The Tale of the Apple Nano, the Guesthouse Owner and the Taxi Driver

In conversation the other evening with the proprietor of a local Guesthouse we were talking about the different levels of expectation amongst visitors of different nationality. Talk about differentiation…!

One notable difference my friend commented upon was that visitors from the United States tended to have very large items of luggage which they unloaded en masse from the car and brought into the B&B. They seemed to have packed for every eventuality he commented. His role? To lug the luggage up to the rooms. In return he sometimes received a tip. Even staying for only one night, every item of baggage is brought into the house and up the stairs. He duly obliges every time, knowing what to expect.

It reminded me of a tale told to me by a taxi driver in Belfast who was doing the Airport run. He complained bitterly about ‘Some Big Yank’ who after being picked up at the airport and driven to the Europa Hotel, expected the taxi driver to then lift his baggage out of the Cab and into the hotel. That being what would happen back home in the US of A and most right thinking places.

But no. Not with this Taxi Driver, the Travis Bickle of Belfast. He of course refused to carry the bag, and complained bitterly that he didn’t receive a tip for the job of driving him. “Lazy big fuckin Yank expected me to lift his bag in so he did… then he didn’t even give me a tip.”

I listened amused – he didn’t realise that by actually carrying the bag he may have received a tip beyond his wildest dreams. Touché.

The customer service culture is one with which we are not entirely comfortable to be honest in this country. There are those companies that do it very well. Some indulge the customer to the point of being overbearing. But, it can be hit and miss.

For others, it is so good it comes across as their natural state and they don’t even appear to be trying. I suppose the acid test is when it comes down to customer complaints. In your business, how do you deal with them?

In Christmas 2010 during the bad weather, I ordered an engraved iPod Nano direct from Apple for my son from Santa Claus. It was ordered more than two weeks ahead of the big day and I was confident Apple wouldn’t let me down. Then of course the bad weather struck with the news full of tales of orders not being fulfilled.

Sure enough Christmas approached and no sign of it. My son aged eight, and still being a believer couldn’t be told that Apple had sent the Nano but Santa hadn’t picked it up on time. No, despite the recessionary times, we took the collective decision to buy a Nano in HMV. I have recently developed the simple approach ‘if you can’t control it, don’t worry about it’ .

I resolved to worry about Apple after Christmas. I assumed the Nano may arrive at some stage. So I range early in the New Year to explain the situation and spoke to a guy from Cork on the helpdesk. I told him I had bought another and was disappointed the original handn’t arrived. I was prepared for an argument to secure a refund.

After running though my details, card number etc, “OK” says the Apply guy. “We’ll refund that OK?”. “What” I spluttered. Gobsmacked. I couldn’t believe it, I hadn’t even asked the question!

It is one of the golden rules of customer service to exceed customer expectations. If you let them down, the relationship has already drifted towards negative equity. Arguing the toss over something when you are already on to a loser isn’t necessarily the best policy.

By taking the wind completely out of my sails, the Apple customer relationship operative (or whatever his official title is) not only exceeded expectations but succeeded in another detail. As a result of his helpfulness and the fact he executed a no quibble policy faultlessly.

He also achieved something else. Since then I have been telling people how good Apple are at customer service. Isn’t that what we all dream of? Word of mouth marketing.


Postscript: I called into the apple store in Belfast. One of the Geniuses working there approached me. Can I help you he asked. Yes, I replied, can you fit some extra memory for my macBook, I have it here. Yes I can he said, but it will cost you about £150. He edged  closer and said conspiritorially, my advice is to go online, buy it yourself It’ll cost you about twenty quid, and fit it yourself.

So: iDid, it did, and iDid. iPressive.

I Wrote it Down Here Somewhere

Can you explain in writing your business does? Really? Can you describe it in say, thirty words? If you met a stranger in an elevator and she asked you what you do, could you tell her before the doors re-opened?

One of the problems that I come across in dealing with all sorts of organisations –  small-businesses in particular – is the inability to describe in writing what they do. They know their business inside out, they eat, breathe and live it so what’s the problem?

You’ve seen it yourself. Someone decides that you need a brochure/website/Facebook page etc. A budget will be allocated to graphic design to make the thing look the perfect but little thought is given to the words. And yet words are something we use every day to describe what we do.

A few years ago I came across the writing of John Simmons. At the time I was sort of casually hunting about looking for something to give me fresh ideas on writing copy for business. I had worked in a University where the management and the administrators wrote deadening, stultifying prose that was teeming with ‘best practice’, ‘deliverables’, ‘cutting edges’. . . the whole effect of course was to create a ‘centre of excellence’. (Aren’t they everywhere?) The effect was to emasculate language, to cut off its you-know-whats.

I knew that this sort of tripe most definitely wouldn’t do when writing for other people. Although I could write with the best of them, I could feel myself gradually getting mired in this nonsense. I had to make a deliberate and conscious effort to shake it off.

The problem I still find when I work with businesses is that some to stray into corporate-speak. It is easier to talk in jargon than say anything meaningful. That is a trap you must avoid. To help, there are many sources out there on writing for business.

But many books of the books on writing copy seem to be written more in the form of self help books by American copywriting gurus, full of big bold headlines like ‘How to ensure your email is opened’ or ‘Twelve ways to write a sales letter.’ All good stuff I’m sure, but I personally didn’t feel the immediate need for a writing recovery programme.

So when I discovered John Simmons work almost by accident, it was a breath of fresh air. I think the first book I read was The Invisible Grail. The opening sentence reads:

‘The basic narrative of this book is the quest for the ‘grail’ that will enable brands to build better relationships with their audiences.’

Hmmm I thought, interesting but not rocket science. As I read on however I became more and more enthused. John Simmons advocated an entirely new way of writing for businesses. Creative. Engaging. Using humour. Poetry. Taking inspiration directly from great works. He says:

‘Words are a creative force: words that write poems, tell jokes, engage people in conversations. Words that tell stories.’

This last sentence in particular intrigued me. Telling stories. Reading The Invisible Grail, I quickly moved onto his other works, We, Me, Them and It and Dark Angels. These books tell the story of how you can write well for any purpose without lapsing into corporate-speak. But more interestingly how to bring your work alive by being daring, adventurous and using the influences that are all around you. Anyone who is interested in improving their writing should read them. Now.

His latest work is excellent, highly enjoyable and very stimulating: ‘Twenty-six ways of looking at a blackberry: How to let writing release the creativity of your brand

If you have the chance and the time, try reading John Simmons. You’ll find at least 26 ways to improve your writing.

In the meantime don’t settle for dead prose that turns your customers off. Tell the stories, have a joke or two. Engage them by talking directly to them.

You never know what might happen.

Imagine There’s No Sliotar. . .

A while back I went along to a coaching session where Eamon O’Shea, the Tipp coach was scheduled to speak. Although I’d read a bit about O’Shea, and how he told the Tipp team they would score goals against Kilkenny in Croker, I didn’t really know much about him. Well, I do now.

During the course of the session he ran a drill of backs v forwards. What’s the big deal about that? Well, aside from the fact he didn’t bother with any cones, the drill went ahead without a sliotar. And, whilst the players were encouraged to proceed as if the sliotar was there, what the drill forced them to do was to think about their running and movement.

And so they hurled away without the ball. It was full on stuff 100% as the cliché says. But the running patterns were good. As one wag from our club put it, ‘training like this will save us a fortune in balls.’

He also suggested getting young children, beginners U-8s to practice the movements of the game, swinging the stick and catching the ball; their movement and balance without using a hurley and ball at all. I tried having our U-8s strike an imaginary ball at training on Friday night and it was the best craic we had. “Ok lads, it’s the last minute, your sixty metres out and your hitting this one over the bar to win the game, away ye go.” Cue sixteen lads nailing the ball, myself in the middle of them striking my own imaginary sliotar over the bar.

And the lads? Well they celebrated scoring those points as if they’d won the All Ireland itself. And you know what, not one of them missed, every single one of them scored. Imagine that?

Sure you couldn’t do better than that. Sometimes it takes listening to a fella like Eamon O’Shea. Certainly made me do better.

From Bangkok and Bolivia to Back Home in Derry

We all know him. The unreconstructed supporter who, as far as their county is concerned, hears no evil, sees no evil and, depending on how things are going for the team speaks no evil. When he does speak he can be worth the listening. Oh yes he can!

There are the men that loyal to the colours. Faithful to the cause to a fault. McKenna Cup matches? Not a bother. The odd friendly in the backend of beyond? Not out of the question. Talking endless football in a corner bar? Frequently. Sticking up for players? Yes indeed, many would be close friends.

Let us give him a name. Let’s call him Conan. It’s a common enough name. For the sake of argument let us say that he is from one of Derry’s less fashionable clubs.  And let’s imagine that Conan goes to matches with his father, whom he refers to as ‘me da.’

I’ve never met his ‘da’ but I know the sort of him. His son didn’t lick it off the grass you know. He too, an unreconstructed Derry man. Goes to the All Ireland Final every year, him and his son both. Together. Not to support Derry of course. That vintage isn’t often tasted by the corner bar regulars. But like a dog watching the master eat his dinner, the annual Croker trip only whets the appetite for the day when he too can once again feast at the top table.

And what of his loyalty and friendship? Here is a man who may travel round the world exploring new things, bungee jumping, walking the Sydney Harbour Bridge, speeding in the outback, savouring the delights of Bangkok, the street markets of Bolivia. Tucked in the rucksack will be the club shirt, the county jersey and an iPod packed to the hilt with songs and music to ease his lonely heart.

But he wasn’t really lonely. Alongside him there through thick and thin were maybe a few other lads, chancers, eejits and the odd footballer or two who wanted to travel the world and see what goes on in places that aren’t Derry.

One boy, not Conan, buying a pair of self-cleaning underpants from an outdoor clothing store before he left. Maybe suitable for outdoor wear but indoors in the travellers’ tent not such a welcome article.

Our man Conan organised much of the trip. Whilst others were tattooed, shaved and massaged, and tried to impress the local ladies with the lines that maybe worked in Dorman’s and Walshes’, he made sure in the next town they had somewhere to stay.

And when the Club dinner dance came along it was him that got them all together and sang ‘Back Home in Derry’ on video and squirelled it home for the folks. Because back home in Derry, Christmas mightn’t be just the same without them.

Eventually though our man Conan, isn’t that what we called him? He comes home and settled back down to doing what he does. Maybe the jobs are harder to find. Still. Maybe be gets the chance to help out with a team or two. Even working with a couple of the County underage teams and maybe a club team or two.

And although much in demand he maybe gets a day out in Croke Park himself with a camogie team in the All Ireland. And best of all, would you believe it, they won and who ever heard of the team physio being quoted afterwards in the Irish News!  Some people are born to it.

Maybe one day he’ll immortalise it all in a poem or two. But one thing’s for certain, he’s here today!