The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


May The Forth Be With you …

I know this is late but then everything on this blog is late, but I absolutely love what Heathrow Airport did on 4th May.

I love it for many reasons.

But the main one is they did it right.

Sure, you could argue what they did was to hijack the day and gain some extra publicity … and I’m sure that was part of their motivation … but what I really like about it is how they went for the highest common denominator, not the lowest.

While the board features names most people will understand – R2D2, Wookie, Death Star, Han Solo, Leia – they have also used elements that only the true Star Wars nerd will get … like the name of the planets, the measurement of time and the weather conditions.

What this means is that not only will they get ‘mass appeal and coverage’, they will also make the hardcore nerds feel good about it … feel they’re dealing with an organisation that really gets them rather than just pretends to.

In a World where marketing is too often expressed as a constant stream of generalised noise … those who show their authenticity through actions and behaviour will win big every time, because as we saw in our America In The Raw study, the future of brand differentiation is going to be less about unique product attributes and more about demonstrating how you truly understand your audience.

Or said another way, resonance not [pretend] relevance.

So well done Heathrow, you deserve to be in a galaxy far far ahead of your competitors.

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Sometimes Good Service Is About Everyone, Not Just Someone …

Following on from yesterday’s post this is about the return trip from London to Amsterdam.

This has nothing to do with British Airways [though I was very politely asked if I could put my hand luggage in the hold as the plane was full and I was happy to help] and everything to do with London City Airport.

Look, I fly a lot.

I have flown a lot for at least 20 years.

And one of the things I absolutely loathe is the X-Ray machine.

Shoes off. Belts off. All electronic items separated into a different tray.

It’s a pain. It’s even more of a pain than the treatment you get at the hands of American and Australian immigration.

But I get it.

It’s for our own safety.

It’s to keep everyone protected.

And while some airports have systems that seem to be designed for inefficiency rather than traffic flow, we always get there in the end – even if you get stopped to have your bag more thoroughly checked.

So on the day I was flying back to Amsterdam, the airport was pretty busy.

Because of that, the X-Ray machine was working overtime and there ended up being quite a lot of bags that needed an additional check.

The 2 people in charge of this were kind, courteous and – from my perspective – quick.

However it seems there a bunch of people who had a different view to mine because I saw this …

Now I get companies wanting to get a gauge on their audiences experience.

I even get companies being interested in their audiences specific commentary.

But to offer a presentation pad for people to write their comments on, in clear view of the actual staff, is either motivational evil, or team building ignorance.

Personally I thought putting a digital ‘rate your experience’ board there for people to press, was good enough … but that extra mile actually ended up being more about the impatience of some passengers than the quality of airport security.

I get us Brits like to complain, but this presentation pad is like the definition of passive aggressiveness and yet it appears people have forgotten WHY we have these things in place.

It’s for everyone’s safety.

It’s for everyone’s wellbeing.

It’s for everyone to be able to look forward to where they’re going.

Quite frankly, that pad really pissed me off … so I daren’t imagine how it must have affected the staff.

Should there have been more than 2 people allocated to double check baggage?

Maybe … but what pisses me off is the commentary isn’t about how they did, but how much the passenger felt put out.

Were any planes hijacked that day? Nope.

Were any planes blown up that day? Nope.

That means the people did their job well and so maybe next time people go to the airport, they remember ‘good service’ isn’t always about your individual expectations being met, but whether you can board your next flight with a greater degree of confidence you’ll get to your destination than if there wasn’t anyone looking out for you.



Brexit Airways …

So a few weeks ago, I was in Amsterdam and about to fly to London.

I was quite excited because apart from going ‘home’ for the first time in well over a year – even if it was just for 18 hours – I was going to fly into London City airport for the first time and I was interested to see it.

OK, that’s not why I had chosen to pay the higher fair – I had to be in the city at a specific time – and so that airport made things super convenient for me.

About 30 minutes before we were going to board, a member of British Airways came up to me and asked …

“Mr Campbell, would you be interested in catching a later flight that lands at Heathrow. We will provide you with a €25 voucher if you do.”

Now for those of you who don’t know, Heathrow Airport is not in the middle of London and while it is obviously well served with transport links, it’s a much longer journey and probably costs more than the €25 they were offering.

Because of this, I asked …

“Does anyone ever accept that offer?”

The representative looked at me rather sarcastically and said …

“Yes, lots of people actually”.

Now maybe I was a bit jet-lagged.

Or maybe I just didn’t choose the right words.

But I found myself replying with …

“That must explain why you’re no longer the World’s favourite airline”.

OK, that was a majorly dick move, but I still can’t work out how an airline thinks it’s OK to offer an alternative flight that goes to a completely different airport and a voucher that doesn’t come close to covering the higher price I’d paid for my ticket [so I could fly to that specific airport], let alone the probable cost of getting into the city from this new destination.

I get things change and alternative plans have to be made, but brands need to remember that the best way to deal with screwing up is to offer a genuine level of compensation, not something that literally rubs salt into the wounds.

Have they learnt nothing from their war with Virgin?



It’s Called Artificial For A Reason …

So this is sort-of following on from yesterdays post.

Specifically the last line of yesterday’s post.

The bit about AI/VR.

You see a few weeks ago, I was invited to speak on a panel about the future by Frog Design.

No, I don’t know why they asked me either.

Anyway, it was a great panel and I learnt a lot of stuff but where things got a bit sticky was when the subject of AI came up.

OK, I was the reason it all got a bit sticky, but that’s because I feel companies are approaching AI with the sole goal of enabling the lazy.

Yes, it’s still early days but automating the most common/basic of tasks feels such a waste of potential.

I get they have to get people used to things before they can push them to new things, but to focus on such mundane tasks doesn’t naturally push the industry to explore the bigger possibilities of it.

My suggestion was that I’d like to see it being used to take people to new places.

New opinions … thoughts … possibilities … experiences.

More inspirational intelligence than artificial.

When you ask for news headlines, it reads you how different news sources see the same story.

When you ask for a countdown, it plays you music you haven’t heard before until the timer is up.

When you ask for the weather, it tells you some places you can go to, to take advantage of the climate.

In other words, make you benefit from the AI beyond the fact it’s performing a function that saves you approx 0.3 seconds doing. Kind-of like the premise behind user-unfriendly tech I wrote about a while back.

Of course to do this means that they have to do more than just follow the data.

It means they have to add something to it.

Context. Insight. Humanity. Creativity.

Things that companies are seemingly valuing less rather than more.

To be fair, Amazon are trying to do this with some of the more quirky aspects of Alexa … but I still would like to see more being done, because not only does this add real value to the tech, it means brands have a chance to build additional value with their audience rather than sit back and watch their engagement get less and less.



Thank You For Pretending To Pay Attention …

So I was listening to the radio recently when an ad for Charles Schwab – the investment people – came on.

And do you know what the message was?

‘We really listen to what you’re saying’.

Now I understand the importance of listening [believe it or not] but is that really the big reason to use Charles Schwab?

Isn’t that one of the basic bloody pre-requisites of being a good financial advisor?

What next, ‘we always check our biro’s are working so you can sign all our paperwork’.

I get financial institutions don’t want to commit to actually saying they make you any money – or even selling you a policy in your interests rather than theirs – but come on, isn’t this just a bit insulting?

Not only that, it smacks of a company that is only hearing what they want you to say rather than what you’re actually saying.

What’s your point of view on the financial markets?

What’s your point of view on money?

What’s your point of view on cryptocurrency?

Tell me anything, except when you come into my home, you’re listening.



You Can Tell How Much A Restaurant Cares About Their Customers By The Questions They Ask …

Way back in 2014, I wrote a post about my favourite restaurant in Shanghai – Din Tai Fung – and how their ‘comments card’ only had a satisfaction scale that went up to good.

In the post I mused why the company might be so stingy with levels of praise customers could bestow on their excellent staff and suggested it was to ensure the company was always in a position of control.

I loved Din Tai Fung.

In fact it was one of the big reasons I was sad to leave China, so you can imagine my happiness when I discovered they had opened a branch 8 miles from where I live.

Din Tai Fung – the American Edition – is very different to the classic Taiwanese offer I enjoyed over 7 glorious years in the Middle Kingdom.

For a start it is trying to look much trendier.

No Taiwanese/Chinese celebrity cartoons on the walls, instead all earthy tones and oversized lampshades.

Then the choice of food is very different and it doesn’t seem to have as much attention to detail.

The dumplings texture is not as delicate, the soy sauce isn’t as high quality, the ginger looks half dead and the chili sauce is almost sweet.

Then, just as you think they can’t screw things up any more, they serve cocktails. COCKTAILS.

And all for a price that is at least double that of China.

But as much as I can just about cope with that [as it still makes me feel happy] I can’t cope with this …

Yes, I’m talking about their comment card.

Sure, I know that gives the impression they want to improve – but when you read it, you notice a couple of things.

1. The scale of satisfaction is much, much broader.
2. The range of questions is much more general.

In the Asia version of the comments card, there is a huge emphasis on the quality of the food.

The texture. The flavours. The noodle quality.

Each food type is open for critique whereas the US version is simply summed up as ‘food quality’.

Now I get why the US would do that … it’s more concise and doesn’t ask the customer to judge a bunch of criteria … but the Asian version highlights something else.

Food enjoyment is much more than just taste and presentation.

Consciously or not, people constantly and continually are evaluating their experience, so if you want to show you actually care about their perspective – actually care about improving things – then you have to offer them options in the way they will be considering their food.

And they’re right.

I am absolutely the opposite of a foodie snob, but 7 years in China taught me the difference between good dumpling texture and bad.

To simply ask me ‘food quality’ as a blanket question for the overall experience is simplistic to the extreme.

Which is why the US Din Tai Fung will continue to serve me dumplings that are not as delicate as they should be, offer me soy sauce that isn’t as high quality as it should be, ginger that is not as vibrant and fresh as it should be and chili sauce that is far too sweet to complement the food they are serving.

America used to be the blueprint for service.

Asia – or should I say, some elements of Asia – are miles ahead.



The Con Is Revealed ….

So as any poor, regular reader on here knows, I’ve been getting emails from APAC Insider magazine saying that Cynic was in the running for a Business Excellence Award in Australia.

Now while this is flattering, you’ll also know that Cynic legally closed their doors in 2010 so APAC Insider are basically a bunch of con-merchants.

Well, now I have unequivocal proof of it because – as I suspected we would – we won.

Yep, Cynic – a company that has not been in legal existence for SEVEN YEARS – has won a Business Excellence Award.

Now they may claim our excellence is in the fact we sold the company, but frankly, this would have been more believable if they’d not left a 7 year gap before bestowing us with their award.

But that’s all by-the-by because I know what you want to know what we won.

Is it a massive trophy?

Is it a huge cheque?

Is it a staring role at a lavish ceremony?

No, it’s this …



That’s right, our ‘prize’ is the chance to get a discount to advertise in their magazine.

A magazine that gives out prizes to companies that don’t exist anymore.

A magazine no one has heard of.

Oh hang on, they also give you a ‘digital certificate’ that you can put on your website. Oh that’s alright then … I mean, who wouldn’t want to advertise a bullshit magazine’s award on their website that basically say’s We’re a bunch of gullible fools.

I hate this company … I hate what they are trying to do to small business.

Sure, the small companies might have some blame to share if they do it, but as I wrote a while ago, when you’re just starting out, you are so desperate to feel you are moving forwards, you tend to grasp onto anything that feels like a positive step.

That’s what those fucks at APAC Insider magazine are exploiting and managing to get away with it.

But there is some good news because last week I received an email from them expressing their interest in being nominated for the International Magazine Publishers ‘Promotion of the Year’, so maybe they’ll be learning their lesson more quickly than we all hoped.

And I’ll be there applauding them when they get their moment in the spotlight.