Monday, 29 June 2015

A fly infiltrates Parliament and other triviality...

On my way home a few days ago, walking the ten minutes from work to Waterloo station as I dodged the dozens of selfie sticks, I pondered one thing: how on earth had there been a fly in my office? The windows in Portcullis House don’t open (the words ‘bulletproof’ and ‘safety’ are probably something to do with it), the doors slam shut each time you go through them with such finality the walls literally shake, and there are no gaps in the panelling. But somehow one tiny bluebottle made it through.

I should've swatted the little bugger Obama-style...

It defied the odds to either fly through the revolving doors (assuming it came through with a human and didn’t push them itself), bypass the airport-style security, fly through another set of revolving doors, up four flights of stairs (or up in the lift if it was feeling lazy) then brazenly enter the office when quite obviously either me, my boss or the postman weren’t looking. It could have come up the escalator leading from the Colonnade, which leads into Portcullis House from the outside, but either way it showed security can be breached by even the simplest of creatures, so perhaps the men with the big guns (I can’t say I’ve seen any women here with them) ought to keep a better look out.

Then it was gone. How was the fly GONE? I refer to my earlier observations about the room, but this time nobody had come or gone in between noticing its existence and its sudden exit. It was a puzzle worthy of Holmes and Watson, or, more famously, Castle and Beckett. Maybe it had flown through the ridiculously placed air vents in the carpet, but it was unlikely. I never saw it again. Perhaps it got what it came for and disintegrated in a tiny explosion so small it was beyond human hearing because it was a drone fake fly – a robot – fixed with a tiny camera, filming the inner workings of Parliament while its evil master watched on a large screen in a bunker while cackling to themselves that the Mother of Parliaments would soon be obliterated (I’m thinking more Baron Greenback or Doctor Claw to fit in with the mood of the article rather than anything more serious and relevant to in today's security-conscious world).

Inspector Gadget literally couldn't hurt a fly...

But, of course, I am simply writing irrelevance, as the fly is a whimsical distraction from the other, rather more major problem Parliament faces: the place is falling down, riddled with asbestos and generally sinking into the Thames. The Elizabeth Clock Tower is leaning at an ‘inclination of 0.04 degrees’ (although I should add this isn’t a cause for concern, so it shouldn’t fall on top of you while you take your #BigBenSelfie), the fabric of the building is literally crumbling and should there be a fire then those poor souls (of which I was one once) down in the bunker - I mean basement - or up in the Gods, have zero chance. 

The Leaning Tower of (diamond) Geezer

So the options are: move everyone out for six years and cost £3.9 billion, a partial move-out (i.e. Commons then Lords) at a cost of £4.4 billion over 11 years, or everyone stay put and take 32 – yes THIRTY TWO – years, costing £5.7 billion. I don’t know whether the £5.7 billion is because it’s just much slower or they’re taking account of things being far more expensive (relatively) in 32 years than they are now, but I have a feeling which way this whole decision may go. Some have argued that Parliament should just have a modern new building and have the current site as a massive museum, but I suspect that would be doubly expensive.  Besides, I’d miss getting lost every time I tried to get anywhere, the grandiose sense of history when you’re buying your morning croissant and the myriad of oddities such as the curiously named Chess Room. I am sure that is no cold, financial argument for keeping Parliament for what it was intended but it’s my reasoning and I’m sticking to it.

But I digress from the fly, talking about significant matters rather than the triviality of a fly’s potentially perilous journey. Perhaps that’s what the creature – or its master - is banking on. 

Thursday, 4 June 2015

In praise of good customer service (yes, there is such a thing!).

A while ago I visited my local store of a well-known pet chain (although not the most well-known!) with my daughter. I just needed some guinea pig supplies, nipped in to stock up. The manager was there and approached me, and immediately thought I was in for the ‘big sell’ on something I didn’t need, like posh nibbles for pets already over-indulged on their greens. But I was pleasantly surprised by the manager’s conversation: there was no push to purchase, instead she chatted to my daughter about pets and school, and showed her the meal worms packaged on the shelves. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it made the shopping experience all the more pleasant, with staff who were friendly but not overpowering or pushy. I used to work in a shoe shop, so know how hard it can be to get that balance right, but the pet shop got it spot on. As we left I wondered why all shops couldn’t be like that, then thought why not write to their customer services about how impressed I was with their Winchester store. So I batted off an email, which took all of two minutes. I received a reply not just from customer services but from the Managing Director himself, who thanked me for letting him know and how delighted he was that the service had been so good. He would, of course, let the store in question know about my praise.

We will all complain to companies when we feel they need to improve, whether it be shorter queues or trains running on time (we’ll all want the moon on a stick next!), but do we praise them when they get things right? I suppose most will say that it’s their job to be efficient, why should we thank them for doing what they're paid to do, and that may to an extent be true. But when they go that extra mile, why shouldn’t we feed back our gratitude? Complaining when customer care falls short will, it is hoped, help improve performance in the future, but I think it’s just as important to thank those who have been particularly helpful as this feedback is surely just as essential for customer service improvement. If nobody tells a company that somebody has been particularly helpful, how will they know? Equally, how will they know it can really be appreciated and not just expected?

Yesterday I was commuting home from London when the voice of a guard I recognised from another (identical!) journey the week before came over the tannoy, a guard who is particularly helpful, courteous, informative and professional. So as with the pet shop, I let the train company know that I was singling him out for praise. I have had cause to complain to this particular company through an angry tweet or two (or three) when things have gone wrong, as they do far too often, but it gave me a feeling of happiness to write something positive for a change. And, I can only hope, they do feed my comments back to him as they said they would. I don’t know if customer comments about individuals are used as recognised feedback for assessment purposes, but if they do then I hope I have been of some help. 

I’m not saying don’t complain when it’s needed, only that just a little recognition of those making life a bit more pleasant could go a long way.