993. Consequently the Mondeo is often cited as the most clinicked car of all time. So many potential customers were consulted that the resulting model became the definition of middle of the road boring. The phrase ‘Mondeo Man’ was used to describe the epitome of middle England values.

I am glad to report that Ford learnt from this mistake and have since produced several out of the ordinary models such as the Ka, Focus and even the replacement Mondeo.

Aga goes Web 2.0

Aga CookerHaving grown up cooking with and now the owner of an Aga cooker, I was fascinated to discover that the company is now engaging with social networking by establishing This is my Aga. This web-site very cleverly capitalises on the immense loyalty Aga owners often have to their cookers. Associated with an often life-long ownership are customer stories, varying from farmers who have used the warming oven to save freezing sheep, to tips on how to make the best bread or cakes.

This is my Aga site uses a Google Maps mashup to encourage you to plot your Aga onto a map of the UK. You can then find the nearest Aga to you with (or without) a story. Or search the database to find where all the Aga’s with the same colour (dark blue in my case) are located. Hundreds of people have already registered, but as with any Web 2.0 approach there are risks involved in giving customers a free hand to comment.

Burnt AgaLet down and Disappointment – Sandy
My parents had a aga in 1931 when I was born, and had others for the rest of their lives. My wife and I have had them for the last thirty years and she regularly bakes ten loaves at a time for village functions. The photograph shows the result of the fire after our engineer fitting a new but faulty control unit supplied by aga to our twenty year old aga in December 2007. The Aga is not yet working again 17/05/08. Aga replaced the whole front, doors and all on the 21st of May and it is now better insulated than before, but looks odd with the old top and new bottom We are still very disappointed with the Customer Service Department they are not what the used to be, and are still in dispute with them,

Lucy Kellaway: Puncturing egos and praising good service

Lucy KellawayI have been a fan of Lucy Kellaway‘s columns in the Financial Times for many years. Her humour, usually at the expense of corporate gobbledygook and management fads, would often brighten up a dull day in the office.

I now get to hear her columns via the wonders of podcasting as I walk to work, which adds a personal element to her columns.

A recent target was Accenture’s group chief executive for management consulting in a column entitled “Accenture’s next champion of waffle words“. This gives a good indication of the content of the item, but I can’t resist including a short quote:

“The memo starts with some background to the announcement: “…wanting to give you continued visibility of our growth platform agenda…” it says. Visibility is the latest thing in business. Companies and executives all crave it but, until last week, I didn’t know that growth platform agendas were after it too. What is he saying here, I wonder? I think, though couldn’t swear to it, that he wants to tell his colleagues how the company plans to make more money.”

However it would be a mistake to assume all of her output consists of (well deserved) barbs aimed at self-important executives. A more recent article concentrated on (an admittedly rare) case of customer service that created a warm glow inside, rather than an icy chill, or getting hot under the collar. Unpolished exchanges put soul into shopping, concentrated on the rare experience in today’s consumerist world of having something repaired, in this case shoes. As Lucy points out:

“An immaculate, luxurious shop gives pleasure the first time, but after that diminishing returns set in. By contrast, having something mended has become an exciting novelty, a nostalgic return to how things ought to be.”

Customer service with a sense of irony

RoseI recently joined the loyalty scheme run by my local plant nursery and was rather surprised to receive a letter with the following introduction:

“Greetings, Oh Most Highly Esteemed Green Card Applicant (letter composed by Wych Cross Hype Ltd a wholly dis-owned subsidiary).

We are delighted to announce that your application for a Wych Cross Green Card has been entirely successful and your expensive looking, gloss green card is enclosed with this letter. Please try not to lose it before you have at least tried it out!

As you know, your card is to be used for scraping ice off your windscreen, wedging that wobbly coffee table leg that’s been irritating you for years, flicking paper pellets at work colleagues and impressing gullible people at parties. You will also be aware that cutting your card into little pieces for security reasons is the recommended way to make your scissors very blunt very quickly. In between times you can also use your card to collect and redeem points (and we all know what points mean!) every time you shop at Wych Cross.

We wish you many hours of happy and rewarding activity with your new Wych Cross Green Card and anticipate your next visit to us with particular pleasure.

With Warmest Felicitations,
Ray Kennedy
Managing Director

It certainly appealed to my funny-bone in this age of over-egged marketing letters.


Secrets of a successful entrepreneurs

I have been listening to yet another thought provoking show from Peter Day. This time it is from his GlobalBiz show on the BBC World Service.

He was visiting the BridgeClimb experience in Sydney, Australia, and talking to its founder Paul Cave.

He talked frankly about the importance of customer complaints to his business and how he aims to continuously improve and grow their service. One of his biggest challenges was to change staff attitudes so that when they receive a criticism or a suggestion, it is seen as a positive thing. He wants them to celebrate when they get feed back of a negative nature, because this allows them to work out how to change and improve their service to address those comments.

He also outlined his secret to becoming a successful entrepreneur; “You need drive thrust, vision and follow through.”

Most business take a lot longer, the pockets need to be deeper than expected, and you need to be very very resilient. You have got to have an enormous determination, an obstinacy to proceed in order to make a business happen.

Also the subject is best taught by ‘pracademics’, and that some of our best entrepreneurs are not polluted by education. Many of our professions, particularly law and finance are about reasons ‘why not’.

Finally, entrepreneurs have the ability to see around a corner, when there isn’t a physical way of doing so. They sense what is there in a way that many of us are unable to do.


Crazy Coffins – thinking outside the box

Crazy Coffins have proved that by ‘thinking outside the box’ (apologies for the appalling pun) you can discover a whole new area of customers in what might appear to be a dead end business (oh dear…)

It all started in 2000 when a fan of the Red Arrows asked to be buried in a model fighter. They constructed a plane with folding wings and a cockpit casket. The word began to spread and after a being featured in the Sun newspaper the phone didn’t stop ringing for three months. Now they are even exhibiting their coffins as art at the Museum für Sepulkralkultur in Kassel, Germany.




Add colour to your life with NLP

I went to an interesting CiG event last night on Super charging your motivation using NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). The presenter Katie Hogg managed to both introduce the topic and give us some useful examples of its benefits in two hours.

I approached the topic as somewhat of a cynic, but came out with one or two techniques which I will try out on some personally challenging motivational scenarios (completing my tax return and clearing a table full of filing). All you have to do is visualise your problem, move it to the top right of your view and then add colour, brightness, movement and sound. All of a sudden it seems much less daunting.

It was interesting to observe our presenter using some NLP techniques on us during the evening. For instance whenever she wanted us to respond to a question she would put her hand up in the air. I could feel my arm starting to rise almost of its’ own volition until became aware of it and my brain took over the decision making process.

To see how scarily effective NLP can be have a look at these two Derren Brown videos on YouTube



Too big to listen to your customers?

According to Paul Thurrott and Leo Laporte, on the latest Windows Weekly show, Dell (in the form of returned CEO Michael Dell) have decided to listen to their customers after many years of thinking they knew best.

In order to do this they are adopting a Web 2.0 approach using salesforce.com powered IdeaStorm. According to the site the Dell Community has contributed 6,329 ideas which have been promoted 447,194 times with 30,364 comments.

Dell don’t say just how many of the ideas they have implemented but they introduced Linux software as an alternative to Windows. They are also moving away from only providing drab grey laptops.


The ultimate customer experience?

Although there are still some question marks about the usability of the shiny new iPhone everyone in the U.S. is currently talking about, there is no question about Apple’s focus on their customers.

On a recent GeekBrief TV show Cali Lewis films her purchase of two iPhones. To see the staff in her store line up and applaud everyone coming into the store and again on the way out was quite astonishing.

Although this kind of intense customer appreciation might be a bit too much for British customers to handle it certainly impressed me.