Mad Management: Service and systems in the private and public sectors '“ and sales skill

My wife and I are the owners of a top of the range, magnificently engineered BMW 535i that is as responsive as a racehorse and perfectly equipped to meet all our needs. Now I am no petrol head, far from it. I normally never give cars a second look, having owned fewer than a dozen in over 50 years of driving. I never gave my Beamer a second look either, all the time it had been parked just down the road in front of a neighbour's house. (It was 10 years old when I bought it).

Thursday, 23rd March 2017, 7:30 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:08 am

Then, one day my current car collapsed and had to be dragged off to the car breakers, and, fortuitously, a “for sale” sign appeared on my neighbour’s car. On my inquiring about it my neighbour took me for a drive and, actually I was not very impressed. The ride was a bit hard. But then I was invited to drive it. What a difference!

As I sat in the driver’s seat the car, sort of embraced me. Everything seemed to be designed just for the driver. It seemed to whisper: “You are the most important person in my life, drive me!” What a sensation. And, after the immense V8 engine wafted me silently down the road, I was completely seduced, and handed over about £3,000 without any qualms.

Eight years later, I am still a great fan of my BMW (pictured) although, rather like me, it is rusty here and there and bits have fallen off. But, unlike me, it still drives like a dream, especially when my wife is at the wheel.

However, this would not be possible without the friendly and highly knowledgeable services of Quarry Motors, a garage devoted to BMWs. They have kept our car on the road, fixing and replacing parts almost every year and getting it into shape for its MOT in the most economical and expert way possible. This has built real confidence in driving it anywhere. It is what I call quality service.

In summary there are five axioms or “musts” that make for a good organisation, private or public.

• It must provide products and services that are designed around the user’s real needs, and strive to continually improve them.

• It must design a system to meet those needs economically, which both BMW and Quarry Motors have done.

• It must respect its customers and users.

• It must employ people who identify with the product/service and who are happy at work.

• It must have a Management System that supports the first four axioms.

Looking back at the good companies that this column has already mentioned, it is clear that these companies all apply these axioms. However, the Management System is crucial. It is the glue that holds them all together.

If we take the two retailers John Lewis and the Furniture Gallery, in particular, it is clear that they understand that you cannot have satisfied customers if you don’t have staff who are well trained and feel valued, no matter how good your products or offerings are. Hence their staff do not have targets, or commissions; in other words management does not feel they have to “incentivise” them to do a good job. The work itself will do that; but they also have ownership. There is a profit-share policy. This is real empowerment and it adds immeasurably to customer satisfaction.

The companies also have good relationships with their suppliers and contractors, who are not at arm’s length, because their concept of a system begins with the customer need and extends right back to the third tier supplier.

Within that system everyone must be able to win, and if they do, so does the customer.

That was the Japanese secret in the 1960s, which, with their continual improvement ethos, led to their remarkable global market share explosion in the 1980s.

My local hero: Given all this attention to companies, we occasionally come across an individual employee who is a local hero, regardless of the company. I did recently.

Her name is Lauren and I came across her in Carphone Warehouse in Ecclesall Road where I went for the umpteenth time to investigate replacing my eight year old basic Nokia. Like many “seniors” I am intimidated by mobile phone and hi-fi shops. I sometimes still call record players gramophones and smartphones cellphones, occasioning arch looks from the sales assistants, and a smart retreat. But this time it was different. The young sales assistant immediately put me at my ease by not asking if I was “‘orright?”, but by a simple good morning.

She then asked a couple of simple questions, not about the phone I wanted (I didn’t know), but about my current contract and phone usage, and where I was dissatisfied. She picked up my three main requirements within 5 minutes, not the least being big keys and text. I was then shown the smartphone that fitted my needs, together with a contract that was a third less than my O2 contract. In less than 15 minutes Lauren walked me through the exchange process, gave me the time it was likely to take and promised to call when it was ready.

I walked out of the shop feeling really good about the purchase. I felt even better when Lauren called as promised, and better still when I went back with a query a week later, only to observe her empowering yet another older customer before sorting out my query with care and expertise. But, I could not help wondering if Carphone Warehouse knew how skilled Lauren really is?

Footnote: Social Care and management systems.

In last week’s edition Nadeem Murtuja made an impassioned plea in the Equality Column for improved adult social care. Equality column: Social care has become a lottery

Perhaps he could have asked the question: “Why, given these local successful organisations to study, did Sheffield Council adopt the worst form of management and, in so doing, utterly fail our most vulnerable people?”