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.