I've started reading the book "Fans Not Customers" by Vernon Hill, the founder of Metro Bank UK and Commerce Bancorp in America. The basic principle is that competitive edge comes down to service and if customers become fans then they will help create yet more fans. So far, this formula has worked magnificently for Vernon, with year on year growth in the banking sector, at a time when other banks are struggling.
So I decided to visit my local Metro bank in Kingston upon Thames and what a refreshing experience it turned out to be, more on that later.
It also got me thinking about some of the other "brands" I had experienced in the last few days. Now I am a big fan of Graham Norton and I was absolutely delighted to see the live recording of his show last week with guest stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Timothy Spall, Miranda and Maroon 5. Once inside the studio the experience was a joy, the show ran like clockwork, Norton was superb, funny, extremely slick and professional. However the pre-show experience was very poor by comparison. Despite having pre-registered for tickets we still had to queue for 90 minutes and even then we were lucky to get in. We were also fortunate in that it was both warm and dry. The process can at best be compared to a poorly run raffle at a village fete. It actually included a man shouting out ticket numbers and colours in an inaudible fashion! So while I remain a "fan" of Graham Norton and a "customer" of his show, I am unlikely to recommend others go through the same experience.
So back to the Metro Bank tour that we were treated too today. All the staff were refreshingly helpful, we were greeted in a large open reception that looked more like a hotel than a branch. We were told that we could open an account within 15 minutes and that we would walk away with our debit card. We were shown the vaults, offered the free use of a meeting room and a customer toilet! I am most definitely a fan and will probably be a customer very soon.
As we walked home it started to rain and we passed what we thought was a queue of people at a bus stop. It turned out to be a queue of parents who had driven their children to an entrance exam at a top performing school. I wondered how Metro Bank would treat these potential "customers". Surely they wouldn't expect customers of their bank to queue outside in the rain.
So back to Vernon Hill who has the following core principles:-
I received an interesting and "special" email from the charming Martin Lewis this week. Special, in that it warned that the email was being sent out very carefully, as "telling 9m people at once risks putting a strain on the UK ticket system". Interesting, in that finally there was some good news for the consumer in terms of getting cheaper train tickets. Initially I enjoyed reading that the new TicketySplit tool "takes on the ridiculous train ticket pricing anomaly that means buying two separate tickets sometimes costs less. It can save some regular travellers £1,000s".
But I then got to thinking, why was there a need at all for such a tool, surely it should already be easy to buy the best value tickets, through existing channels! But here is the very genesis of what is wrong with the current fares and ticketing system. The increased competition of the rail operating industry has created a complex system of ticketing that no longer makes sense to the consumer. It seems that rather than competing on train service reliability and punctuality, train operators are competing on price and how to make the whole process of ticket purchase confusing. How many times have you sat on a train and wondered how much the person opposite you paid for their journey? Worse still why is it that people with the best bargains repeatedly broadcast this news to the rest of the carriage!
Maybe we should ask the lovely people at the BBC to do a "BBC Price of Transport study" to follow up on their highly interesting "BBC Sport's Price of Football study" (launched today). Not only would we know how much a pie costs at White Hart Lane or AFC Wimbledon (where sadly they either do not have pies or refuse to reveal their prices), but we could also know how much it costs to get to all the football grounds by all the various options. But then again there is now at least Tickety Split!
I was at a 50th birthday "wild hog" celebration last week, golfing at Celtic Manor, home of the Ryder Cup in 2010. Things certainly got off to a "wild" start, as in the excitement of meeting up, we somehow managed to tip a whole jug of hot coffee over the birthday boy. Rather than worrying about any burn damage to his leg, his main concern was whether the coffee stain made it look like he had "shat himself", not the best look for someone just turning fifty!
Anyhow, the inevitable reminiscing that occurs at events such as these, got me thinking about how things have changed since I started working. It is hard to imagine now, looking back, how businesses functioned without digital technology such as computers and smart phones. Gone are the typing pools, the handwritten messages, and the rabbit warren like offices.
I was also, recently, at an Enterprise Nation event for small businesses hosted at Microsoft's smart and shiny offices in Victoria (London). At this event, amongst other things, we were given an excellent book by Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer for Microsoft UK, entitled "The Rise of Humans - How to outsmart the digital deluge". The theme of the book is all about the need to take back control from this digital development.
Although my favourite part, of the book, was actually the reference to Charles Handy's five elements for a great portfolio career, which also shows how work, or more precisely careers, are changing.
According to Handy, success is achieved by getting the right balance between: paid work (your day job); fee work (for specific products or services); gift work (e.g. charity or community work); home work (family time) and finally study work (learning and development time).
So far I have managed to achieve four out of these five, since setting up my own business www.pamah.org in 2012.
Anyhow, for the record, on the golf trip, we stayed up drinking in the hotel bar to way gone 11pm, and we didn't complain that much on the whole trip, apart from our demise on the golf course. Wild hogs indeed!