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


WTF?

OK … so the posts so far this week have been pretty serious – at least by my standards – so to make sure no one thinks this is going to become the norm [and let’s face it, no one thinks that] I thought I’d end the week on a low.

Near my office is a cafe.

It’s very similar to Jamaica Blue, the cafe I used to go to daily when I was at Wieden+Kennedy … in so much as it sells food that looks OK but basically tastes like boiling hot cardboard and – despite me going in there every day, eating the same thing every day – the staff never remember what I have and have all the warmth of a limp salad.

You may be wondering why I go in there then?

And the answer is because I’m lazy and pathetic.

However there are 2 other reasons … reasons that even the mighty shite that was Jamaica Blue couldn’t muster.

One is that they charge me a different amount for the same thing every single day.

EVERY SINGLE DAY.

It’s not a huge amount different, but it’s different and the only reason I don’t tell them is that I get quite excited wondering what it will be each day.

Not only that, it’s still not as shit as my last week at Wieden, when I went into Jamaica Blue and discovered that they had been overcharging me for my breakfast for 7 years.

SEVEN FUCKING YEARS.

But the other reason is that my local London cafe has food combinations that even the weirdest experience in China couldn’t match. And I’m talking about a country that once put a piece of broccoli on some ice cream as they couldn’t find a leaf of mint.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about this …

Watercress.

WATERCRESS.

Not only is it the most pointless, tasteless accompaniment to the delicious carbs of pasta and cheese … you have to wonder who the hell would want it as a tasteless accompaniment to the delicious carbs of pasta and cheese.

Maybe it’s like my old Diet Tango campaign … created to offset the guilt of your bad food weaknesses … but surely, if that’s the case, they could have offered something more comprehensive.

A whole salad perhaps?

Whatever the reasons, the fact is that regardless what prices they charge … whatever mouth-melting temperature they serve their food at … whatever alternative cardboard simulation they have on display … I’ll still find myself going in there, handing them my money and then hating myself for it while also feeling strangely comforted by it all.

Which means the post I wrote about brand loyalty a while back missed one vital characteristic.

Because while I stated that true brand loyalty is when you have an almost irrational connection to a brand so you do whatever you can to have it or be associated with it [regardless of cost, access or competition] there is an alternative situation when someone feels they are not worthy of having something decent so actively make choices to choose things they don’t really like or value because they feel that is all they deserve.

Let’s call this self spite loyalty … and given my love of Jamaica Blue, Birkenstocks, Queen and countless other rubbish things, I seem to have it in droves.

Happy weekend.



Oh China …

I am spending a lot of time in China at the moment for work.

I won’t lie, this makes me very, very happy.

And while it is in Beijing more than my ‘home’ of Shanghai, it still gives me a very warm feeling.

That said, on a recent trip to Beijing, I had a classic #OhChina moment that made me smile.

#OhChina moments are – for people who have ever lived there – an experience where you cannot imagine it happening anywhere else in the World.

It is almost without question something slightly frustrating … created either because of cultural differences, a loss in translation or someone being a bit cheeky, lazy or shit.

In our time there, we had it all …

From hiring a painter who turned up with no paint or brushes because he said he was there to paint [and nothing else] to my mate discovering his cleaner was earning some money on the side by letting workmen cool off in the summer sun, by either sitting in his air conditioned apartment or – for a bigger fee – have a shower.

As I said, it’s frustrating and sometimes even annoying, but within an hour, you find yourself smiling and muttering, “Oh China”.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I was in my hotel and went to get my laptop and passport that I had left in the room safe.

China has low crime – especially towards foreigners – but I put them in there as I was out most of the day and didn’t have a bag with me to keep them in.

So I go to the safe and the passcode doesn’t work.

Nothing.

I knew it was the right code and it registered as the right code but it did nothing.

So I rang down to reception to ask them to come check it out.

To be honest, this thing has happened to me before.

Once in Shanghai, the safe failed and they opened it by welding the doors off.

I still remember the feeling of confusion as I saw them come in and cover the smoke alarms … but they did it and I made my flight.

So back to Beijing …

The hotel sent up 3 people.

An engineer, a duty manager and some other person.

They kept trying to reprogram the safe but it wasn’t working.

Worse, the safe was built into the wardrobe and it was a ‘top-down’ model, so it was much harder to get to it.

So what were they going to do?

This …

Yes, that is the sound of them drilling.

Not the hinges, I should add … the bloody middle of the safe.

With a long drill bit.

So long it could go through the safe and my passport and laptop.

I asked them what would happen if they damaged my goods and they said, “we don’t know”.

Hahahahahaha.

But despite the potential for absolute tragedy, they not only succeeded, they did it with no damage whatsoever.

OK, so the safe was fucked …

… but my stuff was fine.

My favourite bit was when the manager worriedly asked if I’d taken any photos because he didn’t want anyone to think this was normal. Of course, the fact this has happened to me before meant it is pretty normal but the reality is the staff were very nice and apologetic and – frankly – it made me miss this country even more because it’s this sort of ridiculous that makes this country so infectious. At least for me.

Oh China …



When Love Turns To Apathy …

You might just be getting over the shock of yesterdays post, where I showed the world I was wearing shoes.

Real shoes.

Proper, proper shoes.

Well hold on to your hats because it’s going to get worse.

As many of you know, I have had a long, long, long, long, long time love affair with Taiwanese restaurant, Din Tai Fung.

I have been there so many times.

Literally hundreds.

The food is amazing.

The service is amazing.

The whole thing is amazing.

It’s the first restaurant I took my son to.

It’s the first restaurant we went to when we moved to LA.

It’s the first restaurant I looked forward to going to when we moved to the UK.

Now, to be honest, the food wasn’t quite the same in LA compared to China/Asia.

Don’t get me wrong, it was nice … but some of the ‘classics’ had been adapted to American tastes.

A bit sweeter.

A little less spicy.

But I could deal with it because apart from the free soda refills, it’s Din Tai Fung and that’s all that matters.

OR SO I THOUGHT.

You see when we moved to London, the restaurant had not yet opened.

In the 3 months between moving here and the doors opening, I had told everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – how this was going to change their life.

Well, we went … and I was right, it did change my life.

FOR THE WORSE.

I know … this is possibly even more shocking than the Birkenstock situation.

You see, while they had food that was on all their menus around the World, it was a poor imitation of it.

Worse, the sizes were smaller … it was less well cooked … it was served by people who were severely lacking in the kind, seamless service I had come to expect and a shedload more expensive.

As you can see from the receipt, a meal for my wife, 4 year old son and me was over £100.

ONE HUNDRED POUNDS.

No booze … no excessive amounts of ordering … and yet it cost about twice as much as my biggest ever order in China and trust me, that was a huuuuuuuuge order.

Now I get London is more expensive than China.

I get people in London may not have a frame of reference for what Din Tai Fung should be.

But it utterly destroyed me.

I went in their with such high hopes and came out disappointed and dismayed.

OK, so they have just opened and may still be having teething problems … but sadly, I doubt that is the real reason. As in the fashion with many companies trying to duplicate the success of one thing, they tend to focus on the ‘big things’ to copy and completely miss – or ignore – the small.

The details that make the big things sing.

While I’ll give them one more chance, the reality is I fully expect I won’t be back until I am back in Asia and while that might not sound a big thing, the fact they have lost such a massively loyal customer should be of concern to them.

Sadly I doubt they’d even care.



Humanity From A Calculator Company …

So how was your first week?

I don’t mean being back at work, I mean reading this blog.

Depressing wasn’t it.

Well I want to leave you with a little bit of positivity.

As many of you know, my Mum helped develop the calculator that is pictured above.

It’s one of the reasons why I’ve continued to use the one she gave me for the past 35+ years.

That – and the fact I’m crap at maths – so ended up using it more to type 55378008 than work out any trigonometry challenge.

Or basic addition.

Anyway, to my mates, it’s as identifiable towards me as my Birkenstocks – even though when I was at school, they took the piss claiming it was as big as one of the BBC Micro Computers we used in class.

Sadly, when we were moving to London from LA, the stupid movers broke it.

Not just interns of it not working, but in terms of cracking the actual case.

I was very sad, because – like the Braun Bedside Clock – it was something that was a real connection to my parents, so I wrote to Texas Instruments on the off-chance they could fix it.

Unfortunately they said any attempt to repair it could cause more damage so instead they’re sending me a mint condition, new-old one as a tribute to my Mum.

I cannot tell you how happy and thankful I was to hear this news.

I cannot tell you how much I love the people at Texas Instruments.

A company that makes office tech showing more heart than companies that claim to be in the people business.

They didn’t have to do that.

They could have just ignored my email altogether.

But they didn’t, they listened and they tried to help.

We could all learn from this. Especially companies who claim to be in the people business.



When Thinking Isn’t Thinking …

I have long-written how Asian hotel hospitality – albeit in the better end of the hotel ranking system – absolutely trash their US counterparts in almost all aspects of comfort and service.

The same can be said for a whole host of things, including airports, infrastructure and educational standards … however recently, on a trip to the US, I saw something that basically summed up the whole madness of American standards, at least in terms of hotels.

To demonstrate the point, come with me on a terrible z-grade bit of storytelling …

We are in the boardroom of the Sheraton Suites Hotel chain.

The team are meeting on room design …

“Where should we put the full length mirror” asks one of staff members.

“There’s so much wall space – we’re in America, greatest land in the World – it could literally go anywhere” replied a duty manager.

This debate goes back and forth for a while before they determine they won’t be able to get to the answer by themselves.

So after opening a P/O number and conducting some internal questionnaires, they spend a further 6 days at a ‘mirror brainstorm summit’ offsite before deciding they needed external help.

Enter McKinseyBainBoston&Sons … management consultants that now can turn their hand to anything if the invoice has a minimum of six 0’s attached to it.

Off they go and do a full brand audit and interview process.

This takes 9 months.

Finally, after spending millions of dollars in expenses and time, the consultants come back and present their answer to the Sheraton Suites board.

Obviously they love it, McKinseyBainBoston&Sons are the pinnacle at whatever they do.

A grand party is set to announce the answer.

The whole company comes together.

There is lift music, average food and fake smiles before finally the time has come.

With great fanfare the envelope with the answer is opened.

“Place the mirror directly opposite the loo so guests can see themselves when they’re having a shit”

Everyone claps wildly.

Except anyone who stays there.



You Can Tell How Proud Someone Is By How They Act …

I’ve written about my best mate and his new venture, Frothy Coffee.

Well a few weeks ago I went to Nottingham to see him and I have to say, it made me so happy.

Not just because he’s doing really well or even how he’s doing it – though some of his ideas would put big agencies to shame [offering dog biscuits and water so dogs get used to stopping at his stall so their owners end up buying a drink] -but how he is between customers.

The way he cleans.

The way he tidies.

The way he looks around to make sure everything is right.

The way he prepares for what might be coming up.

The way he makes warm, welcoming comments to people passing by.

He loves it.

Every single thing shows he absolutely loves it.

And you know what?

That feeling is infectious.

You want to have a coffee at his place.

You want to have a chat and even a sit down.

He pulls people in and suddenly strangers start chatting.

The love and pride he has in his job translates to something special … something as warm and welcoming as his drinks.

Everyone should feel this way, but not everyone does.

Many dream of starting their own thing, but few do it.

And to them I say they should go and see the Frothy Coffee man, because when you see the pride and joy Paul has doing his own thing, you’ll realize that no amount of fear can stop you wanting to feel that fulfilled.

I’m so happy and proud of you Paul.

[And you Shelly … the best YTS assistant I’ve ever seen]



Service Without The Script …

I’ve written a lot about customer service over the years.

Or specifically, bad customer service.

And the ironic thing is the worst examples tend to be organisations who literally say they’re in the ‘service industry’.

I suppose that’s why I loved how Claridge’s hotel train customer service to their staff – especially their belief in moments of stubbornness – because while they set incredibly high standards and ways to deal with situations, they always leave room for their staff to act in ways they feel is in their guests best interests … even if their guests don’t realise it yet.

And for me, that’s where customer service becomes it’s most powerful.

Where it moves from service to care.

Not just in terms of the obvious things, but reading between the lines.

Where it goes beyond just anticipation, but true consideration for the other party.

In many ways, it’s the ultimate demonstration of loyalty …

Not expecting it from your audience and instead, providing it to them in return.

Proof that they matter.

Proof that they care.

Proof they need each other.

Recently I saw an amazing example of this.

Surprisingly it came from a Chief Executive Officer.

More surprisingly, it came from a Chief Executive Officer of a football club.

And even more surprising than that, it came from the the youngest Chief Executive Officer in the entire football league.

Now to be fair, it’s the CEO of Barnsley Football Club … a club that is known for how much it values its community and fans.

But even that doesn’t quite capture what Gauthier Ganaye – the Barnsley CEO – did.

Read the letter below … then next time you’re with a client who talks about customer service or social listening, show them it and ask them how they’re going to demonstrate how much they value their audience, rather than just saying it in their corporate mission statement.

_______________________________________________________________________

PS: For the record, he – nor Barnsley – promoted this, the receiver was the one who made sure this act of loyalty, compassion and service got to a bigger audience.