Plane sailing

Airline partnerships and alliances often seem to operate more in the breach than the observance but my experience this past weekend with British Airways and Iberia set a new bar for joined-up and consistent customer experience. And it got me thinking.

Firstly, there is a caveat – British Airways and Iberia are not simply alliance partners but are owned by one company, International Airlines Group. Two separate airlines with a common ownership. There was, however, nothing separate about it.

A last minute need to fly to Tel Aviv on business with a quick turnaround resulted in me opting for the London Heathrow – Madrid (British Airways) and then Madrid – Tel Aviv (Iberia) routing suggested on the British Airways booking portal. The business class product was infinitely less expensive than the direct routing and the timings worked. Madrid is an airport I know well and I think rivals Heathrow Terminal 5 for customer experience.

I was most impressed with onboard handovers between the airlines. On the journey out the BA staff knew about my next leg and made the effort to make sure I had everything I needed. On the early morning flight back from Tel Aviv the Iberia staff both announced the gate connections at Madrid on the p.a. and came to tell me.

Recognition onboard is a key feature to convey a sense of reward to the customer for loyalty and the fact that BA and Iberia both use onboard iPads is a factor here. I felt as if I was still flying BA only with a Spanish flavour. I would single out the Business Cabin lead attendant for particular praise. I was able to experience and observe her attention to detail and focus on delivering on both outward and return. A credit to Iberia and I need to see if I can find a way to pass this on – as a species we are quick to damn and slow to praise.

So what was the big thought ? Just that British Airways already has additional runways at London Heathrow they are called Madrid. Good experiences like the one I have just had make the thought of a connection less off putting especially if the connection feels like it is on route anyway.

Presumably the integration will become stronger (the back end of checking in on line and via mobile is a bit creaky) whilst still maintaining two distinctive propositions.

As with all these things it’s down to quality of experience. On the basis of the last 46 hours it’s working.

it’s never been easier to succeed…or fail trying

Last Friday a small group of us got together to finally formalise our business venture.  Each of us have spent our careers helping other entities succeed and that’s a great thing.   You don’t work in the ‘service’ business without a love for seeing your clients or company do well.  However, we all feel that it would be nice to mix it up a bit – creating something from scratch and applying our variety of skills to making it work.

Since we are geographically distant from each other AND have may other work and personal commitments it’s important that we work smartly and that’s been an affirming experience.    I enjoy embracing new technology and digitally based features but there has been something about the last week which really brought home the contribution which “free” services can make to a new business.

- our email services, provided by a variety of entities at no cost

- a WhatsApp chat group to allow us to share our thoughts by the minute and keep energy and momentuam high

- a private Pinterest board to share and catalogue comptetitors and creative thoughts

- Skype where we held our first conference call

Each of these products delivering to an emerging enterprise.   And, come to think of it, I’m sitting in a cafe, using free wifi, on a Chromebook (Google services), blogging using WordPress (free).  

All of this is an extended way of saying that the barrier to doing something different is incredibly low.   The infrastructure set-up is effortless and virtually free – the only thing you need to do is come up with an idea to take advantage of it all.  That’s the hard part.

Good luck. 


I resolve to….

… more. Correction. I resolve to consider blogging more.

I’ve not posted on this blog for two months. Without trawling the archives I suspect that is the longest interval. It was not deliberate. It’s just fact.

The challenge is I think about blogging more than I blog. I enjoy considering content, gathering opinions and items I think will be interesting for others but sometimes, and obviously over November and December the mind is strong but the flesh is week.

Pen has not been put to paper.

I’m writing this on the sleeper train to Cornwall. An efficient mode of transport which will see me sleep and move at the same time. At the moment I’m blogging and moving so that’s a good thing.

So in this 2nd week of 2014 I promise to write more. You’re lucky – you don’t even have to promise to read. But thank you for getting this far.

Dust yourself down, get out and engage…

Last night I attended a Founderscard membership event in London.   I’ll be honest and say it’s the first time for a couple of months that I’ve been to an event where I’m representing myself.  Where the focus was not a client, a brand or a product but me…or actually in this case “them” because I used the occasion, once I had quickly dispensed with my own ‘elevator pitch’, to listen to what others were saying.

It was refreshing.   And a timely reminder that it’s imperative  that we tear ourselves away from the task at hand and cast a gaze around the wider room.   And when I say room, I mean room.  Not putting down a lap-top and picking up an iPad but some proper, professional interaction (friends don’t count either !).

It is enevitable that all of us get entreneched into the here-and-now of what we are doing, be it corporate or consultancy but to do right by these projects we need to lift our vision.  Constantly.   It helps gain new perspective and it certainly delivers solutions in the most unexpected manner.

Sometimes we use the excuse that we don’t have time but, quite simply, you can’t afford to not find the time.   You need to break out of your constant environment and learn from others in a new scenario.   And it needn’t cost you a penny.  Hop onto Eventbrite now and sign-up for something locally.   You’ll learn something, meet someone, solve a problem and raise your game all in a couple of hours.

Do it this week…it’s only Tuesday.



Six months on…

Six months have elapsed since I started my own business and, despite the fact it feels like six weeks, I thought I would reflect a little on the experience to date.  First and foremost it is extraordinary fun.    A complete absence of corporate frustration and an ability to ruthlessly focus on tasks and projects means that although I’m working harder than ever it doesn’t feel like it.     Combine that with regular exercise and a healthier diet for the first time in years and I’m finding more energy and more hours to realise more opportunities.

So what stands out – in no particular order ?

The Cloud trust the cloud (although I always have one copy of the document on a hard drive or USB somewhere) and you will always have what you need whenever, wherever.  It’s keeping me organised and reducing a bad habit of printing out and carrying reams of paper.   Skydive (soon to be renamed by Microsoft) and Office 365 allow me to use any computer as if it was my own.

LinkedIn - I’ve always been a fan but now I use it more than ever.   I pay for a premium version but I’m the first to admit that, if they increased the subscription I would keep on paying.  It’s an incredible tool and rapidly becoming an information source which you can hone depending on your needs.

Time Zones - Time Zones are my friend.   If you have the stamina then every day has 24 hours – it’s energizing to be able to have three components to the working “day”.  For me those are Singapore, London and NYC in that order.

Skype - I’m a late comer to Skype but sometimes that means the enthusiasm is all the greater.   It’s free and it works.  On every device.

General Tech - tablets, superfast connectivity, apps that raise invoices, track expenses, serve up relevant content.   The costs and barriers to doing business have never been lower.  The secret is to do a “digital audit” and work out what you need.

Money spends differently - not being a PAYE employee and being responsible for all of my business expenses and investments is strangely liberating.   Attending conferences and seminars which you have personally paid for focuses attention like nothing else.

The daily routine - every day you have to (a) to work (b) identify new work (c) learn something (d) say something to your target group (e) stay on-top of admin.  EVERY DAY. The secret is to make some or all of those tasks pleasurable – then it doesn’t seem like a chore.   And, if you’ve picked a business which you enjoy (I have) it’s not difficult.clocks

An absence of meetings - within days I realised that how much of my previous corporate life had been taken up with meetings or preparing for meetings.   Now I have much more time to actually do.   It’s resulted in a strong focus on delivering.  For the client and for me.

Clients - nothing would be possible without clients.  Having been one for over 20 years I must admit I’m enjoying answering their needs.   They come in many guises but all share a passion and operate in a space I enjoy which makes it double the fun.   Some of their entrepreneurial traits are rubbing off on me so I expect I might well become a start-up client myself with something more tangible than the marketing and communications specialisation I offer at the moment.

The Hopper - keeping that hopper filled with business and potential business is key – maintaining relevancy and contacts is vital here.

And the downsides ?  So far there is none (I’ve even got a great accountant so filing taxes is not going to be too much of a burden) but there are sure to be bumps along the journey but they will be the responsibility of me, no one else, and that’s a very liberating feeling.

Little Red and the big bad idea

Recently the inevitable Virgin / Richard Branson PR spin machine went into overdrive with another one of those cunning stunts which make a regular product seem “fun and different”…..but let me back up.

Following the British Airways purchase of the former BMI and subsequent selling of domestic slots and routes because of competition policy Richard Branson did the right thing. He launched a competitive service on the LHR – EDI (Edinburgh) route which would, at the same time, funnel in passengers into his long-haul service. It’s called “Little Red” (also flying to Manchester and Aberdeen – there are some awkward contradictions since Branson has been anti flights to Manchester to justify his train service but that’s another topic altogether !) and there was the usual rhetoric about it ending monopolies etc. But however you cut it, it’s a good thing. Competition is key in airline travel.

Now back to the stunt in question, Branson has announced that Little Red is to have live comedy and music acts on the one hour flight between Edinburgh and London. It’s excruciating even writing that last sentence. I would pay double to avoid this unless there was some ability to jettison said performer mid-air should a majority of the passengers put their thumbs down. It’s ridiculous. People read / chat / nap / read / listen / watch – all things under their control. The last thing you want is someone performing at you when you are strapped to a seat with nowhere to go.

A better idea for Virgin would be to make the last flight of the evening from LHR to JFK child free, strip out some seats, charge a premium, install another bar, some lounge seating and have a bit of an adult kick back environment. Now that would be a stunt worth talking about. Meanwhile leave the Edinburgh “shuttle” passengers be – fly efficiently, charge a reasonable fare and they will fill every seat.

What gets my goat….

Cities such as London and NYC have their plus and minus points. That’s inevitable. However there is one condition which is unique to London, and it’s a bad one. The utter lack of hospitality and flexibility in many restaurants.

It’s something I’m always aware of and usually bite my lip but Wednesday’s experience in The Grazing Goat is, almost 48 hours on, still able to raise my blood pressure.

What was the crime ? We turned up at 9.40pm and dared to suggest we would like to eat. The greeter (probably too strong a term) told us we would have to be quick as the kitchen would close at 10.00pm. The server who brought our menus told us the same thing. The other server who brought the dessert menus hurried us again. They rang the bell loudly for last orders at 10.45pm and the greeter came to tell us we had better hurry if we wanted another drink.

Hurry, hurry, hurry.

There are two issues here. (1) The utter lack of commercial nous to see the attraction of serving food later. (2) The inability to convey the sense of urgency in a light and customer centric way. You feel like you are doing them a favour just being there intruding on some sort of bizarre state owned enterprise which doesn’t actually need to look after customers.

The food was acceptable. The service was not and we informed them of the fact as we knocked the service charge off the check.

Handled a different way the restaurant could have easily doubled the check total. That’s what is beyond belief.

Sadly this restaurant is not alone. If London is to be a world class city it needs to look across the water.