Tuesday, 28 February 2012

A Happy Place – Not What You Might Think!

I started writing this blog in a dentist surgery waiting for an appointment to get a filling. I was in early as I had an early appointment before work. I got there early because:

A: I did not know how long it would take to get here and;
B: A phobia of being late for anything!

I started wring this blog to drown out the noise of the drills and the thought of pain and panic of the injection ahead. Also to take-away the thought of constant pain afterwards that will make my teeth ache much more than they ever did before I came to the dentists in the first place!

I noticed there were many children’s’ books for reading to cover various new experiences such as: “Lucy Moves House”, “Katy Goes to Hospital” and “George Goes to the Airport”. There was nothing to help and support adults through the possible pain they will go through having to go to the dentist! I was tempted to read one but I thought I would get some strange looks! Plus if I started one and they called me in I would want to finish it, and I would want to read the whole series! My mind drifted to better places and places I would rather be. My mind wondered to being in a motorway service station …

I think a motorway service station is like a little version of the country as a whole. They are fantastic places full of life and always full of different characters. When I am there I love to people watch and put myself in their shoes. You may think it odd to enjoy such a place, but despite maybe not enjoying the place a number of differing people always end up there.

The different people I have enjoyed watching do various things in motorway service stations include:
·         People who want to save money, they have brought their own sandwiches and eat them outside just to have a break from driving.
·         People who want to stuff food into their mouths for energy and enjoy a nine piece fry up for £6.99 or some food from a well-known fast food company.
·         People who want to just sit and drink coffee and have a break from driving in silent reflection.
·         People who want to stretch their legs and walk around.
·         People that have been in a car, coach, bus or bike for hours and need to get some fresh air - They get out and light up a cigarette!
·         People who walk quickly, but do not run as not to draw attention to themselves - their eyes darting everywhere seeking out a desperate visit to the toilet!

Motorway service stations think of everything that people may need and much more including:

·         Massage chairs
·         Fruit machines for people who need a gambling fix
·         Weighing scales in case people think they have lost weight from driving
·         Business card making machines in case someone has come up with a great business idea whilst driving
The possibilities are endless!
People may mock my love of motorway service stations but a lot of people use them and I am sure everyone has been in one at least once in their life.  People complain about the extremely expensive prices but people need to have a break when traveling a long way. I think this is a bit like life. I know people use them as a way to re-assure themselves that they are almost at their destination. People use them habitually as they always stop at the same place to mark a point in a journey if they are regular travellers on the same route. People also use them to meet people and drop off and pick other people. They are a little version of the country!

I do not have a favourite motorway service station as thankfully I do not have to do much travelling but I love to sit in these places and stare at people. They will never see me again so what does it matter! I love to watch others and their behaviours and their interactions with others; Interactions with their travelling companions and with members of staff that work there!

I once worked in a motorway service station and it was one of my first jobs when I was just sixteen. I found people on the whole generally nice, as they were just relieved to have some different people to talk to or just a change from the journey. There were a few grumpy people who were tired from long trips but on the whole I found people who came to my place of work all very different. They were all looking for slightly different things out of the experience. In a way - just like life. My job in the motorway service station was to work on the hot plate serving breakfasts and also to clear tables. Both jobs were extremely hard physical work and we were always very busy. I would not go back and do the job again – Then again I might as I loved watching the people!

There were all sorts of people including:
·         Old people off a coach out on a trip,
·         Young families with babies staring around the amazing different faces,
·         Couples with young children and the children looking at things to spend their newly acquired or last of their holiday money on,
·         Couples dating and visiting some relatives – sometimes for the first time,
·         Groups of men going down the motorway to a football match,
·         Groups of girls going on a hen weekend,
·         School children on a school trip and;
·         Business colleagues going off to a meeting – To name but a few!

In conclusion they are great places to see people living and resting from the journey of not only their trip, but also their life. People who are not interested in other people’s lives and journeys are bored with life and that is very sad. I cannot think of anywhere else that illustrates life in such a way!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Cyclists in the Snow

I am not one to make judgements on people … well not that much! However recently I have reason to question people’s sanity. As you may or may not know I enjoy walking. I generally enjoy my walk to and from work each day. I do not mind walking in any weather however I do not particularly like ice and rain (although a little is fine). The rain makes me wet and then I am wet for the rest of the day. One thing that does annoy me is cyclists on the cycle path. The cycle path is for cycles but also for people walking. They often ride very fast and feel the need to get very close to people walking. This is quiet intimidating, particularly at night!

My reason for this particular blog is to write about the idiots, on their bikes, in the snow and ice! I do not like walking in the snow and the ice however at least I am on my feet and if I slip a bit I can re-arrange my legs enough to not fall completely over. Also, if I do slip, I am not going very fast. Cyclists however do not have that luxury of being on their feet. Plus they also have their feet in foot grips so cannot get loose quickly if they are to lose balance. Plus they have really thin tires that have little contact with the ground (often smaller surface area then people walking). This will lead to endless problems if they hit a patch of ice. Their tyres will just slip right over and the cyclist will go flying. If cyclists go over a stone or something, they will have even less grip! They are idiots of the highest order! Cyclists often still think it is their right to go as fast as they can to show they can get to where they are going quicker than pedestrians! Poo for brains!

If you are in a car and it is icy and you hit some ice, the car will spin round and hit something. Many cars have airbags and the metal shell of the car will partially protect the person inside. Admittedly a lot of car drivers still drive too fast, even in the dry. Some drivers cut you up and overtake you on both sides of the road (inside and outside), and a lot seem to think they own the road. I often wish I was an undercover policeman and ban them from driving for life. Some of them I would just like to chop off parts of their body so they cannot reproduce and breed more future idiots on the road. Anyway this rant was about idiot cyclists not car drivers!

The other day with fresh snow on the ground on my walk to work (see pictures around this blog) was beautiful to look at but there were still some foolish cyclists. I had a big rant, when I got into work, about this very subject! I accused them of being psychopaths on the cycle path! Today with ice on the pavement (particularly the picture on the bottom of this blog) made it even more slippery and still cyclists insisted in haring past me at a great speed. I was slipping and sliding a bit and I was just walking slowly!

The final straw for me today blogging was today seeing one idiot cyclist, one handed (as the other hand was texting on his mobile phone), without a helmet! Words completely failed me! I know there is a big thing that helmets are not all as safe as they could be however surely if their wheels went from under them or they had to suddenly stop and go head over heels and they hit the concrete pavement, something between their head and the concrete would probably be a good thing! I had a large compulsion to stop the cyclist and ask him why he was being so stupid! I think the reason I get so mad is that I do not want to see someone hurt themselves. The hospitals are full enough and I do not want the job of performing first aid and calling for the ambulance! It is crazy but I guess a lot of cyclists have nothing inside their heads anyway! I just do not want to pick up the pieces and be late for work! Rant over!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Good Service

In this day and age I would think that good service would be a must in all walks of life. When I say “good service”, I am not talking about in tennis or badminton but in the professional world!  I work in customer service and have done for many years, so have an idea what good service is all about.  I am often astounded by the fact that many people and businesses do not how to deliver good service.
I have loads of examples of bad service but not so many of good service.  I would like to give a couple of examples that have annoyed me and pleased me recently.  I would then like to look at service from a slightly business context and then finish with a conclusion of how I feel it should work:

Firstly a bad example would be my dealings with a certain banking institution that I have had dealings with.  This company, I will leave nameless for legal reasons, have been the bane of my life for over two years.  I have had some issues paying for a mortgage over the last few years but I will not bore you with the ins and outs in this blog.  I have had many letters from them and telephone calls chasing me up for money.  I have been into their branch, spoken to specialists in the branch, emailed specialists in the branch, spoken to call centre staff and even put pen to paper to write to them.  The saga with them now (I hope), has come to an end.  To date I have still not received any personal contact back acknowledging my position or any letters I have sent.  My position, I am sure, was not an unusual one but it seemed to me no one was listening to anything I was saying.

I understood it was a huge institution and they were just concerned with getting money from me however a little personal touch would have helped a great deal.  At many stages I was convinced they wanted me to go into debt so they could gain the interest.  This goes against all ethical and moral banking codes as far as I knew.  I would have had to take them to court if I really felt that strongly.  That would however be even more stressful then the situation I had already found myself in.

I try to console myself with the fact that I am not the only one and (from what I hear), there are a lot of similar companies the same.  If this is true then I can see why people keep their money under their beds! The only thing I know now is to tell everybody and anybody that will listen not to use this particular banking institution.  If I have cause again to make use of a similar institution I will be asking some serious questions before I decide to put any of my hard earned money into them!

Another recent example of bad service came from a solicitor’s office that I had spent a lot of money on. They had many occasions not replying to my emails or letters.  I was forced to pay for all correspondence and was forced to phone them to get them to reply, so I would think replying would be top of their list.  Some people tell me that is what happens with all solicitors, and those that shout the loudest get the better service. In my job sometimes it is true and I do not like it.  People (like me), who accept things often get walked all over.  People who shout and complain and make a scene seem to get what they want, and what they want quicker!  I do not want to have to shout and complain as I am a reasonable person with reasonable morals and I do not feel I need to shout and complain to get what I want.  Maybe that is the British in me? When I do shout and get forceful I do get results however!

Listing examples of good service is more difficult to think about. There is a saying that bad news travels twice around the world before good news leaves the desk.  I often use this phrase when talking to other people about how it is important to give great service.  One example of good service was I was in a public house at the weekend with my girlfriend for lunch.  When we walked in we were greeted with a very friendly:
“Hello” from the barman.  We were led to our table and they cleared one for us and we sat down and they brought over menus and we went to the bar to order.  This was made clear of how things worked when we sat down.  There was a large selection of all sorts of foods on the menu.  We paid with ease and drinks were brought out and then food came over quickly afterwards.  We were left to eat at our own our pace and not disturbed.  Considering we had arrived a little before the place closing for the afternoon I was impressed.  All the staff seemed really busy still. The food was beautifully cooked and very unique. The public house was a little of the beaten track and in amongst some houses in a small village.  We were amazed by the quality of the food and the bar and waiting staff seemed very efficient and constantly on hand if we wanted anything.  There prices were very reasonable as well!  They were polite and asked if we wanted anything else and very chatty and smiley.  My girlfriend was so impressed that, after looking at the evening menu, booked a table for her birthday meal in a few weeks time.  I had thought being a small local may not be serving food so late and also I thought it might maybe take a little while and never expected the quality to be so good.
Another example of good service would be that we had to go to a garage to get my girlfriends car checked as the exhaust was making a strange noise.  We just got out the car and someone came over and we explained the issue.  They quickly took the keys and got in and put the car straight away on a ramp. We waited for a little bit in the reception area and before we knew it they came in and said they fixed it.  They said it was just something that was rattling under the car but it was not the exhaust and they just tightened it.  They said it would not cost anything!  As we needed windscreen wipers we asked them if they could fix these on.  We could have done it but it might have taken us a while.  They did this with no questions and just asked us to pay for the wipers.  We were very impressed as we were expecting it to cost a fortune and I had visions of having to hang around for a long time.
I am not going to turn this blog into a business exercise and look at all the qualities that made my relative experiences bad or particularly good.  There are however many definitions of good service when I look it up on the Internet and not all of them are measurable.  Some people and indeed some companies are terrible at it.  What I would say however it does seem that good service is exceeding expectations, and this is the definition I like the best.  This is difficult as I am sure everyone has different expectations.  It is also difficult as the service is real time and instant reactions.  Other things, like mood of the person and the person giving the service may alter.  Good service is also difficult to maintain as because when I go back to that pub again I will again expect a great welcome and fantastic fast service and food.  Equally though, when I contact my solicitor I do not always expect a reply straight away anymore!  There is a business theory that looks at many gaps of what is expected and what is delivered is what makes good service great!  To get great service is to close these gaps.
I am not na├»ve enough to think that good service will always be given because it is very difficult to constantly maintain this, but certain standards should be put in place.  Where I work there are set standards that should be kept to, and a lot of them make sense.  We constantly evaluate these to make sure we are undertaking these standards and they are what our customers expect.  Good service, in my mind, is putting your mind in the eye of the consumer and thinking what they would like, then doing everything possible to obtain what they require.  I understand, perhaps more than most, there are other pressures, however if the customer is paying for a service this should be at the forefront of any business.  This seldom happens in my experience.
In conclusion I am just blogging to put it out there that as businesses are becoming more and more competitive, as a consumer you would think I would have a right to choose good service.  I do not always have a choice, because there still seems a terrible lot of people and businesses that are awful at creating good service.  This, I think, is wrong and I should not have to put up with bad service.  In terms of the people offering the service, I would also think that with the range of people unemployed in the country a lot of businesses would only employ people that are naturally good at offering good customer service!  I am sure repeat business and recommendations are what a lot of companies survive on.  Unfortunately a lot of businesses will not obtain a lot of repeat business as their service is so awful.  However as I have said before, sometimes you do not have a choice. Many people find the same sort of things from the same sort of companies.  This is wrong!
This is not a current trend of businesses or particularly in one country or another.  I would however, think that people and businesses would start to realise this is a key part of what they do.  This particularly with the large number of business analysts there are out there!  I would think they would want or need to spend much more effort and time in their approach to good service with the range of companies and so called choice of the consumer in the modern world.  Unfortunately I do not see much evidence of this happening except in a few places.  Life is hard enough and we should have the choice of lots of good service businesses but I happen to find very few.  I therefore think we should celebrate good service and recognise it more and places with bad service should not be tolerated.  I think we spread the world of great service institutions and people who do not take it seriously should be made examples of until they learn … or go out of business!