Life is one big dilemma – we offer ‘standardised’ services but are still desperate to be different

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about dichotomies and, principally, whether it is right to turn away business from a customer you feel does not comply with your own standards. The issue has come up again this week. Like many businesses, mine has been through a tough few years but we are starting to see some green shoots and, as such, now is as good a time as ever to redefine our vision and values, and ensure we are better prepared for growth than we were for recession.

Secret Marketer

The truth is that life is one big dilemma. To keep our costs down we talk about offering standardised products and services but at the same time we differentiate by claiming we know certain customer segments better than our competitors, and can adapt and relate to their unique needs.

Internally, we talk about the need for strong governance with multiple sign-offs to ensure we don’t make a mistake, but then we say we must be agile and quick to market – we must empower our people to make local decisions at the customer interface.

There are a couple of examples of where this has and has not worked in the past few weeks. The wonderful spectacle that was The Ashes was slightly tarnished when the umpires decided the light was too bad to continue playing, and yet the very people that such laws were introduced to protect – the batsmen – were desperate to carry on batting. 

My walk to work is often threatened by maniac cyclists who refuse to stop for a red light; speaking to a local policeman he said they turn a blind eye to it in the interests of encouraging more cycling. 

It was a similar story at Notting Hill Carnival the other week, where it was hard to avoid the waft of ‘weed’ penetrating your nostrils – and yet there can’t have been a more policed event in London. Once again, it seems the constabulary turned a blind eye in the interests of civil harmony.

So what’s the message? All businesses need controls – God forbid after the banking crisis, now more than ever. But it is by having such stringent controls, with no leeway, that people look to bend those rules. If the rules are already flexible, there is a much better chance people will act sensibly in the best interests of the customer. Now, pass me that spliff…

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