When Work Doesn’t Work.

Day one of the school holidays and I have already had a text from the school holiday programme that my children are reluctantly attending. It appears that there was a handstand gone wrong and a small injury has occurred. Luckily, nothing an ice block won’t fix when I pick them up later today. But it was a reminder to me that as a working parent, school holidays and working really don’t work that well together.

In the lead up to the school holidays, there are a number of loads that working parents carry. First the mental load of “what am I going to do during the holidays with the kids?”. This starts processing in my mind well before the start of the holidays and sits there like a stubborn gorilla refusing to move along. And with an average of 12 weeks of holidays a year compared to the 4 or 5 weeks of annual leave, that is a lot of gorilla time. 

The financial load of school holidays can add up quickly when you consider that the cheapest programmes are around $50 per day but do range up to $150 per day for Robotics & 3D Design. For three children, it could add up to $9,000 annually out of your post-tax salary. A significant amount and not a surprise that the WEF reports that NZ currently has the most expensive childcare costs in the world. 

Then there is the logistics load. How do I get to the holiday programme location for drop-off and then to work for the 9am team meeting? How much time do I need to factor in for realising that they needed spending money for an excursion that day and then locate a ATM with parking en-route to the programme?

Finally the most painful of them all, the load you carry when your children complain about having to attend these costly, logistically complex programmes. The protests of why they can’t just stay home during the holidays and how no one else needs to go to school holiday programmes. These complaints can start well in advance of the holidays but only for parents that give their children advance notice. These days, mine usually only find out the night before. Tip for young players.

The lack of quality, accessible and affordable school holiday solutions adds another layer of pressure into the lives of working parents. Pressure that is often invisible to others but very real to them.  

If you are able to get some time off with your family these holidays, I do hope you enjoy it. As my friend Gretchen Rubin says – “The days are long but the years are short.”

Customer Love Letters

I used to think that wanting your customers to love you was an unrealistic goal. But I was proved wrong last week.


On Instagram, Nadia Lim, one of the founders of My Food Bag posted a love letter she had received from one of her customers (who was aircrew on a flight she was taking). In the letter, the customer professed her love of My Food Bag and how it has changed her life. It seemed to me that receiving a customer love letter must be the ultimate in customer loyalty. When a customer feels so strongly about your company and the positive impact it has in their life, that they write you a letter (on a sick bag no less!) then pretty much you have reached loyalty nirvana.





Which is a quite funny really because I’ve never actually worked for a company that uses customers love letters as a metric for how successful they are being in building customer loyalty. Most often they use measures like Net Promoter Score (NPS), active members, points issued & redeemed or customer retention. I know those measures make logical sense, look good on a lean canvas and take up a table in the monthly report. But I think adding in a more emotional metric would be a useful addition. Not only would it paint a colourful picture for employees on what is resonating for customers (and the difference they are making) but it is just good for business. How we feel about a company will determine how likely we are to use them again, use them more or tell people about them.

If you’re not convinced that customer love should be one of your goals, that’s cool. I just think it invites so much more creativity from your employees than a goal of “Increase NPS to 14”. But maybe that’s just me.

Keep serving the freaking peanuts

I have always thought that leaders at work are a bit like cabin crew on an airline. When it gets bumpy or I hear a random noise on take-off, I always look straight at the cabin crew. If they look calm, then I’m calm. I figure that they have done this flying thing way more than I have so if they’re not worried, then I’m not worried. It is the same at work. If I see my leader walking around with their head in their hands or come out of a meeting looking anxious, then I start worrying. And when you think your company is in trouble, it impacts negatively on productivity, becomes the water cooler conversation and just generally makes work not a very nice place to be. When companies go through tough times, how a leader behaves and interacts with their team can make all the difference on how they come through it. People want to be led by someone who they feel has “got this”.

This thinking is why I loved this piece from Glennon Doyle. Her friend shared this advice for what kids need when parents are going through a divorce. But I think it works just as well for what employees need from their leaders in uncertain times.
Image result for keep serving the freaking peanuts glennon doyle

Our job as leaders is not to pretend that there will never be tough times. But that when they do happen we remember to keep serving the freaking peanuts.

Helping others. No microphone needed

Those who know me will tell you that I only have one volume. Loud. I’ve tried to fight it but it is just part of who I am. Corporate pod dwellers (unknown to me) have opened meeting room doors that I am in and told me to be quiet. I have even been “shushed” by a fellow (again unknown to me) passenger (sitting two rows ahead I might add!) on a flight to Wellington. So it was a delight to hear Stacey Shortall speak at a Mother’s Day event last week. Even though she was speaking to 300+ people in a school hall, she declined a microphone. I liked her immediately.

Stacey is one of those speakers that make you wonder what you have been doing with your life. I was already aware of her work as the founder of the “Who Did You Help Today” social movement but that only scratches the surface on the impact she has had and is having on the greater good. The thing that most impressed me was her clarity of purpose.  She has a belief that we all have crossroads in our life and that it is vital we have people who care about our success at these crossroads. Some are lucky enough to have lots of people at their crossroads but some have very little.

Stacey’s projects have been all about loading up people into the life’s crossroads of those who really need someone in their corner. More people at crossroads for children through the Homework Help Club. More people at the crossroads for mothers in prison through the Mothers Project. And more volunteers being matched with not for profits so they can show up at someone’s crossroads through Help Tank. If you get a chance, check out these projects and sign up for one.

Upon reflection, it was this bold and simple articulation of her purpose that was so inspirational to me. It is rare to meet someone who is so crystal clear about her “why” (as Simon Sinek puts it). and many (including me!) would be envious of this clarity.  So it was a pretty cool morning all in all last week. Well, that and the fact that she owned her loud voice. Like a boss!

A place where everybody knows your name

A couple of weeks ago I read that they are inventing smartphones that can read your mind. While this kind of freaks me out, it made me wish that more humans could do this. Specifically those responsible for designing and delivering customer experiences.

This was driven home to me last month on a trip to Singapore. The hotel I stayed at was first class at reading my mind or put another way – anticipating my needs, meeting and even exceeding those needs. Every member of staff seem to know my name (just like the Cheers bar without Norm) and were genuinely interested in making my stay memorable. So memorable that I would tell stories about it on my return.

One example of their fabulous mind reading was when I was wading out to a sun lounger that was located in their swimming pool. The loungers were surrounded by water and as I was wading, I was also thinking “what am I going to do with my books and clothes – I don’t want them getting wet?”. I plonked myself down on the lounger but I was still clutching my books and clothes. Next minute, someone appears and says “Ms Mclean, here is a table for your books and clothes”. Genius. Someone had seen me, thought about what I needed and given it to me. Being observant, anticipating what a customer needs based on what you have noticed about them is fundamental in delivering experiences that become stories you tell to your friends.

Contrast this with my plane trip home where I had paid extra to upgrade to Business Class. I was super excited and arrived in my seat carrying two bags. There was no room in any of the overhead lockers that I opened so I sat down with the bags in the aisle and figured that someone would come and help me. Meanwhile all the other Business Class customers were giving me that look that said “don’t squash your bag on top of my more superior one”. Awkward. A little girl waited but no one came. The cabin crew all seemed busy doing their “champagne or orange juice” process and couldn’t deviate from this. They were actually stepping over my bags as they did their “champagne or orange juice” gig. So I just sat there feeling weird.

I felt like the cabin crew did not see me. Did not see that I could not find an overhead locker. Did not see that I was an excited bunny to be in Business Class. Did not see that my excitement was turning to awkwardness. I felt like they were too focused on executing the “this is what we always do at the start of a flight” process which meant they missed the opportunity to observe what I actually needed.

Rest assured that I did manage to find a place for my bags and hopefully I did not offend any of my cheerful fellow passengers. Of course, I would have needed a mind reading smartphone to ascertain this for sure.

Helping not selling

apple1I think most people who read Angela’s quote will nod their head in agreement with the statement. From a brand’s point of view it is common sense; you need to establish a rapport with a customer before they are really going to be listening to what you are saying. But I wish more people would get that this thinking applies just as much to email interactions as well.

I don’t want to be sold to when opening my email either, I want to be helped.  If you have an email address for your customer you probably have some kind of a relationship with them but this does not mean that they spend their day waiting around to buy more from you. I tell my clients to think about email as bait that leaves customers wanting to know more, gets them clicking on links to find out more and ultimately predisposes them towards your brand so that when they are in the market – they will think of you. Email is perfect for enabling your customers to unlock more of what your brand has to offer. Whether it be reminding them about your after sales service, handy tips on getting the most from your new phone or invitations to exclusive customer events.  You’ll stand out from the crowd if your emails are not about selling, but about helping.

BTW – I found this quote in Fast Company – if you have not liked it on Facebook, you should!

PS – Angela starts at Apple in early 2014 so expect her to shake things up!  🙂

Show me you know me

The simple act of recognition can be a powerful loyalty driver. Using your customer’s name, remembering what they bought last time, enquiring about their last purchase.  These are all things that make a customer feel like you know them.  And in this “always on” world we live in today, successful brands will be the ones that make you feel like it is easier to do business with them. A real life example of this was my experience recently when I logged onto my Kiwibank internet banking and I received this message below:

kiwiwbankI thought it was a sweet customer recognition idea.   I love it as it doesn’t cost anything to recognise customers and really makes customers feel that their bank is looking after them – as an individual.  And happy customers buy more from you.  You don’t need a business case to tell you that.

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