Friday 25 February 2011

Blah blah blah

Many years ago, I worked for the European division of an American software company. We were one of five divisions, four of which were in the USA. Ours was called “ROW” which stood for “Rest of World”. ROW included the entire planet outside of the USA and Canada, we even included South America. That was a learning experience in my understanding of the US geopolitical world-view. For much of the US the rest of the world is a funny foreign place full of funny foreign people who eat and drink funny foreign things. They even talk funny foreign languages.

One year, my employer appointed a new very senior manager. The first time we met him was at our annual user conference where our customers could get hugely drunk at our expense and hear some boring things about new products.

The new guy’s first public appearance didn’t get off to a good start. He walked onto the stage and began an exceptionally boring Powerpoint presentation. The first three or four pages were that heart sinking, predictable crap that characterises almost all presentations. Business clich├ęs, fancy long words and an absolute absence of anything interesting. After perhaps the fourth slide he paused and took a breath. After a thoughtful moment he clicked the button and the next slide appeared. All it said was “Blah blah blah”.

He turned to the audience and said “It’s all s**t, isn’t it?”

We’d been fooled. This guy was actually something new. To begin with he was Dutch and I like the Dutch. They’re all a bit odd. This guy certainly was. The rest of his presentation was delivered without a projector, he just stood there and spoke about his approach. The customers were promised an absence of nonsense and in it’s place some honesty and plain-speaking. We all loved him.

He didn’t last.

The company I worked for, particularly as it grew and became more successful, became ever so slightly sneakier, more corporate and more full of blah blah blah.

The memory of being at that revolutionary presentation jumped back into my mind as I read an advertisement from BNPC last week.

I have to make my position clear. I like BNPC. It’s a very nice building. It’s got a very nice car park.

But what does it actually achieve? Yes, I know it conducts surveys and studies and hosts lots of conferences but what does it actually achieve regarding national productivity?

The advert announced the “Biennial Customer Service Convention” which, you’ll be delighted to hear, has a theme. “Delivering a Signature Customer Experience: A Winning Formula for Sustainable Competitive Advantage”. What’s more, you and I are invited to “Participate in the Application of Key Learnings to the Development of the Botswana National Service Experience Framework”.

BNPC are guilty of a Capital Crime.

It gets worse. Some of the advertised “learning points” included:

“How to strategically develop a customer experience strategy and deliver a unique customer experience that results in a differentiated brand”

“the tried and tested methodology in distilling your organisation’s ‘Customer Experience DNAs’ and develop a signature customer experience”

“uncover the magic of delivering a sustainable customer experience through the use of a powerful tool – the ‘Customer Experience Blueprint’”

Blah blah blah. “It’s all s**t, isn’t it?”

I’ve been around a bit and one thing I’ve developed after all these years is an absolute intolerance for business crap-speak and BNPC are experts at it.

Let me make it clear. I’m not against the idea of a national productivity centre. I’m honestly not. I just don’t think that running conventions with theoreticians talking crap are useful.

So what is? Here’s a present for BNPC. My idea for something I think they should do that might actually be useful.

I think that BNPC should make it known that in Botswana the “done thing” for visiting business leaders is to give something back when they visit us. Let’s make it a new bit of our culture. If a CEO or MD comes to Botswana to do a deal, to visit partners, or to sign a contract on behalf of their multinational company then they must let BNPC know first and let them arrange a masterclass. BNPC can lay on a few drinks and snacks and we’d all be delighted to pay a little something to interact with the guru and perhaps even pick up a few ideas. Make it known that failure to leave some knowledge behind is insulting to us.

Wouldn’t you pay a little for that?

Maybe this might actually transform BNPC into something new, something useful, something that actually helps improve our productivity.

Here’s another idea. Instead of wasting your time going to silly, pompous and portentous conferences and conventions full of terminally boring presentations and verbal diarrhoea do something cheaper and more effective.

Take a customer out for breakfast and listen to them. Prompt them with questions. What are their long-term plans? What are their short-term plans? What are the problems they face? What will stop them from succeeding? HOW CAN YOU HELP THEM?

You’ll get some fascinating information, some business ideas and maybe even a deal out of the experience AND you’ll get breakfast.

This week’s stars
  • The Plascon guys at Game for remembering a customer and going out of their way to sell stuff! Please don’t sent them to any conventions, they don’t need to learn things, they just need to continue being productive!

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