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Another reason to offer great customer service

By Sean McManus, co-author of  The Customer Service Pocketbook

Just before Christmas, news came out that Google has updated the way its search engine works, so that it discriminates against companies that offer bad customer service.

Google counts a link to a website as being a vote in favour of it, and uses those votes (among other things) to decide how highly websites rank in its search results. The problem was that if the links appeared with complaints about the company, perhaps in a consumer rights forum, Google still gave companies credit for that link. Now that’s all changed, and Google says it now penalises companies apparently offering poor service.

The change responds to a claim in a US newspaper that one company deliberately offered bad customer service, just so that people would gripe about it online and give it lots of links that would boost its search engine ranking.

For online businesses, this means it’s never been more important to offer good service. If they don’t, they risk sliding down the search engine rankings, which can have a big impact on new customer acquisition and sales volume.

Google has always been committed to giving people the best web pages for their search queries, but this represents a subtle change. It means Google is now prioritising the reputation of the website operator too, including factors that are independent of the website itself.

imageGoogle holds a huge amount of data about customer behaviour that could also be factored in. Let’s not forget that Google knows how often people search for your company name together with ‘complaints department’.

It can even benchmark these figures across different companies, industries and countries, to identify companies that have significantly more complaints than their rivals.



If Google is committed to good customer service, you should be too


Find out how to improve customer service across your organisation in …

Never has there been a time when retaining your customers has been more important. The Customer Service Pocketbook, by Tony Newby and Sean McManus will give you lots of hints and tips about communicating with your customers, dealing with complaints and monitoring your performance.

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Bankers’ Bonuses and Brain Biology

Back in September 2010, we did a post about John Stacy Adams and Equity Theory.  Here are some edited highlights, as a primer:

Equity Theory in a Nutshell

Adams considered the comparisons we make between the outcomes we get (through reward such as pay) and the work we contribute:  the ratio O/W.

You unconsciously compare your own ratio (O/W) with my ratio, as you perceive it (O’/W’).  If you find that they are equal, you will be content.  If, however, my ratio is bigger than your ratio, you will be unhappy –you will perceive an ‘inequity’.

It is also the case that if you think you are over-rewarded, then you will probably feel a sense of guilt.  Our innate need for fairness is what drives Adams’ ‘Equity Theory’.  He argued that where we feel a sense of inequity, we respond in a way that will, in our minds, remove the inequities.

Why so Fair?

Is our sense of fairness a result of social or cultural pressures, or is it the way we are wired?  Four researchers at Caltech and Trinity College Dublin became the first to glean definitive evidence into this particular nature versus nurture debate.

What they found is that our brain’s reward centres respond more strongly when a poor person gets a financial reward than when a rich person receives the same reward.  What surprised them was that this is true for the brain of the rich person as well as for that of the poor person.

Image Credit: Elizabeth Tricomi/Rutgers University
Dr Tricomi was the principal author of the research paper

‘People who started out poor had a stronger brain reaction to things that gave them money, and essentially no reaction to money going to another person,’ Professor Colin Camerer says. ‘By itself, that wasn’t too surprising.’

What did surprise the team was that people who started out rich had a stronger reaction to other people getting money than to themselves getting money. ‘In other words’ said Camerer, ‘their brains liked it when others got money more than they liked it when they themselves got money.’

So what happened to good old self interest?

Clearly the results appear fly in the face of self interest, so how does the team explain them.  They think that it is about reducing discomfort – seeing a poor person getting a reward goes some way to allaying a little of our own guilt.

So will bankers give away their bonuses?

Maybe some will, but perhaps the guilt of discomfort has a value.  That’s something the experimenters did not measure, and until they do, we will never know what it takes to make a more equal society.

Which brings us back in a roundabout way to the vexed question of nature versus nurture.  We now know that something of our sense of equity is wired into the way our brains work.  What we don’t know is whether that wiring took place because of our genetics or our experiences.  So let’s speculate, based on two observations:

  1. There would seem to be real evolutionary advantage for a social creature living in small groups to develop a sense of fairness that guides its decisions
  2. There are plenty of opportunities in our present society for a sense of equity to be over-written by self-interest in our formative years, yet it seems to persist.

I say: chalk this one up to nature!

Learn More

You can read a far fuller summary of the research at the Caltech website, or, if you have a mind to, you can read the full paper that was published in the journal Nature (25 Feb 2010).

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Motivation Pocketbook

The Reward Pocketbook

The Management Models Pocketbook

The Thinker’s Pocketbook

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Elastic Management

SuperLewinKurt Lewin is something of a hero to me, not least as the originator of one of my all time favourite quotes:

‘There is nothing so practical as a good theory’

This appeared in my intro to The Management Models Pocketbook and a blog I posted on my birthday.

So why come back to it now?  I want to look at one of Lewin’s best known models from a slightly unconventional angle, but let’s start with the basics.

Force Field Analysis

Lewin’s language derives from the world of physics; he talks of equilibrium and forces.  His metaphor is not, however, strained and works very well for me.  In his model, we (individuals and groups – even organisations) will be in equilibrium, unless a force acts upon us.

By equilibrium, he means that there will be no change.

Let’s get real!

In the real world, there are always forces acting upon us, so there is always change.  Lewin identifies two fundamental types of force:

Driving forces, which promote change

Restraining forces, which – take a guess – restrain it


To understand the nature of change and how it is happening in an individual or a group, we need to inventory all of the driving and restraining forces, understand them, and assess the net direction and strength of the resultant force.

Under Pressure

Many of us in the worlds of business and public service are finding ourselves under a lot of pressure at the moment, and if you manage people, you may be putting them under pressure.  What can Lewin teach us about what is going to happen?

As we apply a driving force to our colleagues in times of pressure, many will respond and you will achieve the changes you need.  People are able to suppress their reaction to unwelcome pressure and hence you may not sense the restraining forces.  But they are there.  When you release the drive, as the pressure reduces, the elasticity of the restraining forces will show itself.

Two Tactics

How can you deal with this elasticity.  If you need to maintain your new productivity levels over a long term, you have only two options:

  1. You can maintain the driving forces
    We see this pretty often in organisations.  ‘Autocratic’ or ‘follow-me-the-superhero’ styles of leadership maintain long term pressure that can turn into stress and burn-out.  If you suspect you are in danger of causing this, you need to deal with it – quickly.
  2. You can release the restraining forces
    This is by far the harder tactic.  You need to understand what the forces are that pull back against your drive and address them one at a time.  So, longer hours may be mostly a problem because of a parent’s evening routine; so can you offer flexible hours to allow them to leave early?  A greater workload may frustrate someone who is angered by the slow running of an aged computer; so can you upgrade their equipment?

Welcome to the club

If you are anticipating 2011 will be a tough year for you, then welcome to a large club.  But don’t just despair or let events drive you.  Analyse and understand your situation, and take active steps to manage it.

This quarter, Pocketblog will be offering a range of solutions from the Management Pocketbooks library, to help you through.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might find helpful

The Managing Change Pocketbook

The Stress Pocketbook

The Motivation Pocketbook

The People Manager’s Pocketbook

The Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook

Under Pressure? – take a break

For Queen fans

For music fans who aren’t so keen on Queen

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Happiness – as simple as ABC?

AbnormalityA couple of years ago, I spotted something a bit special in an Oxfam bookshop; it was a kind of archaeological relic of a by-gone age.  The book was a basic psychology text called ‘Abnormality’.  Because I have no more than a passing interest in the subject and ever-diminishing shelf space, I elected to leave it behind.

However, this book marks the end of an era.


A New Field in Psychology

Abnormality was published in 1997.  The following year, its principal author, Martin Seligman, was President of the American Psychological Association.  In 1998, Seligman officially launched Positive Psychology as a distinct branch of psychology, and lifted it from the level of pop psychology to a topic of serious scientific research.

Abnormality marked Seligman’s last book on the ‘old’ psychology of the damage we accumulate or do to one-another.  All his subsequent books have been about aspects of optimal human functioning.

Why this timing?  Was it just because Seligman had the opportunity that year?  I don’t think so.  In his 2003 book, Authentic Happiness, he says:

‘it took Barbara Frederickson … to convince my head that positive emotion has a profound purpose far beyond the delightful way it makes us feel.’

In 1998, Barbara Frederickson published a ground-breaking paper: ‘What good are Positive Emotions?’  In it, she suggests that positive emotions broaden and build our personal resources and help us to cope with the trials of life.  She won psychology’s most lucrative award, The Templeton Prize, in its first year, 2000.

But what if I’m stuck with negative emotions?

Martin SeligmanSeligman himself is a leading thinker in Positive Psychology; most closely associated with two aspects: strengths, and ‘Learned Optimism’.

His 1990 book (now in its third edition); ‘Learned Optimism’ pre-dates Positive Psychology as a field of study with a name, but it is an essential read for anyone interested in the field.

It shows how we can move from helplessness to optimism by changing the way we think, and it presents a very powerful model, developed by Albert Ellis.

Albert Ellis and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Albert Ellis founded Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) – yes British readers: I have used the US spelling.  This is a fore-runner of the better known CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and Ellis is known as the Grandfather of CBT.  He died in 2007.

In Learned Optimism, Seligman uses his ABCDE model as a tool for changing the way we think about adversity and and challenge.  You will also find this model in The Cognitive Behavioural Coaching (CBC) Pocketbook.


A: Activating event
… or Adversity, as Seligman describes it, is the objective event that causes us concern

B: Beliefs
The beliefs we have (rational or not) about the event that trigger our attitudes, fears and subsequent behaviours

C: Consequences
Ultimately, what consequences do those beliefs have for us in terms of what we do and how that changes our options and opportunities.

D: Dispute
Change comes when we confront our beliefs with real-world evidence and start to dispute our interpretation and beliefs.

E: Energization
This is the word Seligman uses, which seems more powerful than ‘Exchange’ used in the CBC Pocketbook. Here the new evidence and understanding we have exchanged for the old energises us to make changes, think differently, do things differently, and change our world.

Our Cognitive Behavioural Coaching Pocketbook has a whole chapter on the ABCDE model and how to use it.

Is Happiness as Simple as ABC?

Of course not, but what Seligman shows us is how a simple process can radically change our perspective from pessimism to optimism.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Cognitive Behavioural Coaching Pocketbook

The Energy and Well-being Pocketbook

The Positive Mental Attitude Pocketbook

The Stress Pocketbook

The Emotional Intelligence Pocketbook

The Empowerment Pocketbook

You might also like our earlier blog: Socrates’ Questions, Pavlov’s Dogs and Skinner’s Box.

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Management New Year’s Resolutions

Welcome to 2011!  This blog is published on the first working day of the New Year, so we have culled five Management New Year’s Resolutions from our Management Pocketbook library.

Resolution 1: Evidence-Based Decision-Making

After all, what is the alternative to evidence-based decision-making? Decision-Based Evidence Making

FrancisLSullivan-as-JaggersOne of our favourite quotes comes from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, in which the lawyer, Jaggers, says:

`Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.’

Image of Francis L Sullivan as Jaggers in the 1946 movie by David Lean – if you’ve never seen it, do so this year.

So, resolve never to make an important decision without first critically reviewing all of the evidence available to you.

Resolution 2: Reduce Reuse Recycle

For a manager, this year is likely to be one with resources at their tightest.  So use what you have well.  Think carefully about every commitment to reduce what you do; look for solutions that already work and make sure you put redundant resources to good use in a new context.

TimeTime will be your most valuable resource, and unlike the others, you cannot save it up, so use it really well.

Photo by i-am-marvin.

So, resolve not to squander anything of value.

Resolution 3: Make a Difference

How much did you achieve in 2010?  Seth Godin, in his blog, asks what did you ship (or get out of the door) in 2010 and he’s right: answering that question is an uncomfortable exercise if you are rigorous in excluding the near misses and outright failures to deliver.  Accept no excuses from yourself.

Now, resolve to make a real difference this year; face your demons and get things done.  And reading Seth’s blog will be a great stimulus.

Resolution 4: Treat your Customers like Kings and Queens

Management Pocketbooks has five excellent pocketbooks in its Customer Care category, but if you boil all the advice down to two words, it’s these: ‘just care’.

If you are in the business of serving people or creating products for them, this is what you have chosen, so, resolve to put up or shut up.  Treat every customer as you would wish to be treated when you are at you most demanding and unreasonable.

And, for the ultimate in customer care training, this column will be buying the Remastered DVD box-set of Fawlty Towers.

Resolution 5: Chill Out

RelaxRelax.  Get more done by stressing less.  Make time for more of what you enjoy and the people you really love.  Find ways to discharge the pressures and tensions of your working life and give yourself more energy in the process.

So, resolve to be more mellow and easier to be with.

Ten Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy this Year

Resolution 1
Resolution 2
Resolution 3
Resolution 4
Resolution 5
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12 Favourite Blog Posts from 2010

In this last Pocketblog of 2010, I’m simply going to signpost you to my twelve favourite posts from the last year.

In Praise of Slow Management
Slow …  They say (well, Richard Bach said it first) ‘You teach best what you most need to learn.’n  Sarcastic smile

Einstein, Model Building and Simplification
Einstein has always been a hero of mine – find out a little of why  Nyah-Nyah

Sandwich, Anyone?
A link to the brilliant Mehrabian Myth video  Devil

The Prime Minister’s Salary and a Force for Change
Equity theory – so obvious yet so widely ignored… still.  Green with envy

An Infinite Number of Coaching Acronyms
One of our most popular contributions  Laughing out loud

The Power of a Single Word
Well, I actually gave you four powerful words Winking smile

Aubrey, Maturin, Arthur and Merlin
I just liked this one – leadership fascinates me  Hot smile

Learning and Making Connections
If you don’t know the meanings of pabulum, spillikins, marplot, ginkgo, sedulous or pyxis, it’s time to break out the dictionary  Party smile

What can Pocketbooks Teach our Politicians
In sentence two, I accurately predicted the outcome of the UK General Election  Confused smile

Are you a Donkey or a Dog
I cheekily trialled an idea I went on to use in my own book on time management  Shifty

A Strong Authoritative Voice
Yes, I really DID write this BEFORE Gordon Brown’s daff with the Microphone – if only he’d read Pocketblog, things could be so different  I don't know smile

The Power of Silence
. . .   Angel

Happy New Year to all our Readers

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Just how commercial is Christmas?

Whether Christmas is a festival you celebrate or not, its traditional trappings surround you for between twenty (if you’re  lucky) and sixty days of every year.

So let’s take a look at the origins of some of these traditions (without going too close to the tricky religious aspects of the subject).

You better watch out: the man in red

What could be a stronger image of the traditional Christmas than the bearded old gent in a red suit?  Well, strong image yes, but traditional?  No.

This image of Santa may seem as old as the hills, but it is new enough to know the name of the man who first created it, and why.

Artist Haddon Sundblom first created the iconic big, merry, red-suited, older man with a full white beard, big boots and broad belt in 1931.

Photo Credit: Coca Cola

His client was Coca Cola and, according to their official history of the image, Sundblom’s image was a combination of many images from the mundane to the grotesque, the religious to the secular, which had been in use around the western world for centuries.  It seems likely that the distinctive colour of Santa’s suit owes more to Coke’s corporate colours that to the red of a bishop’s robes or the more traditional Woodsman’s green.

One thing is for sure, however.  Whether the true origins lie with St Nicholas of Myra, Basil of Caesarea, or the Norse/Germanic god Odin/Woden, he will need to lose weight to get down the flue of a modern gas boiler.

What will it be … ?  It’s a Turkey!

No, not the traditional Christmas afternoon movie, the only a little more traditional Christmas afternoon bird.  The idea of feasting in mid winter goes back to the earliest times and is certainly pre-christian, and just about any unfortunate creature has been marked for the dinner table at some time and in some part of the western world.  Hogs, boars, swans, deer, have all been favourites, but the turkey is a late-comer originating as it does, in the New World.

So don’t just thank/blame Drake, Raleigh and their kin for tobacco, chilli, chocolate and spuds.  They get the credit for a whole industry too.  In this case, it was navigator William Strickland who is thought to have imported the first turkeys to Bristol in 1526.  His family’s arms bear (in the words of the Royal College of Arms) a “turkey-cock in his pride proper”.

Photo credit: Steve Voght

Turkey became a popular Christmas dish in the UK thanks to Charles Dickens.  In “A Christmas Carol” the reformed Scrooge sends a prize turkey to the Cratchit family.  So, the question that all your young-uns will ask is: ‘if it comes from the Americas, why is it named after Turkey?’ Good question.  Early explorers mistook the bird for a type of east European Guinea Fowl called a Turkey fowl, and the name stuck.

Mr Kipling makes exceedingly risky products

You take your liberty into your own hands on Christmas Day.  In 1647, Oliver Cromwell’s faction made the eating of mince pies in England on 25 December illegal.  For some strange reason, Parliament has yet to get around to repealing the prohibition.  If the coalition wants something to agree on, maybe here is their chance.  Otherwise, the NUS might fancy trying for a few citizens’ arrests of Lib Dem MPs on Xmas Day!

More weird laws here.

And “why ‘Xmas’?” you ask.  X is the symbol in the Greek alphabet for the letter Chi, the first letter of ‘christos’ which means ‘the anointed one’ or, in Hebrew, ‘messiah’.

First there was the stamp …

The uniform penny post was established in Britain on 10 January 1840.

Sir Henry Cole founded the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London and wanted to let everyone he knew know about his desire to help the poor at Christmas.  Not having email, nor the time to write hundreds of letters, he resorted to asking an artist to design a card he could put into the newly founded postal system that he had championed.

The artist was John Callcott Horsley and over 2,000 were printed in 1843 and sent.  Today, Cole would have more Facebook and Linked in friends than most of us!  Later, Cole was knighted for services to industrial design.  He was known at the time as Old King Cole, but was not the origin of the rhyme, which goes back to Roman Britain.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all at Management Pocketbooks

Merry Christmas

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In Praise of Slow Management

SLOWMy friends would say that the Slow Movement is one that I honour more in the breach than the observance; but honour it I do.  I like the idea of slow food and of taking more time to do things.


I enjoy taking the time to do things really well, and wish I could be more selective about the things I do, so that I could do less.  I first came across the idea seeing a copy of Carl Honoré’s book,In Praise of Slow.’ Typically, I flicked through it, gleaned a few ideas, and moved on.   Aarrgh: the irony is not lost on me.  It’s on my desk now…

Slow down; take some time

By the way, if you want to take some time to explore this idea, here are my favourite links:

The World Institute of Slowness is taking a thoughtful and serious approach to promoting the slow movement

The witty and wise website of the IINDM; the International Institute of Not Doing Much is not quite so serious!

Slow Planet is Carl Honoré’s website, with thoughtful blogs from a number of authors – take your time over this one!

BBC Radio 4’s wonderful Food Programme, reporting on the ultimate in slow food, and the joys of food from indigenous communities.  I just happened to catch this while driving, and really did slow down, to hear it all.

Fast Change often Fails

SLOWOne of the reasons change fails is nothing to do with getting the design wrong, nor the fact of the inevitable resistance that it faces.  After all, if resistance is inevitable (and I strongly believe it is) then it cannot alone account for the failure of some changes while others thrive.

One major reason why change fails is because we try to make the change too fast.  Then, impatient for results, we try and make more change when the first fails.

I am not saying that speed in itself is wrong.  I am a great believer in making change, calibrating it and then improving, rather than going for perfect first time.

Where we need to slow down is by taking the time to communicate better.  Make time for people and they will give you better, faster, results.  We improve our management, when we slow it down.

Some examples please, Mike

SLOWHere are four situations where taking more time can make things quicker – an approach that the emerging Slow Transport approach (‘slowth’) to urban congestion is promoting.  When you slow traffic speeds in a congested environment, journey times paradoxically reduce.


Have you ever been frustrated by the lack of progress of a colleague to whom you delegated a job?  Did you really take the time to brief them carefully?


We cannot possibly support or participate properly in what we don’t understand.  A lack of knowledge exacerbates fear, so in times of change, make time to communicate relentlessly.


Who schedules the work you need, the resources or deliveries your business is dependent upon, or even your own workload?  Let’s call this omnipotent being ‘The Scheduling Clerk’.  You will want a favour from this person from time to time, so slow down and exchange a few pleasantries whenever you speak with them.  They will appreciate it and you will win in the end.


You want to make that sale.  So take the time to listen to your potential customer.  The more you can learn from them, the easier your sale will be.  If you rush to present your goods or services, you will rarely succeed.

Multi-tasking does not work

SLOWThere is a body of evidence now that multi-tasking does not work.  There are too many people getting stressed at work – so many that we need a National Stress Awareness Day. We talk about an economic slow-down, but all it means is that we all speed up.

So here’s the deal

It’s December now.  The long break and New Year are coming up.  Maybe it is time to slow down and think about next year.  Maybe it’s time to re-think how you manage.

Some Management Pocketbooks you Might Enjoy

When you slow down, you transform not just what you achieve and how you feel, but the way that others perceive you.  Cultivate slow in the right areas of your manner, and you will also boost your personal impact, as a bonus.  Learn more in The Impact and Presence Pocketbook.

You may also be interested in:

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Socrates’ Questions, Pavlov’s Dogs and Skinner’s Box

Round Britain Quiz is the most British of Radio Programmes.  It features intellectuals sitting round and discussing crossword-style puzzles that require erudition, exceptionally wide knowledge (often far from ‘general’ knowledge) and an ability to spot subtle connections.  The real skill in playing the game is to sound almost pleased when you get it wrong, because you’re learning something new.  It’s sadly off the air at the moment, but I am sure it will be back.

While we are waiting …

Try your hand at this question:

‘How does a nice decision connect Socrates, Pavlov and Skinner,
and how can a Pocketbook help you get in on the act?’

Continue reading Socrates’ Questions, Pavlov’s Dogs and Skinner’s Box

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