Archive for the ‘Topic – Customer Service’ Category

A tale of two airlines … and a tale of two cultures?

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

One aspect of organisational culture that interests me is how two companies in what is ostensibly the same line of business have such different ways of operating. I have had a recent personal experience of this phenomenon.

In October 2012, my wife Peta and I were in Florida and due to fly to New York for a few days prior to returning to the UK. Hurricane Sandy had other ideas.  As you may recall, Hurricane Sandy caused considerable devastation – particularly around New York. We had already experienced the weaker aspects of Sandy in Florida, and then received an email stating that our internal flight to from Florida to New York had been cancelled.

We looked at getting to New York by train or car, or getting a flight to an airport slightly inland that wasn’t closed … but at the end of the day, we had no way of knowing whether our flight out of New York would leave – it was due to leave on 31st and the storm was supposed to have passed by then, but we couldn’t be sure.

Our flight out of New York was with Virgin Atlantic. I decided that a trip to Orlando Airport for a chat with Virgin would be the best plan. Could they fly us out of Orlando, perhaps?  No, they couldn’t – all flights were full (understandably, I suppose, as it was the UK half term holidays). In fact, all their flights on the eastern seaboard were full for the next three days.

The best they could offer us was a flight back from Las Vegas – which is about 3,000 miles west of Orlando. It was our best option. But as our New York flight had not yet been cancelled, and we did not yet have a way of getting to Las Vegas, should we change flights?

Virgin said that they would reserve us two seats on the Las Vegas flight and also keep our seats open on the New York flight. Also, they wouldn’t charge us any additional cost (even though the Las Vegas flights are considerably more expensive than the New York flights), nor would they charge us an alteration fee. They couldn’t have been more helpful and it meant we had multiple options. We did eventually take the Las Vegas option having managed to source other flights to get us there. Great customer service.

I wrote a letter to Virgin expressing my genuine delight and satisfaction at the way we had been treated and the assistance we had been given.

Shortly after this, in January 2013, I booked further flights with Virgin to return to the US for later in the year – on this occasion, however, we were taking my mum for part of the holiday, and she would fly back after 10 days (she has never been to the US, and has always wanted to visit the Grand Canyon – so we thought we would make it a reality for her).

Having booked those flights, I needed a flight to get my mum back from Heathrow to the north of England. I booked a flight with British Airways to Leeds-Bradford.

Less than 2 weeks later, BA contacted me to say that they had altered the flight time by about an hour and a half – which meant that my mum couldn’t make the flight due to the reduced time connecting time.

I spoke with and wrote to various people at BA in an attempt to get a full refund. They refused saying that they could change the times if they wished – I retorted that they were reducing the number of flights a day to Leeds-Bradford which was more than changing times.

Their email communications to me included, “… but I do hope your mother has a pleasant flight with us in October”. That was my point, she couldn’t make the flight – I wasn’t being listened to!

The flight cost around £65. BA said that they would refund me the tax (about £40) with a £15 administration fee deducted. I thought it was time for some negotiation. I offered to have my mum fly into Manchester as a compromise – even though this was less convenient for her. BA said this was fine – but they would charge me a £60 fee for cancelling the original flight – thus making this more expensive than accepting the refund and booking afresh!

That was the last straw. The ticket wasn’t expensive, but companies should listen to customers and they should not ignore legitimate representations.  I asked for a full refund or I would take the matter to the Small Claims Court. No response from BA. Consequently I issued a Claim through the County Court.  BA have now sent me a complete refund. They had no grounds to support their position and were, I presume, hoping I would not challenge them on it.

In the airline industry, there aren’t too many differentiators – the costs of flying across the Atlantic are generally similar, they fly from similar airports, the seats are much the same (in the respective cabins), so one of the few remaining differentiators is customer service – so doesn’t that make it even more important?

Or is it more serious than that? It is now 20 years since BA apologised “unreservedly” at the High Court for their infamous “Dirty Tricks” campaign against Virgin, and now they have again been financially penalised again for their practices. Whilst there is a considerable difference between the two penalties, the issues are potentially similar – a big company thinking it can do what it wants.  Is BA adopting a Covert Dishonourable Culture Strategy?

What do I mean by a ‘Covert Dishonourable Culture Strategy’? This is where an organisation, usually a large one, knows that it has a particular culture or aspect to its culture, which it believes gives it a business advantage and which it would not be comfortable to make overt, but does little or nothing to address it so that it remains in place.

Let’s end on a positive though – exceptional customer service from Virgin, hence why we are flying with them again. We are rewarding outstanding performance and service.


Management Gone Missing?

Monday, September 10th, 2012

I saw this comment on a learning and development forum recently – “I recently ran a management course for new and existing managers at similar levels, it is a course which all managers new to the organisation are told about and attend with agreement from their line manager. I had a number of managers who were negative and felt they shouldn’t have attended as they had a number of years’ experience as managers already. The other delegates were newer and did want to be there. I found I really struggled to turnaround / manage the really negative individual and the other few who weren’t happy to be there. Due to this I really feel I didn’t deliver the best course I could have done as, whilst I have experienced the odd 1 or 2 negative delegates in the past on various courses, I’ve never experienced such constant negativity which I didn’t seem to be able to have any influence over.”

Following the post were a number of suggestions from respondents, including:

  • Having individual discussions with delegates prior to their arrival
  • Encourage delegates to explain their concerns
  • If people don’t want to stay, don’t make them
  • Tailor the course more to their particular needs
  • Ask them what they want to get out of the course
  • Meet with their managers post-course

What surprised me, though, were that all the responses focused on what to do in the classroom environment, or post-course. In order to implement a long term solution, there needs to be wider and more systematic activity.

What can be done to ensure that such instances are minimised in the first place? What appear to be missing are effective learning and development management interventions.

For learning in the workplace to be effective, there needs to be a tripartite approach comprising the delegate, the delegate’s line management and the learning provider. And in terms of the learning provider, this means both the trainer and – importantly – their management.

Within the post there is no mention of 3 key activities or processes that I would expect to see.

1. Why is each delegate attending the course? They have been nominated by their manager – what are the reasons for the manager requiring them to attend? Managers having pre and post-course meetings with their attending delegates is one of the areas often examined during an Investor in People (IiP) assessment – because it makes a difference.

If this process doesn’t happen, it should. If it does happen, it should be recorded – and most     importantly be available to the trainer. This not only helps in terms of dealing with the issues    in the person’s post – by being able to explain to or remind them of why they are there – but it helps in terms of planning a more meaningful event for the delegates – and will generally mean an increased return on investment (ROI).

2. How might the use of a Student Charter or Learning Agreement help this situation? If such a process is in place, it means that the internal customer (the delegate and their line management) knows what to expect from the internal provider (the learning and development function). It should also include what the internal provider requires from its delegates – in terms of participation, input and behaviours – together with the consequences for a delegate who chooses not to meet this level of expectation.

Such an agreement should have been agreed across the business at senior management level – and so it is then easy for a trainer to use and implement without fear of having overstepped the mark. Transparency for all concerned.

And as a consequence, those who want to be there and want to learn can do so.

3. Finally, the person’s post on the forum indicates that this course has been delivered previously. What evaluation data has been generated?  And I don’t mean end of course or Level 1 data – I mean Level 3 or above, good quality data.  How is it improving the performance of those who are attending? How have previous delegates been able to use what they have learned? How is the course improving organisational performance?  What is the organisation’s return on its investment?

This information should be gathered from the delegates between 2 and 4 months after the completion of the programme. Both the quantitative and qualitative information can then be used by the trainer to illustrate what delegates can gain from attending – thus also demonstrating the overall value of the internal learning and development function to the business.

I have to say, I really feel for the trainer. I’ve been in that position and it’s not a lot of fun. Here is a trainer wanting to deliver a quality product, but some of the delegates are apparently thwarting his or her efforts.

And I get the impression that perhaps in this situation they are not been sufficiently supported by their learning and development management. The activities I have outlined above would both assist the trainer and probably make their role more enjoyable – and, above all, benefit the business.


Degenerate Interventions?

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

One of the aspects of writing a blog that I find particularly interesting is looking at what people search for when arriving at my blog.  It is interesting as it gives me an idea of the blog posts that are most read – this in turn enables me to then concentrate on adding more on those particular subject areas.

One such subject is 6 Category Intervention Analysis (6CIA). I think the reason that I have so many hits regarding this subject is because there is so little about it on the internet – which is both surprising and a shame as it is a great coaching model. I originally wrote about it in the blog post in “Two of the best trainer models?”, where I explained the model and explored how it can be used.

In this blog post I will explain “Degenerate Interventions” and in my next blog post will look at “Perverted Interventions”.

There are four specific types of Degenerate Interventions (DI) within 6CIA. A DI is a misguided intervention as opposed to an intervention that is being deliberately maliciously or is Perverted. They usually occur where the practitioner or helper has a lack of experience in or understanding of using the interventions effectively.

Unsolicited Interventions

The first of the four categories occur where there is no formal practitioner – client relationship, and a person simply self-appoints themselves as the practitioner. Without being asked, they inform, advise, interpret, confront or seek information from the other person. This can often occur in social situations and take place in a manner that interferes with and is disrespectful of the other person’s autonomy. It is not malicious, just unsolicited and generally unhelpful.

Where there is an agreed practitioner – client relationship, this will define the sorts of interventions expected within the relationship. As an example, a bank customer in conversation with a bank manager would probably find interventions related to their finances as being entirely appropriately solicited, however, interventions in relation to their health are likely to appear improper and unsolicited.

Manipulative Interventions

Here the practitioner is motivated by self-interest and has little or no interest in the needs of the client. The practitioner will manipulate the client so that they get what they want from the interaction, whether the client gets anything worthwhile from it or not.

Particularly distasteful and concerning examples are where a practitioner manipulates the other person for the purposes of obtaining money or the satisfaction of power-play.

More common examples – particularly in the coaching arena – occur when the practitioner manoeuvres the client into saying and doing things only in a form that fits the educational or professional belief system that the practitioner holds dear to themselves. They lead the client rather than follow.

Compulsive Interventions

The source of Compulsive Interventions is to be found in unresolved or unacknowledged psychological experiences. These are often frozen needs or occluded distresses of previous years which the practitioner has not worked through and so they are unaware of themselves being driven by them, and so they influencing their interventions. They are less likely to occur where the practitioner has a good level of Emotional Competence or Intelligence, and where they undertake active supervision regarding their activities.

We sometimes see ‘compulsive helpers’ – these are often people who may well be using strategies that they used in their early years in order to survive. In Transactional Analysis (TA) terms they are driven by their Adapted Child and Controlling / Critical Parent ego-states and so do not operate in their objective Adult (although they believe they are in their Adult) ego-state. This will often result in only a limited range of interventions – and as the number is limited they are often misapplied and don’t fit the situation.

Unskilled interventions

This type of intervention is quite simply about a lack of competence. People who use these are limited by their scope and quality of interventions.

In the next blog post I will also look at how a person can eradicate these Degenerate Interventions.


The Ten Heads of Ineffective Listeners

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Last week I was delivering a session on Achieving Results through Effective Performance Management. At the conclusion of the day, I asked the delegates to tell me what had been most impactive for them and what they would be implementing in the workplace as soon as practicable. Two of them both talked about the relatively short section we had covered on blocks to effective listening.

Then today I saw a Tweet from an acquaintance which said, “Someone told me once that to deal with a complaint well, you have to open your ears ten times as much as your mouth – they were so right!”.

Consequently, I decide to blog about the Ten Heads of Ineffective Listeners. They are (in alphabetical order):

The Adviser – The Adviser is a problem solver, and is eager to provide suggestions and what they perceive to be help. In Transactional Analysis (TA) terms, this person operates strongly from the Parent ego state. Sometimes they only have to hear a few sentences and they know what the solution is for the person. Sadly, they don’t realise that a solution from their own experiences and viewpoints is unlikely to work for the other person.

The Comparer – As the name suggests, they love making comparisons. They compare what they hear to their own experiences, and compare themselves to the person.

The Derailer – This person suddenly highjacks the conversation – possibly due to boredom or because they are uncomfortable with a topic – often by either changing the subject or making a joke.

The Dreamer – This person hears something that triggers a memory or association in their mind and they drift off so that they are, at best, only partially listening to what the other person says.

The Filterer – Our Filterer listens to some things and not to others. They pay attention to what has caught their attention, what they find interesting or surprising, or the parts that support their views or opinions.

The Judger – This person judges or pre-judges either the person or their reactions from a values perspective, rather than listening to all the information and coming to a logical conclusion based on all the facts. In TA terms, they again operate primarily from the Parent ego state as opposed to the Adult ego state.

The Mind Reader – The Mind Reader doesn’t pay much attention to what a person says because they don’t need to (or so they think). They make assumptions, or guess at what is coming next or going on in the other person’s head. The Mind Reader excels at displaying little empathy.

The Placater – The Placater wants (or needs?) to be nice, pleasant and supportive. They want people to like them so the Placater agrees with almost everything the person says and does not make challenges at the appropriate moments. In TA terms, they are usually operating from their Adapted Child or Nurturing Parent ego states.

The Rehearser – What shall I say next? How shall I say it? Is this word better than that word? The Rehearser is constantly thinking about what to say next rather than listening. By the time they say their well-rehearsed sentence, the moment has probably passed. And they will have missed what has been said in the meantime. And it probably doesn’t come out well as they haven’t got it exactly as they wanted, because they were trying to get it out word for word. Their action plan is then to rehearse more next time, and the downward spiral continues.

The Sparrer – The Sparrer argues and debates with people about what they are saying, doing, believing, or explaining. The Sparrer has to talk. The other person doesn’t feel heard, can feel very frustrated and can be drawn into explaining and justifying.

There you go – I hope that helps. What it doesn’t answer is just why so many of us are so poor at listening to others.

I’m sure specific individuals have come to mind as you have been reading through the descriptions. But perhaps we should reflect as to whether any of them apply to us?


The responsibility of power, and the power of responsibility

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Last week here in the UK, a couple of our Members of Parliament (MPs) made comments they regretted – or perhaps they regretted? Whether they did or they didn’t regret them, it has been claimed in some quarters that they said ‘sorry’ for their interventions, but I’m not sure that they did.

Labour front bencher Diane Abbott was the first. She Tweeted a fairly sweeping generalisation about what “white people” allegedy sometimes do, and in doing so raised a few eyebrows. She eventually sought to minimise any damage caused – after either a period of reflection or having been ordered to – and issued a statement. Within it she said, “I understand people have interpreted my comments as making generalisations about white people. I do not believe in doing that. I apologise for any offence caused.”

The second example, which occurred around the same time as the first, was by a member of the Conservative Party – fortuitously, as it hopefully protects me from accusations of political affiliations! Our Prime Minister had made unfavourable comments about Ed Balls’ body language at Prime Minister’s Questions. He also felt the need to apologise. “I was speaking off the cuff, and if I offended anyone of course I am very sorry about that,” David Cameron said to Andrew Marr on the latter’s BBC1 Show. “That was not my intention at all.”, he added.

But these aren’t apologies. They are excuses for apologies.

Let’s say you go into a shop to complain about how you have been treated by a member of staff, because their actions and behaviour made you angry. You explain all this to the manager. The manager then apologises to you for your anger. How is that likely to impact on you? Has that really helped? And, perhaps most importantly, how seriously is the matter being taken.

Both Abbott and Cameron have only apologised to people experiencing negative feelings – and only for the feelings, not for their own actions. If you didn’t experience any feelings, they are not talking to you. They haven’t taken responsibility for their behaviour.

This theme of responsibility raised its ugly head again yesterday when I was watching a football match on the Television. A player was waiting for the ball to be returned to him so that he could take a throw in, and from the brief close up it was obvious that the player was receiving a considerable amount of abuse from that section of the crowd.  The commentator felt a need to comment. Perhaps because of the colour of the players skin, perhaps because the player had recently been involved in a high profile confrontation with an allegedly racist foundation, perhaps for some other reason. Commenting about the abuse of footballers, he said, “It is habitual …. It goes on, blue, red, black, white, it’s the nature of the beast”.

Sadly, I accept such abuse happens – I go to football matches. But it’s not habitual and if I am part of that collective ‘beast’, it’s certainly not in my nature.  I would have preferred it if the commentator had been a little less resigned and a shown a little more responsibility. Rather than accepting it as the norm and labelling everyone, would it not have been more helpful for him to point out the unacceptability of what was happening, and that it doesn’t have to be like that, to the millions who were viewing?

Having staff take responsibility for their actions is a key role of management. Where a manager genuinely apologises for the inappropriate or unhelpful actions of one of their staff, as opposed to the feelings of the customer, he or she is more likely to deal with the matter robustly. And where the manager ensures that the employee takes responsibility for their actions, the approach is more mature and more beneficial for organisational development – which can only contribute positively to the organisation’s successes.

I am currently working with one organisation where such an approach has had a powerful result. In past times, when one of their drivers had a collision, they gave them additional training. For the past few years the first thing they do – where the driver is at fault – is to require them to take responsibility for their actions that led to the collision. This discussion leads to a greater insight into what the person has done and their specific development needs. This approach has contributed to a more than 25% reduction in collisions for this organisation.

Perhaps if this approach led to a 25% swing in voters, MPs would be more adept at taking responsibility for their actions – genuinely or otherwise!


How do you respond in difficult situations?

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

I mentioned the ‘Responses to Dominance’ model in my last post about the Sky Sports sexism furore. I have always found this an interesting and helpful model for enabling us to understand how people may respond differently to ourselves in the same or similar situations.

The model (also sometimes referred to as the ‘Conflict Continuum’) has three named positions on a horizontal line (the continuum). At one end of the line there is the Withdrawal (Avoidance) position, and at the opposite end is the Resistance (Confrontation) position. And in the middle of the line the point labelled Acquiescence (Diffusion).

The model is labelled as a continuum because a person can take any of these positions – but can also change their position on the continuum at any point. People will often adopt different positions in different situations, however, usually a person will have a ‘preferred’ or default position when finding themselves in a position of conflict.

It is possible to develop the Sky Sports scenario further in order to illustrate the model. Let’s say, in our hypothetical situation, that there is a camerawoman who works for Sky Sports who has witnessed the now public sexist incidents (and possibly other similar situations) that have occurred within the Sky Sports studios and elsewhere where Sky Sports have been reporting from. ‘Camerawoman’ is a bit of a mouthful to keep repeating, so let’s call her Jill.

When Jill has witnessed one of these incidents and recognised the sexism, it may well be that she is a little concerned, wondering if whether it the sort of workplace she wants work in. It may be that it takes a few such incidents for her to be concerned. Whenever it occurs, she will probably think about her options. Jill could start looking for another job, or hand in her notice immediately. This latter course of action can sometimes be followed when the situation has a severe impact on the person and possibly brings about a deterioration in their health. Both of these responses would be examples of Withdrawal – as Jill is taking herself away from the situation.

Alternatively, it may well be that she decides that whilst she doesn’t like it, she’s going to tolerate it as she has a lot of friends at the company – and whilst she will tolerate it, she also doesn’t want to rock the boat. So Jill may witness such an incident and one of her male (or female) colleagues might say something like, “You’re okay with this banter, aren’t you – you know we’re not sexist?”. Whilst Jill is uncomfortable with this sort of workplace behaviour, she could replied, “Sexist? Don’t be daft, of course you’re not – it’s a good laugh”. Here Jill would be diffusing the situation, and therefore providing us with a good example of how someone Acquiesces.

Jill’s final possible position on our continuum is that of Resistance. People can resist, or confront, in two ways – through the use of either Negotiation or Power. If Jill chose to give feedback to those involved by explaining what they were doing and how it was impacting on her, she would be confronting the issue through Negotiation. To do this successfully she would be having an Adult (TA) conversation with the other individual(s). It has the potential to be a win-win situation – as the behaviour will cease, Jill will be happier, her colleagues will learn and they will probably be stronger as a team. If you want to build a mature team or organisation, this is the approach that needs to be used – hence why there is such a push for mediation to be used in the workplace.

Jill could also address the matter through the use of Power – either immediately, or perhaps if a Negotiated approach has been unsuccessful. Examples of the use of Power can be taking a person to an Employment Tribunal, or, perhaps specific to this type of workplace, releasing audio or audio visual recordings of the incidents to the wider media, knowing or believing that they would be picked up and broadcast more widely (Perhaps this is what happened in the actual scenario that led to Andy Gray and Richard Keys leaving Sky Sports?). How does this differ from the Negotiated approach? Well, Jill would probably be addressing this from her Parent ego state (TA) – particularly if she went straight for this course of action before trying to address it in any other way – and there is likely to be a win-lose result.

We have to remember – and this is very important – that all positions on the continuum can be appropriate. People need to use the method that is most useful for them at a particular time. If Jill had financial constraints, giving up her job might cause more stress than carrying on in an uncomfortable environment, so Acquiescence would be right for her at that time. And what might be right for the development of the organisation is not necessarily right for the individual.

In my next post, I’ll describe a model that really helps people address conflict successfully – in other words, a model to support the approach of Negotiation.


Customer Service – is it really that difficult?

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

I’m guessing that the time after Christmas is when more goods are returned as faulty or not wanted than at any other time of the year? Perhaps this is linked to a post I recently saw on a forum from a trainer asking about what they should train in relation to dealing with customers who complain – in short, should an apology be given or not.

My first thought was that this appears to highlight one of the key signs of an immature organisation when it comes to defining the training need. This question should be decided by the business – the operational management – not the trainer. It is a fundamental business decision as to how to respond to customer complaints. And it shouldn’t be too difficult.  But it appears that it is based on interactions I have had over the past couple of months.

My first experience related to going to buy – or trying to buy – a rail ticket at our local railway station. Knowing the ticket office closed at 7pm, I arrived at 6.45pm. As I walked towards the ticket office, I could see the person was serving another customer. As he saw me, he turned his sign around to read ‘Closed’. I wasn’t impressed. I went to see the Station Master to express my frustration. He said I must be wrong, and so went over to the ticket office. The man behind the counter said he was now closed, and the Station Master shrugged his shoulders at me and walked off.  Was he really the ‘Station Master’? Sir Topham Hat (aka The Fat Controller) wouldn’t have allowed such happenings on the island of Sodor.

I emailed Northern Rail with my concerns. The response explained that the Ticket Office, “ … is open until 1900 however because advance purchase tickets can be quite involved and can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes per transaction we try and ask customers to come in before 18.45 if you are purchasing advance purchase tickets”. The respondent added their, “… sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused”.

20 minutes to buy a rail ticket! I’ve bought a few in my time, but they have never taken that long. Red rag to a bull.

I responded asking (1) where they publicise how they ask customers to come in before 18.45 and (2) their evidence for suggesting the average length of a ticket purchasing transaction.

The response I received was from the Customer Service Duty Manager this time – it had been an Officer on the first occasion. They didn’t answer either question directly, but said that they had to open to their advertised times and that on the day I visited the Ticket Officer was dealing with a particularly complicated ticket purchase to Swansea (a wonderful level of detail – remember to allow extra time the next time you buy a rail ticket to Swansea – or perhaps it could be anywhere in Wales … perhaps I should have clarified further, but I didn’t). I was also offered £30 for my inconvenience. Was the £30 for the inconvenience of my initial attempted purchase or for the inconvenience of highlighting the blatantly false information in the initial email?

My second experience relates to my son’s electric under-blanket. He is rather fond of this piece of electrical equipment. Only his iphone rates more highly, I suspect. When the under-blanket’s switch broke in late November (when it was particularly cold) he wasn’t too happy. Particularly as it was less than two years old (and with a three year guarantee). I emailed Morphy Richards explaining the issue, the fact it was within the guarantee period and asking what I needed to do to get a replacement switch.

The automated reply explained, “Your enquiry has been forwarded to a member of our Consumer Care Team. We are currently experiencing an extremely high volume of email enquiries and therefore the time taken for us to respond to your enquiry will be longer than usual”.

I didn’t receive any further word from them, and so I emailed them again 21 days later (perhaps they could reduce by 50% the amount of emails they receive by responding to the first email?). The content of the email was the same as the first, with one addition – I explained I would start proceedings in the Small Claims Court if I didn’t hear from them within the next seven days.

Two days later I received an email and a phone call.  Within the five-paragraph email, three were devoted to explaining the robustness of their engineering processes and apologising for the malfunction.  There was no reference to having ignored my first email. The purpose of the phone call was to tell me that a new blanket was being put in the post that day.

During the phone call I explained to my Customer Engagement Officer (CEO) that I accepted things unexpectedly break and that I didn’t have an issue with that. I thought it would have been more relevant to offer an apology for not responding to my initial email.   

And my third encounter was yesterday in Asda. I did a ‘quick shop’ for a few bits and pieces, and as I was leaving the store did a quick check of my till receipt. When I was a youngster, when my mum got back from doing the weekly shop at Fine Fare, she would check every item against the receipt – I don’t go to those lengths, but I do undertake quick checks!  Anyway, I noticed that I had been charged for six bags of clementines rather than the two I actually bought. I went to Customer Services, the person did a quick check of what I was claiming, gave me a refund, apologised for the mistake and then gave me a gift card loaded with £2 “for the inconvenience caused”.  

Customer Service should be an organisation’s strongest link as opposed to its weakest link. This is where reputations are built or broken. And it’s not that difficult, is it?   

So, Northen Rail, Morphy Richards or Asda – who reacted most positively and who underperformed? Who would you vote off?  


Ofsted – head in the sandpit?

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

As we focus on where we could save money and where we waste money in the UK in order to balance the books, I am becoming increasingly unsure of why Ofsted continues to exist – at least in its current form.

Earlier this year (15 August 2010) I blogged about my thoughts on what Chris Woodhead, the former Chief Inspector of Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) had been saying about schooling. In The Times (25 July 2010), whilst talking about English Literature classes, he wrote, “The aim should not be to develop ‘critical thinking skills’”, and added that children, “should not be encouraged to express their opinions on the texts. Who cares what they think or feel?” I find that harder to believe every time I read it. And, incidentally, I care what they think and feel.

His more current collegues were also involved in the tragic Baby Peter case. You may recall that Ms Shoesmith’s was the Director of Children’s Services in Haringey at the time, and she appealed against unfair dismissal by the Council. During the appeal Ofsted suddenly discovered thousands of pages of undisclosed evidence which they had previously said could not be located. These contained snippets such as notes relating to Ofsted inspectors being told to delete all emails on the case, and evidence that an additional finding was popped in stating, “There is insufficient strategic leadership and management oversight …”  Ofsted had also given Haringey’s Children’s Services a glowing 3-star rating only a few weeks after Baby Peter had died. The subsequent revelations didn’t make things appear that 3-star to others.

And last week Ofsted again hit the headlines for their part in the awful Little Ted Nursery case. The Plymouth Safeguarding Children Board completed the Serious Case Review into the Nursery in March 2010, and sent it to Ofsted as is required. Apparently, Ofsted didn’t respond until October 2010, thus delaying the publishing of the Report until last week.

The purpose of a Serious Case Review is to ensure that lessons are learned and practices are changed so that incidents such as this should not recur – so that society safeguards and promotes the welfare of children. How is taking 7 months to respond to a report an effective way of protecting children? I thought that there must be a good reason for this delay, so I went to its website and had a look at the ‘News’ section. Not a mention – even though they’ve had 7 months to think about it.  

Paragraph 5.44 of the Serious Case Review states, “It has become clear from this review that whilst the Early Years Service had many concerns about the nursery there was no formal mechanism for informing Ofsted, since they did not reach the threshold of a breach of regulations. Similarly Ofsted had no means of discussing with Early Years the support need of the nursery. It is notable that whilst Early Years had the nursery identified as red or amber on its own rating system, Ofsted inspections were good or satisfactory”. Again, Ofsted making a judgement that is far removed from reality.

So why is this happening? There is a theme, and that is the ‘tick-box’ culture that Ofsted appears to support. This was noted by Deborah Orr when she wrote in the Guardian last year (26 November 2009). “Does Ofsted’s  tick-box culture deserve the criticism that has been heaped on it this week? I do believe so. I have before me an inspection report on a London primary school, rated outstanding. It scores the highest grade (out of four) in every one of 33 categories, except two. What are the two categories that this school fails to achieve perfection in? Oh, just ‘standards achieved by learners’ and ‘how well learners develop . . . skills that will contribute to their economic well-being’. Little things, of no great consequence in a school.”

What’s the common denominator in these last three examples? Ofsted have awarded ratings that are far higher than the services or institutions warrant – when looking at it from the perspective of society rather than ticked boxes.

Exactly. Because what generally happens when you create a tick-box culture? You measure things that are easy to measure – because that’s what ticking boxes is about. And that in turn makes unimportant things suddenly important – because they are generally easier to measure when using boxes to be ticked. And so people stop concentrating on the important things – because what gets measured generally happens.  And so the truly important matters are not important any longer – well, not to the inspectors and those who are being inspected and want to achieve a good rating.

These examples are three occasions where Ofsted have given ratings far higher than they deserve.

Earlier this year Zenna Atkins announced she would be standing down as Chair of Ofsted on 31 August 2010.  When she spoke of her decision to stand down, she said, “The work of Ofsted not only costs the taxpayer a third less than when undertaken by four separate inspectorates but we are also supporting improvement in a more efficient and effective way. Front-line observation and engagement with children, parents and leadership teams are now at the heart of all new inspection arrangements, sweeping away any inherited tick box culture”.

I’m not convinced, Zenna.

In my view, Ofsted is not providing value for money – even if it is costing a third less – and it needs a complete overhaul. More important than it not providing value, it is not measuring the right things, and most importantly it is not effectively protecting children or supporting their development. And it appears to be institutionalised in its processes and so I wonder whether it will be able to change. I’d scrap it.

It is great as a case study of what can go wrong when tick-box processes are created. But, sadly, in my opinion, that’s all it’s currently good for.


Double Dutch tips

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

The final instalment of my Netherlands Trilogy starts at the Bistro Zilverzoen, in Elberg – and involves haggling with a waitress over a tip. After leaving the glares of Walibi World we went to find a nice restaurant for a birthday meal to celebrate my daughter’s birthday.  We came upon this restaurant by chance – but it was great.

It appeared very popular with the locals of the very picturesque and historic little town of Elberg, and it was nicely decorated. It felt homely. It transpired that it had a good menu and the fresh food was well prepared and enjoyable. The friendliness and helpfulness of the waitresses added to the ambience. For example, due to our command of the Dutch language amounting to a grand total of “Danka je vel” (thank you), one translated the entire menu into English for us. We also wanted a starter for three of us that was only available for 2 or 4 people – so they gave us a third portion free of charge. It was a lovely meal.

And so when it came to paying, I wanted to recognise this by giving a suitable tip. I worked out what 15% of the bill was and decided to add that on. Unfortunately, the credit card machine was all in Dutch, and so I asked the waitress to add the tip on to the machine. To my great surprise, she said that she couldn’t possibly add that amount on as it was far too much for the service that she had provided. She suggested an amount equivalent to about 3%. I protested! She wouldn’t budge. I suggested that we should barter, and I came down to 12%. I suggested that she move to 6%, to which she reluctantly agreed. I then used a few lines from the bartering scene from the Life of Brian – which were, I think, lost on her, but I enjoyed it. She eventually agreed to add 7%. I left a further 7% in cash.

The exchanges were all very pleasant and in good humour, but a waitress saying that the tip was too much was not something I had experienced before. Has it happened to you?

Peta, my wife, was particularly despondent at the interaction as she has been saying for the past 20 years that I’m not generous enough with my tips. Perhaps in future I should ask waiting staff how much they think I should tip them, and why (a little like a self-assessment appraisal!) prior to me making a final decision?

What was very pleasing about it was to see someone putting some thought into the value of the service they deliver. Some organisations have corporate objectives or visions related to customer satisfaction or providing the best service, when actually their objective is to make as much money as possible. Greed appears to be a significant aspect of our culture in Britain. This condition is  unfortunately as prevalent in L & D consultancy as much as it is – if not more so – in any other sector.

Here was a restaurant obviously wanting to make a profit, but to make a fair profit.  Very refreshing. Both society and business budgets would be healthier for such a mind set.

How do we get this to catch on?


Playing with feeling and playing to learn

Monday, July 26th, 2010

In my last post I talked about the value that can be gained from affective learning methodologies, and the reluctance of some trainers to use such methodologies. One such methodology is the role play, and in this post I will give a brief run through on how to do it well.

Some role plays are very tightly scripted or structured – almost being the acting out of a scenario, or a simulation – and such activities are not intended to, nor are they likely to, achieve any affective based learning.

In order to create learning through the use of the Affective domain, the role play needs to be as unstructured as possible – and even then there is no guarantee it will achieve this. As the title suggests, it needs to involve ‘play’. We first learn to ‘play’ as children – and this generally takes place within very loose parameters, generates feelings and is one of the principle ways for children to develop their understanding of the world around them. Not unlike a good role play!

When I think back to learning events that I have really enjoyed delivering because of the intensity of the learning that has taken place, several involve unstructured or semi-structured role plays. When prepared, delivered and – most importantly – de-briefed effectively, they are an impactive way to improve interpersonal and decision making skills in a safe environment, generating long lasting learning.

Here are some key points to incorporate into your planning if you want to stand the best chance of creating an affective role play.

  • Be clear about why you are choosing the methodology – does it link in to your desired outcomes or objectives?
  • Role plays tend to be most impactive once the group is settled and relatively comfortable with each other.
  • Use volunteers – the more relaxed and willing the participants are, the more likely they are to ‘get into the role’.
  • Use written instructions so that the participants don’t know what the briefs are for each other.
  • Use names that can be for either gender – Sam or Pat for example – so that you can use whoever volunteers.
  • Where you are using an unstructured role, it is important to give the role a person’s name (i.e. Sam). This will make it clear to the person playing the role that their skills are not being assessed by those watching. In order to generate real feelings, they need to understand that they are not being asked to ‘perform’.
  • Give sufficient instructions so that the participants know how to get started, together with the licence to react as they feel fit as the role play unfolds – so you give them a ‘role’, and encourage them to ‘play’.

When might you use one? Well, one example could be in customer service training where you are wanting (1) delegates to be able to explain the potential effect on customers of a particular course of action and (2) to give feedback to a delegate on how he or she deals with a situation they may be faced with in the future.

Your briefing for the employee who will receive feedback on how they deal with a scenario could be that they are required to deal with a customer complaint in the role in which they are employed – in this instance as a Borough Council ‘front desk’ clerk.  The complainant’s brief could be that they are Sam and have neighbours who have had noisy parties for the last three weekends which have stopped Sam from sleeping. As a result Sam has spoken to the neighbour who has said that they will carry on having them, and so Sam wants the Council to address the matter before the weekend. Sam can react as he or she sees fit dependent upon how Sam is dealt with by the clerk.

Having run the role play to its natural conclusion you come to the all important de-brief. Important because you may have generated feelings in individuals and as the instigator (and trainer) you have a responsibility to discuss and give meaning to these. Important because this is where the learning is for all who are present. This is the order in which I would de-brief the scenario – and the order is important for the benefit of all those involved.

  1. Go to ‘Sam’ and ask them what they are feeling / what emotions they have.
  2. Go to Council employee (using real name) and ask the same
  3. Ask if the role play has generated any feelings for the rest of the group, and if so what feelings.
  4. Go to ‘Sam’, and this time using his / her real name, ask why Sam had the feelings described in point 1. Explore what created each of those feelings. (The name change is important here as it starts to take the person out of role).
  5. Using their own names, ask the same questions of the Council clerk and any others from the group.
  6. Points 4 & 5 above have enabled you to extract the affective learning and enabled you to debrief those involved.
  7. You can then debrief the rest of the role play in a similar way to how you might have done if you had used as a case exercise or case study as your methodology. If there are no feelings generated, you would again de-brief in a similar way to a case exercise.  
  8. Ensure the group has taken all the learning from the scenario.

That’s my 5 minute guide to running and de-briefing a role play with the intention of incorporating the Affective domain of learning. Did it make sense? If not, or you need more information, please get in touch.