Friday, December 9, 2011

Engagement brings service brings profit

Some years ago I was staying at the Sheraton Towers in Singapore. One morning I was meandering through the hotel lobby and obviously appeared a little lost. A person cleaning the floor greeted me warmly, asked if there was anything I needed and, on being told I was simply going out for a walk, offered guidance as to the nearest train station and the shortest route to Orchard Road. Having been to Singapore many times and being very familiar with the city, I didn't really need his help but, without disclosing this to him, I thanked him for his interest and went on my way. That one experience did more to make me a "Sheraton fan" than did anything else in the hotel.

Back in 1990 I was in England when I got a phone call saying my father was in hospital and I should return to NZ as quickly as possible in order to see him before he died. My flight itinerary was with Finnair and I immediately contacted them to see if, under the circumstances, I could change my flights to another airline as Finnair had no appropriate scheduled flights to Bangkok - the transfer point. I was told "no". I phoned Qantas, explained the situation, and was told to get myself to Heathrow Airport, identify myself to the staff there, and that they would guarantee to get me on the first flight home. They did. I have never since flown Finnair (and have no intention to do so) and I became a Qantas fan.

Now I do not know what training they give cleaners at the Sheraton or to call centre staff at Qantas, but I do know that these two people gave me service that was exemplary and which put their organisations in a very positive light. I have used these experiences to recommend the Sheraton Towers ever since and, until the tragic demise of their service over recent years, I was a fervent advocate of Qantas

My point is simple. Two small actions by people very low in their organisation's hierarchies meant I changed brand allegiance as well as recommending to others that they change their brand allegiance too. This isn't unusual. Market research has for years made it clear that both good and bad service get talked about and shared. Good service can bring about increased market share while bad service can bring about decreased market share. Increased market share can bring about increased revenues and profits.

We all know we are living in a tough economic environment. We all hear organisations bemoaning the fact that business success is getting harder. But instead of increasing service to customers and clients we find reductions in front line service people and an increasing (and to many of us) infuriating reliance on automated responses and machines that are totally unable to provide the flexibility and commonsense that is usually needed. Machines and automation are great for totally standard issues but abysmal at anything requiring thought.

If organisations today seriously want to improve their revenues and their profits they need to improve their service. This is especially the case with retail and "service" organisations. Provide the leadership that creates an environment where you can be successful.

What do you think?

More about Doug Long at

Friday, December 2, 2011

Leadership: what a pity there's so little of it!

The other day I was asked for my views about political, business, and religious leadership both worldwide and in Australia. I replied that it was hard to find any - there is plenty of power and authority; there is plenty of command and control; there is plenty of talk - but precious little leadership.

Back in the mid 1990's I conducted a number of surveys in Australia, New Zealand, and South East Asia to ascertain who and why people considered to be leaders. I then interviewed 15 of these and the result was my book Leaders, Diamond or Cubic Zirconia? (1998). In the introduction to that book I make the comment "I am not making any judgement as to whether or not any or all [of those listed] are "diamonds or cubic zirconia". That is a conclusion that must be drawn by the reader."

Today I am far less circumspect. As said at the start - I see precious little leadership today no matter what is the arena in which I look for it.

Over the past 20 or so years we have seen flashes of political leadership - then Australian Prime Minister John Howard's response to the Port Arthur Massacre and his driving through of gun control and current Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's recent driving through of the pollution levy are good examples. But these flashes are few and far between. In the main we have the unedifying sight of political point scoring and power plays masquerading as "leadership". The party in power (whether in Australia or anywhere else) wants to remain in power and the opposition parties want to take over so anything goes no matter what is really best in the long term for the world, the country, or the populace.

Business, religious, social etc "leadership" is little different. Leadership in these areas seems to be primarily about numbers - market share, revenues, "value" etc (although these may actually be expressed through using one or another synonym) and in enhancing the personal and positional power and influence of those in charge. CEO's and executives seem to act as though they have forgotten that, in reality, they are every bit as much "employees" as are those in entry level positions. This is often seen by the seeking and accepting huge remuneration packages for themselves while fighting against remuneration increases for lower levels and/or otherwise taking action that adversely impacts the well-being and life quality of "employees". Most religious leaders, despite their words, seem to be far too often primarily concerned about narrow sectarian issues and show little or no real concern for refugees, the disadvantaged, and those outside of their immediate area of pastoral responsibility. And so I could continue.

Cubic zirconia abounds!

When I was researching for my latest book my surveys asked a wide range of people for their understanding of leadership. The messages I got back can be summarised as : "a leader is someone who I can trust and respect and who enables me to get things done and who, in the process, inspires me to do my best and to achieve results."

As I replied to my questioner, there is plenty of power and authority; there is plenty of command and control; there is plenty of talk - but precious little leadership. And that's a tragedy.

What do you think?

More about me at

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No there's not!

I use public transport whenever possible - it saves the hassle of traffic and parking even if, at least in Sydney, it can sometimes be unreliable.

One of the benefits of using public transport is that it gives me the opportunity to observe people. Yesterday, for example, there was a young man who got on the train a few stations after me. I'd guess he was early 20's, big build, and, from his clothes, was clearly involved in some form of manual work. He was heavily tattooed and sat in the seat in front of me where he openly indulged in drinking a large bottle of beer. The impression I got was "don't mess with me!" We reached his station and, as he stood up to alight, a woman, probably in her 80's and using a cane for support, also stood up from a few seats away. The train lurched and she stumbled. Like lightening the young man reached out, saved her from falling, then gently assisted her down the stairs, out the door, and onto the platform. As the train moved off he was walking and chatting with her and ensuring she was ok.

I couldn't help but compare this experience with one a few days previously when a group of school children got on the train. From their uniforms this very neat and tidy group (males and females) were all from prestigious private schools on Sydney's North Shore. They were aged around 16 and, as is often the case with young people, were talking loudly about their day's experience. At first glance this group appeared to be self-assured and confident. But, as with my experience yesterday, appearances were deceptive. Everyone in the carriage was quickly aware that the boys had sat some form of test and one boy in particular had not done as well as expected. He commented that his father would be furious about the results. One of the girls suggested he discuss his father's expectations with his father and the boy was obviously terrified at the thought. After some further discussion, and as the doors closed after the group alighted, I heard another of the boys then suggest: "Well, if its that bad, there's always suicide!"

Its a very long time since I was a school boy. As the train moved off I thought about my experiences with school tests and exams in the late 1950's. Neither I nor anyone I knew always got the results that our parents expected and there were times when we took results home very apprehensively! Like this group, we too talked about our results vis a vis parental expectations - but I have no recollection of anyone ever suggesting suicide as an option - even in jest.

I find it a sad commentary on our society when a child shows fear in relation to talking with parents and even more sad when, even if in jest, another child can suggest suicide as the solution.

Many years ago (1946) Victor Frankl, a Concentration Camp survivor, wrote a book called "Man's Search for Meaning" in which he recalled the desperation of concentration camp existence. He concluded that it is in knowing that we matter to someone somewhere that gives life meaning. Our society seems to have degenerated into an economic rationalist abyss where all that matters is "the bottom line". In this world, for far too many people, suicide is always an option. And tragedy can strike again.

Every person matters. Every person is important. Every person is deserving of respect and consideration. Every person can make a positive contribution to society. That is the message we need to get out alongside the emphasis on bottom line results. When it is again realised that, despite the rhetoric, we actually do live in a society not an economy then, when someone says "there's always suicide" the response can be "no there's not!"

What do you think?

More about Doug Long at

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Customer Service - Why can't retailers get the message?

Last Friday was my wife's birthday. In the previous weeks we had been out shopping together and I had taken careful note of those items in which she expressed an interest. Of particular interest to her was something offered by the Australian retailer David Jones. A couple of days before her birthday I went to David Jones in order to buy said item. I walked into their Hornsby store and, sure enough, the item was there locked behind a glass screen. Fair enough. I can understand why it was located in a place where it could not easily be stolen. But now my problems started. I looked around: no staff. Certainly there was a pay station, but it was unattended. I looked further into the adjoining departments. Not a staff member anywhere. I was not the least surprised to see that there were very few prospective customers either! For 10 minutes I waited and looked. In that time no David Jones employee entered either the department in which I was waiting or the adjoining departments. I walked out. David Jones had lost another sale. Since then, in talking with other people, it has become very clear that my experience is a common one and not only at the Hornsby store.

If I was a shareholder in David Jones (and I'm not), I would be furious. At a time when retailers say they are experiencing a downturn, why can't prospective customers get service. Why don't David Jones want my money? Perhaps the shareholders should be thinking in terms of changing the Board and senior management. It seems like they've forgotten customer service.

As readers of my blogs know, this lack of customer service is a major concern of mine. For that reason it was good to read Carolyn Cummins piece in this morning's Sydney Morning Herald ( Why can't major retailers get the message?

What do you think?

More about Doug Long at

Monday, September 12, 2011

Not the event but the reaction

Death is something we all know will occur yet, whenever it happens to a loved one, it is always heart wrenching. Over recent months 3 of my friends have had their wives die and other friends had their baby twins die a few days after birth. Although I have experienced bereavement in the death of my parents, I have never experienced what these people are going through and I marvel at the dignity and courage they showed at funerals and elsewhere.

Someone once said words to the effect of "life is what happens to you when you're doing something else." I take that to mean that no matter how organised and controlled you are; no matter what plans you may have made or are implementing; no matter what you may think or believe, there will always be things happening that are unexpected and, possibly, unwanted. I know from bitter experience just how easy it is to react inappropriately when bad things hit you out of the blue.

I've thought a lot about this over the past weekend as we've all remembered the events of 9/11 in 2001. It was a world changing event that caused huge reactions at least in the USA, the UK, and Australia. Some of these reactions were appropriate - the grief, the changing of laws to ensure that everything relating to terrorism was a criminal offence, and the heightening of public awareness of risk. But other of our reactions went too far - certainly that would apply to laws which remove basic rights and which cut across ordinary common law civil liberties. This morning's news report in which the most senior military officer in the USA spoke of the "vengeance" (his word not mine) being exacted for 9/11 also falls into this area.

One of the things that makes us human is our ability to control how we react to both the good and the bad when it hits us. With the bad, its easy to stay in "the red zone" and then find that we are exacerbating rather than resolving the situation. I suspect we're doing that with the issue of terrorism.

Shifting our brain's locus of control from the red zone to the blue zone enables higher level learning to take place. Operating in the blue zone also enables us to examine things in a way that encourages creative and innovative solutions to replace past inappropriate actions. Our emotions remain the same - the way we handle these emotions changes.

I've watched 4 families handle tragedy recently. I admire the blue zone control each has shown. Would that we had more blue zone control in the wider spheres of local and international business, social, diplomatic and all other arenas.

What do you think?

More about Doug Long at

Friday, September 9, 2011

Seasons and business

I work from home and as I look out of my office window I see new growth and blossoms on fruit trees that, only a short time ago, were dry sticks. The camellias are putting on a magnificent show; orange and cream clivia flowers are appearing from clumps of green leaves and my vegetable garden is alive with ingredients for summer salads. The strawberries are looking good, too. It’s a great time of year!

Yesterday I was talking with a small business owner who’s going through a hard time. Despite having a reputation for high quality work performed on time and within budget – a reputation earned over many years – sales are down and cash flow has been negative for some time. No matter what he tries in order to generate new business, nothing seems to work and although his core customers continue to be supportive, he is feeling tired and frustrated. “Its hard to maintain enthusiasm and motivation when you feel that nothing’s working,” he said to me.

Business can be like that – especially when you’re a one-person operation and have no internal support. Most small business owners can understand the feeling.

The small business owner with whom I was talking has been in business for 5 years. He’s very well qualified and has an impressive CV. His customers love him for his honesty, his integrity, and the quality of his work. But the nature of his expertise means that he is brought in to deal with specific problems which, once resolved, require no on-going constant relationship. So he needs referrals and new customers for growth and regular cash flow. But in today’s economic environment demand has dropped and he is struggling.

I suggested there was a message for him from the seasons.

1. Its not always summer!

Summer is the time for the beach; for barbeques with friends and family; for enjoying the warmth and sunshine.

For the last couple of years the man with whom I was speaking had been experiencing a “summer” in relation to his business. He had done the hard yards. He had marketed his expertise and had developed an impressive list of satisfied customers. Cash flow had been good and he and his family had enjoyed a high standard of living. Life was good.

But all summers end eventually and an important aspect of summer is to use this time to prepare for autumn and winter. If you’re a farmer, it’s the time for harvesting the grass that has flourished over spring and for making the hay and silage that will feed your animals over the winter months. In addition to everything else, it is a time to think of new ideas and to dream new dreams.

2. Winter can be a ‘downer’.

When its cold, wet, and miserable its easy to get despondent. The days can close in on you and sometimes there seems to be more darkness than light. This is a time when tempers can become frazzled and little irritants can escalate to become “bigger than Ben Hur”. But this is also the time when one needs to prepare the gardens for the coming seasons. It is a time for pruning the fruit trees; removing the remnants of past crops and getting the soil ready for new ones.

The man with whom I was speaking was in the depths of winter. We spoke of the need to re-examine his business model – to prune and prepare before moving forward. We examined possible changes.

3. There is always a spring.

Sometimes spring is late arriving – but eventually it always arrives. You plant the garden in late winter in the hope that about 2 weeks later new seedlings will appear, thinning can occur, and the summer crop is under way. But sometimes the spring rains and warmth are delayed; the seeds fail; and you have to sow again. Annoying but not disastrous.

You change your gardening practices to suit the conditions secure in the knowledge that eventually the conditions will be right for the seeds to germinate and grow. The important thing is to not lose faith that the right conditions will emerge.

We ended our conversation by considering the business conditions that are emerging now and what he will need to do in order to take advantage of these.

We’ve got another meeting organised for next week when we can plan the way forward for my frustrated small business owner. He’s starting to learn from the seasons.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The "Pleasant Bug"

What a month!

Moving house has to be one of the most traumatic experiences! I think the stress gauge suggests that its in the top 3 or 4 stressful things a person can do. I won't argue with that!

This is our 3rd week in the new home. The dogs and the cat have settled in and yesterday I finished putting in the vegetable garden so we are looking forward to fresh, home grown vegetables during late spring and summer. Of course getting things straightened out inside the house is quite different. There are boxes that are still not unpacked and things are being constantly reorganised until we get them "just right". And there's plenty more work to be done around the garden with pruning and tidying so it looks good for summer. But we'll get there.

Today the electrician is here replacing various faulty fittings and later this week the plumber and a roofer will arrive to fix up some faults that have become apparent. My experience of trades people is generally pretty positive. Most of the ones with whom have had to deal could be described as "the salt of the earth". Today's sparky is no exception. Cheerful, highly proficient, thorough and fast. Andrew Davies certainly knows that good customer service is vital.

And I had another example of good service on Sunday when I went to Bunnings in Thornleigh. I had taken my selections to the check out and the cashier and I chatted as he processed the sale. In response to something I said he suggested that one item might not be the best for what I needed to do. He suggested a slightly different, less expensive item so I made the change. He was right. The second item was perfect whereas I would have needed to slightly modify my original choice.

People like Andrew Davies and the Bunnings cashier have an impact far beyond the immediate interaction. At a time when little things can be blown out of proportion because of the general disruption experienced, they provide a calming and positive effect. Not only do they encourage me to use them again when I need an electrician or hardware, but they also infect others with the "pleasant bug". Thank you.

Are you infecting people with the "pleasant bug"?

More information about Doug Long at

Monday, August 1, 2011

Is "customer service" an oxymoron?

I have just come off the phone from talking with Optus. Here in Australia they are purported to be a communications company. Can you guess what's coming next?

You got it!

Optus suck at communicating - at least with me.

Let me bore you with the details. Recently a mobile phone was stolen and the appropriate steps were taken to notify the Police, cancel the sim card, and make an insurance claim. Today I received notification that the claim was approved and I was given a number to call in order to arrange settlement of the claim. This should be easy, I thought, and phoned them! I spent the next 30 minutes in a never ending loop that took me back to the same place 4 times. Yes, my patience wore thin and I eventually hung up.

A cup of tea later and I tried again. This time what a difference. I was fortunate to strike an agent who was different - he wanted to help. With his help I was through the system in just over 5 minutes and everything was finalised. What a pity he's possibly the only person like that at Optus! I hope they pay him more than the CEO - he deserves it.

Having just come off some pretty spectacular examples of really good customer service (see my recent blogs) I found today particularly frustrating. Big companies like Optus just don't seem to get it. They confuse "service" with telephone prompts that have rigid specifications and are often confusing in themselves.

So let me spell it out for Optus and others who are confused.

Customer service means individual attention to the needs and concerns of another individual. It involves the investment of some time by a knowledgeable person who is willing and able to listen to the needs and concerns of another person then help resolve whatever it is that needs attention. Computers can't do this. Harried, poorly trained call centre people who are under pressure to minimise the time they spend with each customer can't do this. Forcing customers into interactions with these will simply add to blood pressure levels and an increase of complaints to the appropriate authorities.

Its not rocket science.

People like me want customer service when we have a problem and we expect to receive it given the charges that are made for telephone services, banking services, government services and the like. Failure to provide the service we want and need results in blogs like this, then customer churn, then reduced profits, and so on. Its a leadership issue and, Optus, you're failing the leadership test.

Organisations like Fantastic Furniture, JaxQuickfit Tyres, and the NSW Fire Brigades get it. Why can't Optus?

What do you think?

More about Doug Long at

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Now that's what I call customer service!

Like the vast majority of people in Australia, we have smoke detectors fitted in the house. Last night, at about 7-30, the smoke detector certainly went off! The noise was deafening. The problem, however, was that we could neither smell smoke nor see smoke. Yes we had a fire burning in the fireplace in the family room, but that was no different from any other cold night. There was no evidence of a smoke leak from the fire but I extinguished it anyway. I looked everywhere inside and outside the house but nothing to be seen. And the smoke detector went on and on!

I decided to call 000 - the emergency number in Australia - and was quickly channeled to the NSW Fire Brigades. I explained the situation and was told that I had done the right thing and that a fire unit was on its way. About 10 minutes later we had a fire truck and team outside. Like me they checked everything and found nothing. It appears that either our smoke detector had thrown a wobbly and that there was no danger or that, unnoticed by us, a gust of smoke had billowed from the fireplace and triggered the detector. Either way, there was no fire problem.

I felt somewhat embarrassed and apologised to the Station Officer for calling them out on what turned out to be a false alarm. He was absolutely clear - the smoke detector was going off, I had reason to be concerned; I had done everything right and he was pleased that we had acted as we had. He pointed out that had I not taken this action and there had been a fire in the ceiling cavity (which is where we both suspected the problem might have been), the result could have been disastrous.

The fireys spent about 30 minutes checking every possible problem area. They used heat detectors in every room and throughout the ceiling cavity. They went outside and examined every wall and every inch of the roof. And throughout they were friendly, polite, professional, supportive, and thorough. Where they removed any fixture they replaced it correctly and then they apologised to us for any disturbance they may have made!

Sure they were just doing their job. Sure they were just doing what they had been trained to do. But this was customer service at its best. They left us feeling very positive about their response and enormously impressed with every part of the interaction from the first moment of dialling 000 to the last moment when they left.

A great big "thank you" to the team at Pymble Fire Station.

Wouldn't it be great if everyone involved in dealing with the public had the same service ethos as the Fireys? Its not impossible.

More about Douglas Long at

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Customer Service - yet again!

The media has recently been discussing research that indicates at least part of the reason for the downturn in retail sales is a lack of customer service - retail staff are too few or too disinterested or too busy to really work with the customer in order to make a sale. Its a good point.

But the retailers themselves are a key part of the problem - not just their staff.

Yesterday is a case in point.

One of my daughters works part time in a retail store in order to help fund her university course. On Monday afternoon she was asked to do a particular task when the store opened on Tuesday. She started work just before 9-00 am and was about to do as she had been asked when a customer walked in. The next 40 minutes were spent working with the customer and a large sale was the result. During this selling process her manager arrived and watched what was happening. Immediately my daughter had concluded the sale her manager approached and berated her for not doing what she had been asked to do as a priority. My daughter was told that the other task - a matter of merchandising relating to placement of stock - should have taken precedence over the customer. When my daughter pointed out the importance of the customer and the volume of the sale, she was told that questioning her manager's instructions and priorities was a career limiting activity!

Now it so happens that the store at which my daughter works is part of a national chain that has recently been complaining that sales are down and it has issued a profit downgrade to the market. From my observations over some months, with managerial attitudes like that shown yesterday, I'm not surprised!

As I have said before, customer service is not "rocket science".

But it starts with an organisation being genuinely committed to the provision of service - not just some slogan on a wall or written into an Annual Report or business plan. And executives and managers need to model the service required. Its a truism to point out that without customers there is no-one to buy whatever is being sold and, without sales, cash flow and profit are adversely affected. Therefore there are sound financial reasons for providing adequate staff who are well trained and engaged with their product and organisation - who want to sell because they enjoy the customer interaction.

A key part of leadership is creating an environment in which people can achieve desired results. This means, in part, ensuring that the right people are there in the right numbers with the right products and the right resources at the right time and with the right sort of role modelling from their bosses.

At least one national retail chain seems to have forgotten this. What a pity. Especially because they have great product - but it won't sell itself.

What do you think?

More about Doug Long at

Monday, July 18, 2011

Masterchef: a blood sport?

If you read the Sydney Morning Herald today you may have noticed an opinion piece that implied the popular TV reality show, Masterchef, is a blood sport.

I happened to watch it last night - yes, I know that this may not have been the wisest thing to do - but I was impressed with the reaction of the contestants when one person, Elly, I think, had problems with her dish. The contestants were cooking for the Dalai Lama and Elly had all sorts of disasters resulting in the possibility of her not presenting a course to the judges. The other contestants got behind her and helped her. The approach was summed up by one of Elly's competition who said something along the lines of "cooking for the Dalai Lama is bigger than the competition between us".

There's a message here that relates to the subject I have been dealing with recently - customer service.

Our western business model seems to be predicated on the individual. I know we talk "teams" and "cooperation" and the like, but we tend to reward individuals. Just like in Masterchef, in most organisations there will only be one winner. The result is that, when the chips are down, competition comes to the fore and it is "what's in it for me" that takes precedence in what I do and who I support. In this situation the customer can run a very poor second to me winning a bonus or a promotion or some other reward.

Great customer service comes when everyone realises that serving the customer and meeting her or his needs must be preeminent. This is quite easy when your customer is the Dalai Lama - but every customer deserves the same level of respect and service.

Great customer service demands the right sort of leadership. What sort of leadership is reflected in the service you and your organisation provides?

More information about Doug Long at

Friday, July 15, 2011

Customer Service - still going!

If the press are to be believed, the current downturn in Australian retail sales is either because of the confusion being created about the new carbon tax or because of come other reason beyond the control of the retailers.


The main reasons why people don't buy are pretty simple:
  1. They don't know that the goods or services are available
  2. The goods or services that are available are not those for which they are looking and/or need
  3. The goods or services are not considered good value for money
  4. The service (or lack thereof) provided by the seller is such that the customer considers it "just too hard" to buy
Yes, economic confidence affects the way people think and it certainly affects their buying patterns, but what this generally means is that people become more discriminating as to what they buy and from whom they buy it. And, yes, the current debate on the carbon tax (accompanied by much misinformation and deliberate attempts to mislead by appealing to fear) certainly has lowered consumer confidence because of the way in which the Australian economy is being talked down. But the reason why retailers are suffering lies primarily with the retailers themselves.

Ken Varga ( has some interesting things to say about this issue - perhaps even to some of the affected retailers.

I believe that a key problem is that so many of our major retailers have moved away from their core business. Where once stores like Myers and David Jones employed their own staff, trained those staff, and ensured that their staff knew about far more than just the small area in which they worked, today this is not the case. Our retailers seem to have moved to a situation in which various brands lease parts of the store and each is interested only in promoting their brands. In addition, because employment costs are seen as an expense rather than an investment, the stores have moved to a minimalist position on staffing levels and pay those they do employ the lowest possible wages they can get away with. The stores show little or no loyalty to staff (apart from the middle to senior managers and executives) so why should the staff show loyalty to them?

Good customer service requires engaged staff. To get staff committed to what they are doing, to their co-workers, and to their organisation, requires a vastly different type of leadership from that which is currently being provided. Unless an organisation is consciously set up to create an environment in which employees at all levels have a high probability of being successful, then customer service (and profitability) become a random end variable - which is, I guess, exactly where many organisations are today.

More information about Doug Long at

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Customer Service - there's more!

It was interesting to note that one of the TV Channels in Sydney ran a piece on customer service last evening. They looked at the difference between what the various major grocery retail chains promised in their advertising about service and what they actually delivered. The results were not what any of the organisations involved really wanted. The TV program seemed to imply that this was a training issue.

I have 2 daughters who supplement their university studies by working as casuals in the retail industry. They see the issue as being a little more complex - and I think they're right. They think the problem involves 3 things - application of policy, training of employees, and customer behaviour.

First, customer behaviour.

One of the things that frustrates my daughters is customers who refuse service - customers who seem to be in such a hurry that any attempt to provide information is treated with rudeness and, sometimes, offensive behaviour. Generally these seem to be the customers who want to push ahead of anyone else who may be waiting or is even being served and for whom the entire matter of a sales transaction seems to be the worst thing in the world. "Get enough of these in a shift," I was told, "and its easy to forget that you have a primary role to help the customer."

Second, training of employees.

This really is a critical matter. As a customer I am often frustrated when sales assistants seem to show no interest in what they are selling and even less interest in me. Its as though they are simply going through the motions of "customer service" without really believing in what they are doing.

The easy response to this is to say that he or she has an "attitude problem". But that simply isn't true. The person involved has a behaviour problem - they are not doing what they have been trained to do - and that is all about behaviour. The fact is that, like most other people, I'm not really concerned about what a salesperson thinks of me or of the goods or services they are selling. That's their business. What I am concerned about is how they relate to me - and that is behavioural. Organisations need to ensure that their employees are properly trained to deliver good customer service no matter what they may think or what they may be feeling.

Application of Policy.

This is where the role of management becomes critical. Leaders and managers have a responsibility to create an environment in which their staff can be successful. And this is the key area in which most fall down. Unless those in leadership positions model the appropriate behaviour, they cannot complain when their staff fall short of desired standards. This is where the examples I used in my earlier blog on customer service stand out. Both Trevor at Fantastic Furniture and Mark at Jaxquickfit Tyres were leaders who demonstrated the behaviour their organisations wanted in relation to customer service. Its no wonder that the people who replaced my son's bed and the technicians who worked on my car continued the practice of good customer service - they saw it in their leaders.

Another part of this application of policy is recognition of "you get what you reward". Some years ago Ken Blanchard in "The One Minute Manager" wrote "surprise someone: catch them doing something right!" Attention from a leader is a very powerful means of recognition and reward. In your organisation where do you place the most emphasis? Do you pay more attention to what person does right ..... or to what they do wrong?

You cannot affect the way a customer relates to you. But you can affect how you relate to any and every customer - and that's the key to good customer service.

More information about Doug Long at

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Customer Service

Quite a long time ago I listed an article on entitled “Cracked Eggs Don’t Hatch” in which I talked about my customer service experience with Dell computers. Over the last 3 days I have had more interesting customer service experiences about which to talk.


Last Saturday my son bought a new bed from an organisation in Penrith, Sydney, named “Fantastic Furniture”. When he got it home he undid the packaging and was dismayed to find that there was evidence that the unit may have been used as a showroom display and that there had been some damage which had been badly repaired. Now had he bought this as an ex-showroom item this would not have been an issue – he would have accepted that things can get damaged in a showroom and that the reduction in price would have taken account of this. But this wasn’t bought as ex-floor stock!

My son phoned the store and spoke with Trevor, the manager. The response was immediate. There was no argument or request for additional justification. The manager accepted my son was not happy and that the item was damaged. He said the item will be replaced. Today they are delivering a new bed and taking the other one away even though they have to come over 40 km to reach our house. Now that’s customer service – “Fantastic Service from Fantastic Furniture” is how my son described it.


A few weeks ago I got new front tyres for my car from an organisation called JAXQuickfit Tyres in Thornleigh, Sydney. This morning I heard some noise from the brakes and, because I enjoy servicing my car, I decided to check the discs. On each of the front wheels, all the wheel nuts came off easily except 1 on each side – one stud snapped on each front wheel. Now I have been working on my cars for over 50 years and in that time I have undone and done up countless wheel nuts – I’ve never before had a stud snap. Today I get two – one on each wheel that had recently had a tyre replaced by JAX. I phoned them and explained the coincidence to Mark, the manager. There was no hesitation. “We’ll fix it for you,” he said. “We’ll need the car for about an hour.”

Thank you Mr JAXQuickfit Tyres in Thornleigh.

The thing that saddens me is that service such as this is, all too often, the exception rather than the rule. It shouldn't have to be that way - and it doesn't have to be.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A healthy organisation?

When I work with any organisation, I divide my attention into the 5 areas that determine health and sustainability and, among others, I ask the following questions:

1. Knowledge. How clear and focused are the vision, purpose, and objectives/goals of the organisation (both qualitative and quantitative) and how well are these known and understood throughout the organisation?

2. Strategy. In broad terms, how does the organisation intend to make its vision a reality – to attain its objectives/goals.

3. Non Human Resources. Does the organisation have the right resources to operate affectively and how does it ensure that the right resources are available at the right time and in the right place for the right people?

4. Structure. What is the decision making process? What is the lowest level in the organisation where decisions can be made and what are the repercussions of making the wrong decisions? What is the decision making environment within which the Executive Team operates?

5. Human Process. What are the labour turnover figures and how do these compare with your targeted turnover rate as set out in your business plan? What are you doing about any discrepancy? What are your recruitment processes and how could these be improved? How do you develop and maintain the requisite level of competence at all levels of personnel and how could this be done better? What process do you use to monitor customer/client satisfaction and how could this process be improved? How do you monitor the external environment that will or could impact on the organisation and what use do you make of this information? What is your relationship with the various trade unions / professional bodies that are represented in your organisation and how could these be improved? What process is used to get on-going, real time feedback from personnel on issues and concerns?

Providing cash flow is positive, these are the areas that will determine whether or not an organisation is healthy. Answering these questions will highlight possible “ouch” points that need to be addressed.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

A "quick and dirty" health check

The other day I got asked about a "rule of thumb" check for organisational health.

When I’m called in to help a business assess where it is at and what it should be doing – a bit of a “medical” on the business – my first queries are simple:

· What is your bank balance right now – today?

· What are your receivables – the money owing to you?

· How much of that will you receive this week? This month?

· How much of it has been due for more than 30 days?

· How much money do you need to pay out this week? This month?

· How much of it has been due for more than 30 days?

· What is the value of your current “work in progress”?

· When will you be able to charge for this?

· When do you expect payment to be received?

· What extra payments will you be liable for before this work is completed?

The answers to these questions give me a “quick and dirty” indication of the health of the organisation because they give me an indication of current cash flow issues – and positive cash flow is the life blood of a healthy organisation. Based on these answers I can advise whether intensive care (talk to your Board and bankers/financial advisors “NOW” because your situation is seriously bad) is required or whether some other action is more appropriate.

Monday, May 2, 2011

What makes Third Generation Leadership “different”?

Third Generation Leadership:

  • Explores “why” people take on leadership roles – their personal drivers
  • Explores what people really want to achieve as leaders – their personal purpose
  • Addresses two critical questions: How to get staff learning and therefore improving their performance? And How to get staff to adopt new listening and questioning behaviours (to increase collaboration and creativity)?
  • Starts from the premise that, for this to happen, something completely new is required in the way we lead people and manage organisations
  • Enables organisations to improve productivity and results through a different approach to engaging people
  • Utilises the latest learning from the way our brains work – it enables shifting of our brain’s locus of control – not just attitudes and / or behaviour but the thinking process
  • Is extremely practical and can be applied immediately in any leadership situation
  • Utilises behaviours – and behaviours can be learned
  • Harnesses the energies of everyone involved while fostering individual and team accountability and responsibility
  • Develops a true “learning organisation”
  • Leads directly to an effective, easy to apply, and thorough performance management system that conforms to the criteria stated by a Wharton Business School report (dated April 2011) for an overall performance management process -- one that focuses on goal setting, feedback, coaching and clear statements of the company's performance expectations - which is absolutely critical" and indeed, is found in the highest-performing companies

The Canadian singer-song writer, Leonard Cohen, has a song “Everybody Knows”. In this Cohen is pointing out everybody knows what is going on – especially when things aren’t working – but no-one is prepared to do anything about it. We continue doing the same things – possibly with some “tweaking” but basically still the same – and wonder why there is no real improvement.

The issues of leadership and employee engagement are no different.

There is always a lot of talk about the need for leadership and lots of discussion about employee engagement – but we continue to use models that were developed in the 20th century and which have no comprehension of the complexity existing today and which take little or no account of the social media revolution and the impact this has had on access to information and accountability.

Everybody knows that the world is different today from what it was even 10 years ago – but we try to carry on as though the usual models can still work as well as they used to.

Third Generation Leadership does something about it.

First Generation Leadership is all about command and control – do what I say when I say it and in the manner I instruct you to use. Failure to obtain desired results or any disobedience is punished. This is the basis of most leadership approaches today. It has stood the test of time and is a wonderfully useful tool for those who have a need to be in total control and who see “being reasonable” as “do it my way.” We throw up our hands in horror when anyone suggests that this is used today but talk to almost anyone outside of middle and upper management and it is clear that they have very little doubt about the reality and commonality of this approach.

Second Generation Leadership is an evolution from this. It uses much the same approach but dresses things differently. Second Generation Leadership is all about conformance – fit in with the culture of the organisation and, at least on the surface, give allegiance to your boss and organisation even if such allegiance may be rewarded by redundancy or minimal remuneration increases when things get tough. Don’t rock the boat and certainly don’t seriously question what is happening. Of course, failure to conform has a high probability of seeing Second Generation Leadership supplanted by its underlying core – First Generation Leadership.

We know all this. As Cohen says, “everybody knows”. Yet we continue as though this is the way things have to be. The result is an increasingly disenfranchised work force, unacceptable levels of labour turnover, and organisational productivity and performance well below where it could be.

The system is broken and well past the stage where modifications and temporary fixes can be effective.

And that’s where Third Generation Leadership comes in!

More information about Doug Long at

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Something positive from the floods

While the devastation from the floods in Australia will take a long time to clear up, as usually happens in Australia, the fact of the army of volunteers descending to assist in the clean up of ravaged areas is very positive. It is a story that is almost always repeated after floods, fires, and cyclones.

A question that this raises is: "Why can't we harness people's energy and ability on an every day basis in all areas of life?"

The answer is that "we can" and that good leaders - Third Generation Leaders - do it every day.

So how is it done? Third Generation Leaders can harness everyone's energies and facilitate engagement with some simple actions. Here is a key selection:

  1. Be honest and authentic in your communications. In other words, show unconditional respect to everyone.
  2. Don't pretend to have all the answers. Make it clear that you will really listen to suggestions and that you will fully acknowledge contributions made.
  3. Don't play power games - or any of the other games that are so often played in organisations - steer clear of hidden agendas.
  4. Let everyone know the real situation - give them the facts - and encourage them to buy in emotionally to the reality being faced.
  5. Let everyone know that their contribution will be and is appreciated.
  6. Help everyone obtain a clear sense of a shared purpose and allow them to say what they can and cannot, are willing and are not willing, to do. Train, coach, support and counsel as required to help people develop the competence and the willingness to do everything that needs to be done.
  7. Encourage shared accountability - accountability to one's peers, accountability to desired results, and accountability to one's own values and purpose.
  8. Don't try to tightly control people - facilitate success by supporting not controlling. Do what you can to ensure that people have the resources they need, where they need them, and when they need them. Get out of the way and let them get on with it. Stop micro managing.
  9. Provide feedback at every opportunity while seeking and being prepared to receive brutally honest feedback on your own behaviour as a leader.
Yes, there is more to it that just these 9 things - but implementing these will certainly start to get things moving in the right direction. Its not rocket science!

I'd love to know what you think about this. Please make your comments below.

More information about Doug Long at

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Dawn of Something New

The start of any new year always brings with it a sense of a need for change – for something different. I guess that’s why so many of us make New Year’s resolutions – we want things to be different, in a positive way, from what has happened in the preceding year.

Two major events marked the start of 2011 for me.

On the evening of Sunday January 2 there was a major storm in Sydney, Australia. Our family was sitting around chatting when a bolt of lightning hit the house. Simultaneously there was a very loud “bang” a kaleidoscope of colours, and a smell of something having been burned. We were very lucky. Apart from the loss of some minor electronic equipment and the loss of internet access, there was no damage. It took us quite a while, however, before the adrenaline eased and we again felt normal.

The second event occurred a few days later. An overseas friend was scheduled to be married on January 5. His father had been ill for some time and on the morning of January 5 I received a message from him: “Dad … passed away a couple of hours ago. We are making arrangements for his funeral now.”

These two events highlighted for me the fact that, no matter what changes we may consider necessary and no matter what changes we might want to happen, sometimes change is brought about by circumstances totally beyond our control. The change caused by the lightning – the need for a new facsimile machine and the temporary loss of the internet connection – was minor, a very short-term irritant, and easily dealt with. The change my friend experienced – the loss of a much loved father and the need to postpone a wedding – was intensely personal and will have long-term impact on him and his immediate family.

The lightning strike has caused no change in my behaviour or that of my family. Something happened and, at the time, it appeared to be quite major. In fact it was trivial and was no impetus for change. The death of my friend’s father is different. No matter what, he and his family will experience long-term impact and their lives will never again be quite the same.

Over my years of facilitating change in individuals and organisations I have become increasingly aware of some truths relating to change:

1. It’s not whether or not something happens to us that is important, it’s how we react to this event that is important.

2. There is no absolute imperative to change. Unless and until an individual or an organisation “wants” to change, nothing will really happen. Of course there may be some cosmetic difference or there may be some immediate reaction to something that has happened, but overall the status quo will remain.

I was again reminded of these truths when I read the following: “Most leadership strategies are doomed to failure from the outset. Leaders instigating changes are often like gardeners standing over their plants and imploring them: ‘Grow! Try harder! You can do it!’ No gardener tries to convince a plant to ‘want’ to grow: if the seed does not have the potential to grow, there’s nothing anyone can do to make a difference.” Peter Senge, The Dance of Change: The Challenges to Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organisations, 1999, Broadway Business, New York.

January 2011 is the start of something new. Change is in the air. Perhaps we need to think a little about what makes us contemplate change as well as our role in facilitating any change that is required.

I’d love to know what you think about this. Please make your comments below.

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