Monday, April 23, 2012

PPM and customer service

Last week I had an interesting interaction with Virgin Australia. I wanted to make significant changes to a booking and I understood that there would be a fee involved. To check on the process I phoned Virgin and received clear instructions on how it could be done on line and what the fee would be. I then went on line to make the changes but, no matter what I tried, something wouldn't work. I again phoned Virgin, spoke to a different person, and was then told that the changes could only be made over the phone and that, because I was doing it by phone, there would be further charges! Even though Virgin Australia's policies may have no such intention, the person with whom I spoke left me with the impression that some form of price gouging may be involved. When I asked to speak to a supervisor or manager I was told that this wasn't possible and that, even if I did speak with one, I would be given the same message!! So much for Virgin Australia Service!

Two phone calls. Two different "service" people. Two totally different messages. I find it very easy to forget the first, helpful person and very easy to remember the second, very unhelpful and uncooperative person. Unfortunately for Virgin, as is usually the case in customer service interactions, it is the negative experience which tends to dominate.

I have written quite a few blogs on customer service (they're all available below). It is a sad fact that today, with organisations' emphasis on short term to medium term results and the use of outsourced and casual staff, cultures of relatively short term expediency seem to be replacing service and commitment. As I have said before about PPM (Piss Poor Management), it starts at the top by actions of commission and/or omission. In the case of my recent experience with Virgin Australia I suspect the "omission" aspect applies as contradictory messages (both direct and implied) were given.

Today's business environment is increasingly competitive and customers are increasingly price conscious. Things like air travel that once were "special" are now a commodity. Those supplying commodities need to offer something special to set themselves apart and to encourage customer/client loyalty - and "loyalty programs" don't fit this bill. Good management and good leadership recognises this and works constantly to ensure this "something special" is always on show and applied.

"We the people" are happy to respond positively when we feel that service providers really are providing service. Don't we?

What do you think? Please make your comments below.

More about Doug Long at

Monday, April 16, 2012

Is that all there is?

Last week the Reserve Bank of Australia decided that there would be no change in the official interest rates but on Friday one of Australia's "Big Four", very profitable commercial banks decided that it would raise its interest rates anyway - they would hate to see any reduction in their "bottom line" because that could impact not only their international credit rating but, dare one say it, also possibly the remuneration of its senior executives. I suspect other banks will raise their rates this week!

Also during last week there were reports of a rise in the number of bankruptcies in parts of Sydney as well as reports of an increase in the number of mortgage holders who have negative equity in their homes - and many of these are in the more prestigious areas.

The fact is that, in Australia, the gulf between the rich and the poor is getting wider. We are developing at least two classes in society and, as attested by a wide range of social service organisations, many people are experiencing frustration, anger, and helplessness as they try to even survive in what is often an uncaring and vicious economic environment.

Back in 1969, Peggy Lee asked the question "Is That All There Is?" in a song which questioned what we call "success" and whether there was more to life than just the here and now. Recently we celebrated Easter - a time on the Christian calendar that asks much the same question.

We seem to be inexorably caught up in the myth that success is all about power, what you have and your place on the social status ladder. We perpetuate the myth that we live in an economy rather than a society. And we wonder why illegal activity seems rampant; why gambling, substance abuse (including alcohol and nicotine), relationship breakdown and all the other indicators of problems in society show no sign of reducing. We wonder why helplessness so often drifts to hopelessness, to depression, to despair and worse.

Many years ago, a concentration camp survivor, Victor Frankl, explained the way in which he and others in concentration camps dealt with the question of what life was really all about. Was life just a brief spasm with no ultimate purpose? Was life really worth living? Victor Frankl, having worked through these issues while an inmate of a concentration camp, concluded that the meaning of life is found in every moment of living. He concluded that life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death.

As I work with individuals and organisations to help them unlock their potential I find that one critical thing is simply showing that I care - I care about what happens to each person and I care about what happens to each organisation. I show that I care by the questions I ask and by the way in which I listen. I can't solve their problems - either personal or organisational - but by moving things away from "simply an economy" to a "sense of society" it becomes possible for resolutions to be found and for a new future to emerge.

People and organisations in Australia today are hurting. Some of the hurt is self-inflicted because of past choices, other of the hurt is inflicted by uncaring philosophies, systems and myths. Where there is hurt there is also a need for care. There is meaning in life.

How do you show others that you care? Do you continue caring even when what you offer appears to be rejected?

You can make your comments below. I'd love to read them.

More about Doug Long at

Monday, April 2, 2012

PPM Starts at the Top

2012 marks my 50th year in some form of leadership position - school, military, voluntary organisations, business, etc. In that time I've worked for a lot of managers, followed quite a few leaders, and have experienced my own mistakes and successes as a leader. Hopefully I've learned something from them all.

One thing I know I've learned stands out from all the rest. That is:

PPM (Piss Poor Management) starts at the top.

Managers down the line reflect the management that they see as being successful for those at more senior positions. In other words, if a junior level manager sees that senior level managers get promotions and salary increases through bullying or a failure to confront issues or any other behaviour, there is a high probability that this will be reflected in that junior manager's behaviour. (Fortunately the same is also true for good management practices.)

In other words, managers at the top of an organisation set the culture - the behavioural norms - that operate within any organisation.

When I did my PhD research (many years ago now!) it became clear that people join an organisation because they believe that their personal values and those of the organisation are compatible. Most employee separations in the first year occur because either the employee or the employer realise that a mistake was made. For those that survive the first year, the values have either proved to be reasonably compatible or the employee has made changes to fit in with the organisation. By the time a person has been with an organisation for about 5 years there is no significantly discernible distinction between the two sets of values. In other words, whether it is a culture of good management / leadership practices or one of bad management / leadership practices, the employee has adopted the culture of the organisation.


Question: As a leader, what sort of practices do you model to others? If you practice PPM, don't expect your followers to be any different.

Nobody has to be a PPM. Any failure to change is a matter of choice.

I've some more about this at and at

I'd love to know your thoughts on this. Please make your comments below.

More about Doug Long at