Category Archives: Enchantment

I’ve never cried in a hardware store before. Although perhaps you have.

I was in E Hayes & Sons in Invercargill in New Zealand. A strange place to hang out on holiday amidst the natural beauty of New Zealand’s South Island you may think. And you would be right.

But this is why.

On the way to Invercargill I watched a film starring Anthony Hopkins called The Worlds Fastest Indian. It was made in 2005 and based on the true story of Burt Munro and his quest to turn his 1920s Indian Scout motorbike into the fastest motorbike in the world.

Burt was a somewhat eccentric motorcycle fanatic who spent his time tinkering with his motorbike in his shed, making improvements to the engine and bodywork. He would often work through the night choosing his passion for speed over sleep. He improvised with found items rather than ‘proper’ equipment. He would cast parts in old tins and make his own barrels and pistons.

In 1962 he travelled alone to the USA to fulfil his ambition to achieve a worldspeed record at Speed Week on the salt flats at Bonneville, Utah.

His local community, friends and family did not believe that he could do it. Even the local motorcycle club were sceptical about their eccentric neighbour. The only person who did believe in Burt was Thomas, the small boy who lived next door.

Against the odds, Burt and the motorbike arrived in Utah, 8,000 miles away in one piece. Burt charmed officials to let him race despite not registering, being 63 years old, riding the oldest bike in the competition with no apparent regard for his own safety. He had no safety parachute or fire extinguisher. Officially both were required in order to be eligible to race.

Burt broke the world record achieving 179 mph. Burt returned to Bonneville several more times setting more speed records in his lifetime. Burt died on 6 January 1978, aged 78.

“You live more in five minutes on a bike like this going flat-out than some people live in a lifetime” Burt Munro

Burt’s story inspired me because of his passion (for motorcycles) and his single-minded pursuit (of speed) – and his success despite the odds.

It is an enchanting and beautiful story told with love and humour. I fell in love with Burt Munro a bit. So that’s why, when I came across his motorcycle bike and memorial to Burt in a hardware store in Invercargill – it was all a bit emotional.

So if you ever feel in the need of inspiration against the odds, take 90 minutes out of your day-to-day life and watch The Worlds Fastest Indian. 

It’s all about you

There is often debate about how much contact charities should be making with donors. In a recent blog by Jeff Brooks he highlights that there is no proof that increased contact leads to donor attrition. He notes that too little contact could be detrimental to your fundraising, but the worst thing of all is being irrelevant.

Charities need to focus on the donor. It’s all about the charity providing the donor with the opportunity to change the world and feel valued in a way that is relevant to them. From the style of the copy, to the key message, to the choice of images, to the channel of communication, it’s all about them.

My question is; can we compare our fundraising communications to other sectors, for example clothes retail, restaurants or mobile phone providers? I think we can.

A couple of weeks ago I was doing some work with the direct mail fundraising team; considering how we make our donors feel special, important and loved. We did some work reflecting on our own experiences and considered what organisations (if any!) had made us feel valued or special lately.

We came up with a good list that included, Eagle Cabs, a dentist, Bupa and Virgin (?). My example was Boden, which I will share with you here.

Johnnie Boden has been writing to me for a few years now. I don’t remember asking him, or when he first embarked on his correspondence with me, but he writes to me a lot. In fact I get more post from Johnnie Boden than anyone else. I have to say his overly friendly chirpy marketing copy does grate on my nerves a bit. However, somewhat ashamedly I admit, I am a Boden customer.

The reason this example was so relevant to the question about communication being all about the donor is that Johnnie Bodens latest autumn catalogue was all about me.  The centre text reads, ‘I owe Lucy everything’  as well as other references to ‘Lucy’. I think this is brilliant. There were even personalised stickers so I could mark what I wanted.

But while I’m on the topic, it’s not just the personalised catalogue that makes Boden stand out. Johnnie Bodens customer service is excellent too. A few months ago I complained about a scarf because all the bobbles fell off it. I emailed customer service and I received a real email back from a real person the same day. They sent me a new scarf and a freepost envelope to return the bobbleless one in. All within a couple of days. Impressive.

So what can fundraisers learn from Johnnie Boden? Here is my list.

  • Personal; great personalization of materials – see the example above
  • Frequent; I must get something monthly at least. It doesn’t put me off. It probably helps me buy more.
  • Offers; I get an incentive with every catalogue. I’m sure every single other customer does too. But I feel special.
  • Customer service; It’s good. Real people answer emails and take action. Refer to the scarf story above.
  • Targeted; Johnnie Boden sends me stuff I’m interested in. He segments his data well. I check in with my other target audience friends and we receive different creative and offers. Sometimes we get a bit jealous of each other’s Boden relationship.  (I acknowledge that could be perceived as sad on our part)
  • New; the catalogues always have some new lines.
  • Topical; The Royal wedding edition catalogue contained make your own cut-out bunting and Royal wedding bingo game. Other catalogues refer to recent events or seasons.

So, whether you are in the market for a brightly coloured rain mac or not; don’t just take my word for it, Test the Boden theory, or another company that makes you feel special. Ask yourself what is it that they do. Then try to recreate that special feeling for your donors.

More from the catalogue below.

Stop press – a great customer experience story

I always complain if I receive rubbish service (so most days), and when I have a great customer service experience I shout it from the rooftops. Partly because it’s so rare and partly because I want to share that providing great service may take a bit more thought and effort, but it’s not actually that difficult.

On Thursday I went for dinner with my friend Katie, the brief was budget. She turned up with a 2 for 1 voucher because her mum had bought a special offer pizza in Sainsbury’s last week. Always sticks to the brief does Katie.

So we rocked up, well more like waded up in the torrential rain and joined the queue of drowned rats at the door. The restaurant was packed but within a few seconds the waitress said hi, and advised us we would have a 15 min wait, was that OK? We had a lot to chat about and didn’t want to back outside in the rain so decided to stay. She offered us a four person table, but we offered it up to the four people behind us as a two table would only be another 10 minute wait.

Once seated our waiter gave us each a glass of wine on the house as we had to wait and for offering up the four person table. Wow – free wine?! Great stuff.

Once we got over the shock, we took a moment to look around this transformed Pizza Express. The interior had been given a makeover, bright colours and stripey walls, funky chairs and sofas and one wall was a big screen playing an unidentified black and white film. It didn’t feel like we were in a Pizza Express.

Our waiter was great, attentive, but not pushy and he was actually excited to tell us about the different pizza bases and pointed out that he should know, as he was half Italian.

The staff had new uniforms, rather cool blue t-shirts with a fluorescent re-branded logo although the chefs were looking a bit jailbreak their striped outfits that matched the walls.

Our food was good. The menu had been given a refresh too and there were more charity partnership offers than before. We sampled the new Baileys latte (it would be rude not to), and I fully recommend.

The restaurant was busy but we didn’t feel rushed. When we wanted the bill the waiter was there, no Mexican waves or pretending to walk out to get their attention required, which in the norm in my recent experience. Our meal was on brief and cheap as chips, in fact it may only have been cheaper if indeed, we had eaten chips.

Then we were given feedback invitation cards and asked to give feedback online if we had had a good time, and also if we hadn’t. I have done this and am now expectantly waiting for my £500 Pizza Express card, but in the meantime happy with my dough balls voucher. (although I would have given feedback without an incentive)

On leaving a waitress that we hadn’t even spoken to smiled and said thanks and she sounded like she actually meant it too. And THEN the waitress on the door apologised for the wait again.

We left the restaurant reeling in shock at this unexpected great experience.

We all bang on about the customer experience and donor journey, but I’m not convinced many organisations are actually doing it.  So well done Pizza Express you have done a great job. You have transformed from average high street pizza chain to providing customers with a remarkable pizza eating experience. I think its fair to say that your pizzas went a bit small for a while and I am still not sure about the ‘diet’ pizza with a hole in the middle but based on this recent experience I’ll let you off. I think you are back on track.

So team what can we learn from Pizza Express? Is it as simple as a bit of a brand refresh, lick of paint, some customer service training combined with getting the right people on the bus in the first place?

It feels that Pizza Express have really worked at cross selling their products with simple supermarket incentives, integrating online and offline messages, providing customer incentives to return, providing great product, actively seeking feedback, providing superb in restaurant service and excellent value for money.

But don’t just take my word for it – go hang out in Pizza Express or anywhere else that provides good service and watch and learn.  And then go do it yourself.

I’m still reeling in shock and thinking I should probably go to the gym today to offset the anticipated voucher.

You can just tick along. That’s fine. Your choice.

I was recently talking to Jonathon Grapsas, Director of flat earth direct about innovation and some of the challenges for the charity sector. He asked me six key questions. And here is what I said.

1.  Let’s start with some of the basics. How do you define innovation and do you think most people really understand what it means?

I think it’s important to define both innovation and creativity as they are terms that are often used (and overused) together. Creativity is the art of coming up with a new idea – as humans we are all creative. Innovation is ‘taking action’ to make that new idea happen.

Innovation can be a radical change, for example the invention of the Internet or digital music or the Amazon model of shopping that changes the way we work.

Innovation can also be a small or incremental change that delivers results, for example challenging out of date processes, changing a mail pack or a thank you letter or really interrogating your database.

Most people think innovation is a lone genius having a light bulb moment. This is not the case. Innovation is more likely to be a series of connections or ideas put together in new ways, and is often a slow hunch, or a series of slow hunches over a period of time.

The invention of the Internet is a great example – Tim Berners Lee was tinkering away for 20 years fascinated about making sense of data before he stumbled across a technology that has changed the world. People also think innovation is just for the ‘innovators’ – that’s also not true. Every single one of us has the ability to be innovative, we just have to work out what areas our creative strengths are in and play to them.

2.  As you know everyone talks about the desire to be innovative and agents of change. But very few charities truly are pushing the envelope. What are the biggest things holding us back? Can we rightly point the finger at boards or is this a cop-out of sorts?

Charities are great at talking about how they should be innovative but I can’t see many being strategic about developing innovation. We are all held back by fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure and fear of putting our heads above the parapet, both personally and professionally. In a difficult economic climate people fear losing their job. Being seen as different is perceived as risky.

I think the economic climate is used as an excuse to ‘play it safe’. Some of history’s great innovations were developed in bad economic times including some big names like Motorola, Hewlett-Packard and Xerox. Right now we have a real opportunity to be more innovative to increase efficiencies and income and give our organisations an essential competitive advantage during tough times.

Innovation has to be led from the top, look at any company delivering success through innovation. Their leadership deliberately drives a culture of innovation in a range of ways; for example Google 20% time, 3Ms’ strategy to deliver 20% of income through new products and of course Apple who have four times as many apps developers than employees who all work for free and Apple takes 30% of everything they earn.

The point is that it’s not good enough to tell your staff to be more innovative, leaders need to walk the walk and insist on time and space for innovation put realistic success measures in place, which are not necessarily income driven and accept that innovation is a mid to long-term game. The responsibility for driving innovation sits at the top.

3.  Are there any individuals or organisations we should be looking to that are doing some really interesting, leading edge stuff that’s pushing the fundraising boundaries? What about the corporate world, who’s rocking?

In the UK, Cancer Research UK are the only charity I can think of that is strategically developing radical innovation and are developing some great products – My Projects is one that has been showcased recently.

That said you don’t have to be a big charity to do innovation, you just need some passion and determination to make the world a better place for your cause. Check out AJ Leon’s Lac project which is an inspiration and watch out for the small guys who have great ideas, and are more agile at trying things out, they just don’t always make the press so are harder to spot.

Some great examples from the corporate world include:

  • LEGO Cuusoo who are crowdsourcing, pre-market making designs and sharing 1% of revenue with the idea originator and their helpers.
  • McLaren Applied Technologies are commercializing their technology and applying it to other industries. This is now the 2nd most profitable part of McLaren after F1.
  • Orange ‘Do Some Good’. Mobile phone app that helps people do good in 5 minutes or less

4.  Do you think we learn enough from our failures within the charity sector? What can we be doing moving forward to better learn from things gone awry?   

No we don’t learn enough from failure.  AND I think it is the single biggest thing that stops innovation. It all comes back to fear. We like to celebrate success and push failures under the carpet. That’s what human behavior dictates and is reinforced in us by society and education systems from an early age. We need to go against the grain and shout about, celebrate and learn from failure.

A High Value Donor team that I trained in creativity and innovation took away a new “fail yea” agenda onto every team meeting. Having permission to celebrate failure, made it OK to admit mistakes and shared failures ensured the same mistakes were not repeated. This approach made a big difference to the success of future high value events that had previously failed in some way. Failure has to be encouraged as part of an organisations culture and again, has to be driven from the top.

5.  You might have seen I recently blogged about everyone wanting to be second. Why do you think that is? Are we paralyzed by fear? Is this a sector specific thing?

Great blog. I think you sum it up. Second is safe. Second is less risky. That’s why organisations like the comfort zone of being second.

However in an increasingly competitive marketplace I would agree with Seth Godin’s point in Purple Cow that second is more risky than first.

Second is more risky because second is the same as everyone else. Second is boring. If we are going to raise more money we need to be remarkable. First is remarkable. Being second, third, fourth etc. means we are the same as everyone else and that in a competitive world is very risky.

We are paralyzed by fear and we need to get over ourselves. Look at any successful entrepreneur; they accept that failing is inevitable. They fail fast and learn. This is a key to their success.

Fear of failure is not sector specific, although I think the fear of being seen to ‘waste’ donations is another barrier that further prevents charities innovating.

We shouldn’t aim to fail, and it’s important to minimize risk of failure. Do your research, pilot on a small-scale, test and refine. But do something. Your idea might not work and that’s ok because you tried something new. However, it’s not ok for your idea not to work because you cut corners or were lazy. There is a big difference.

6.  As someone who spends such a big chunk of time talking about what it means to be innovative, why do you actually think it’s so important? Can’t we just tick along doing what we’ve always been doing?

Sure thing, you can just tick along. That’s fine. Your choice.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten” Anthony Robbins

As a fundraiser, your job is not to ‘just tick along’. Your job is to make a difference. Your job is to do the very best job you can for your donors and beneficiaries and anything less than that isn’t good enough. It might take some more thought, more time, more risk but if your organisation is going to raise more funds, engage more donors, work with more volunteers, create more awareness and achieve its mission then it has to be innovative to survive. Innovate or die. Simple as that. Your choice.

This interview featured in the first flat earther newsletter last month. I thought I would also share it here just in case you missed out.

As always, love to know your thoughts.

Gotta Share

There is no doubt that social media enables us all to share what we are doing, thinking and feeling like never before. There are great opportunities for organisations to tap into the insights and conversations that customers and potential customers are sharing online.

As highlighted in previous posts, I’m trying to make sense of the world of social media, hoping to navigate through it and establish some common etiquette. Recently I was out with two friends who seemed to spend a lot of time updating various statuses that they were out in a bar having dinner and drinking wine. I felt a bit bemused at all the time spent frantically texting, tagging and updating that detracted from the real life chat we were having.

It made me wonder if we are spending too much time ‘sharing’ at the expense of real life experiences.

Often we know what our friends are up to because their status tells us; on the one hand this is a great way of being connected, on the other if you spend your real life time updating that you are “Having a great time with blah at ‘name drop’ cool place” then I’m not so sure its such a great idea.

I would like to question people’s motivation for sharing; is it a competition as to who can be tagged in the coolest places with the sexiest people? Or is it about proving your wit and intelligence? Or is it for a sympathy vote and attention? Or is it a combination of all of the above? Who are your status updates for? Yourself? Your friends? Your enemies?

If you are in real life having a real life experience, does posting something to tell everyone detract from that experience or does it enhance it?

Personally, my view is if you are having a conversation in real life, unless it’s a life or death situation I think it’s rude to be on your phone updating, surfing the net or whatever. Your focus should be on the present.

I found this brilliant piece on YouTube which to some extent sums it up.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m on Facebook and I love Twitter – a lot. I learn lots, ask for help and information and in turn hope that I provide useful tweets to the people who follow me.

My point is that sharing the moment on social media should not be at the expense of experiencing and sharing a real life moment.

I’d be interested to know what you think….

It’s no longer good enough just to be ‘good’

Life is competitive. I think Darwins’ theory of natural selection also applies to organisations. Put simply; evolve or die.

In order to survive your organisation needs to understand its customers and offer them incredible products and services. You also need to be able to anticipate change and be able to respond more quickly and more remarkably than your competition.  It’s no longer good enough just to be good.

It’s also no longer good enough to be very good. In his book Purple Cow, Seth Godin makes the point that very good is an everyday occurrence and hardly worth mentioning.  Because it’s boring and expected. He claims that ‘very good’ is the opposite of remarkable.

Most organisations are good. Few are remarkable. The lack of remarkableness is because people and organisations are scared to be different. They think it’s safer to be like everyone else. According to Seth this poses a problem because unless organisations are remarkable then they will not survive. See paragraph 2.

‘Tastes like chicken isn’t a compliment’ Seth Godin

Remarkable can be bad or good. If you travel by plane and get there safely you don’t tell anyone. That’s what’s supposed to happen.  That’s just good or very good. What makes it remarkable is if it is diabolical beyond belief or exceeds your expectations, e.g. rude staff, dreadful food, delays or a free upgrade without you asking, complimentary champagne or arriving early.

Remarkable spreads. People tell people about their remarkable experiences. Authentic remarkable can go viral across the world in minutes.

So what are you doing for your donors, volunteers, beneficiaries and customers that’s very good, and how can you make it remarkable? If the answer is nothing. I suggest you get thinking – or you quit while you are ahead.

If you are contemplating remarkable you might find these books inspiring

Purple Cow – Seth Godin

Linchpin – Seth Godin

Business Beyond the Box – John O’Keefe

Good to Great – Jim Collins 

Today has been a bad day for customer service

Dear Richard,

Despite your entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen, I have had a decidedly below par experience of the Virgin brand this week.

Firstly, I have had to travel on Virgin trains a lot. And they are crap. They are crap because there are not enough luggage racks – on a long journey most people have overnight bags. Did no one think of this when they were designing your trains? While I’m on the subject, why put the luggage racks in the middle of the train?  It causes a bottleneck and panic as people scrabble to get off the train with their luggage.  The overhead racks are barely big enough to post a sandwich in. The trains are cramped, mostly because the aisles are cluttered with overnight bags, they are hot and stuffy and my carriage smelt vaguely of vomit. A shambles.

I’m only mentioning Virgin trains this now as I am freshly incensed by your brand today and the problems I’ve had with my internet connection.

In the last 24 hours I have spent over three hours on the phone to various Welsh people in a Virgin call centre. I’m sorry but life is too short for this.

At first I dialled the customer service number full of hope and optimism. My heart sank as an overly chipper automated person answered and asked me to key in my home telephone number ‘so that we can deal with your call more quickly’.

This initiated a multilevel filtering system, ‘to help us help you more quickly’. At some point in the process a helpful automated person suggested that I might want to go online to get help. Given that m I’m calling because my internet is not working, the offer just makes me more irritable. Which by this point is about 8 on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being very irritated indeed.

Finally, I get through to a real person who asks for my telephone number again and then puts me on hold because I need to speak to a the ‘national team’ whatever that means.  At this point I get the option of choosing my answer phone music. Presumably Virgin are aware that if you have got to this stage of so near but yet so far, that you might deserve some choice in how you would like your brain numbed. I zoned out after the pop and classical options and decide to stick with whatever genre I had been defaulted to for fear than any interference would prolong my wait time.

To be fair the various Welsh people who I conversed with were pleasant enough, if not somewhat patronising. I did resent having to tell my story afresh to each different individual. I also hate being called Madam as anyone who knows me knows – but today worse than called madam was being called Mrs Gower – that’s my mum.

So the helpful patronising Welsh person insisted that to test the service I have to remove the base of the phone socket to plug the phone line into a different socket. The last time someone tampered with these screws on the socket was probably about 1980 – so they are welded on. So there I am, wedged between the sofa and the wall face down trying to leverage the welded in screws with the helpful person at the end of the phone on speaker enquiring if perhaps I have any friends who can help, in a tinny voice laced with a level of irritation to match my own.

Eventually I got the screws off the wall. But I had to call back and navigate once more through the multi layer system. It’s apparently not possible to have a number to the right team, surely that would be helping me more quickly than me giving my phone number to every new person I speak to?

Anyway the outcome is that the internet works a bit, but like the internet worked in 1994. Slowly. Virgin say it’s the router and the router says its Virgin and I am now also broken with a fried brain from overexposure to hold music not of my own choosing.

This blog is like therapy. If I manage to post it and you are reading this – you are experiencing a miracle.

So I’m struggling to find a positive outcome, the only silver lining is in an attempt to find internet I discovered a great local café that has not only internet but excellent coffee and the best Chelsea buns I’ve ever tasted.

So whilst this letter isn’t a patch on this letter, I do want to highlight to Virgin and any other customer facing organisation some advice to keep customers happy.

  • Care about your customer
  • Employ real people
  • Answer the phone
  • Listen to people and record the conversation so they don’t have to keep telling their story
  • Don’t call me Mrs or Madam

Rant over. Thank you for listening.