An example of how not to be customer centric @ Heathrow’s Terminal 5

Heathrow Terminal 5 is in need of an urgent look at its customer journey… literally

I recently took a British Airways flight in business class on a brand new 787 “Dreamliner” on one of the first ever non-stop flights between London and Austin Texas (it was for #SXSW2014). I would note that I certainly don’t intend to be complaining about privileged travel in this post. My point is to observe the explicit consequences of not being customer centric. Embarking at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5, I was ushered through the “fast track” customs and baggage control without much ado. After collecting my affairs, I noticed that to the right there was the Concorde Lounge, but was informed that it was only for First Class. I was told that the BA Business Class lounge was downstairs, immediately underneath. To get downstairs, you have to go about 60 meters past a row of stores. The escalator down is around the other side. Once downstairs, I headed back from whence I came. Signage was poor. The route was lined with shops, mostly luxury brands such as Gucci, Prada, Harrods (see below). It turns out that the space “immediately underneath” the Concorde Lounge was under construction. No sign of the Business Class lounge.

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Measuring Quality of Life – A review between France and USA

Quality of LifeAs part of my Franco-American profile, I am naturally drawn to reading about comparisons and competition between France and the US. I came across this May 2009 article, France Beats America, which describes France’s epicurean passion for “living it up” in terms of eating, sleeping and holidaying. On the eating front, as much as obesity and over-eating might be America’s bête noire, the French make more time for eating. According to this article, “[t]he French spend more than 2 hours a day eating, twice the rate in the United States, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)…” The French spend 135 minutes per day eating versus 74 minutes for the Americans and 66 mins for Mexicans (69 mins for the Canadians). The Turks (#1) actually out-eat the French (#2) by an half hour each day! According to the OECD report, the French top the list for average number of hours slept at 8h50/day… marginally ahead of the equally surprising 8h38/day for Americans. Koreans and Japanese sleep the least among OECD countries, and an hour less per day (7h50) than the French (the OECD average is indicated as 503 minutes or 8h20/day). And, if you are thinking that not sleeping enough is bad for your health, the Japanese lifespan expectancy (86F.79M) outlasts France (85F.77M) and far outstrips the US (80F.75M) which is below the OECD average (82F.76M).

Finally, when you add that the French take on average 7.0 weeks of holidayThe Good Life - Man and Girl bouncing on Beds per year versus 3.8 weeks for the Americans, it does add up to a lot more “living it up.” I would tend to argue that the pendulum should swing back for the French, to work just a bit harder … not just any how, but by adding more pleasure, humour and emotion in the work space. And in the US, I would argue that the focus should be on eating better (not necessarily longer).

Meanwhile, among the countries included in the survey, it was reported that men have more leisure time than women. “This gender gap is largest in Italy, where men top women by 80 minutes per day. The gap is just under 40 minutes in the United States, and smallest (less than 5 minutes) in Norway.” France’s gender gap on the criteria of leisure time is 34 minutes (in line with the OECD average of 35 minutes). Is there any real correlation between a reduced gender gap on leisure time with equality of the sexes? That is far from certain. However, to the extent that women are generally at work and have the lion’s share of the responsibility for taking care of the family, clearly women will continue to suffer in terms of having their own leisure time if the burden at home is not appropriately shared. Below is the OECD report (data from 2006, published in April 2009) regarding the leisure time gender gap.

OECD Leisure Time Gender Gap 2009

While life is about good food, good company (including on holidays) and a good night’s sleep (& good health), the issue is about creating a sustainable model, i.e. (a) making the 45-49 weeks at work more agreeable and liberating; and (b) finding ways to allow women to have as much leisure as men. Quality of life should, considering how many hours are put into work, include the quality of life at work and we all need each other to be in “top” shape!

Your thoughts please!

The MSM Media Challenge — Some more ideas of improvement

Here are some more ideas for the mainstream media (MSM) to kick into high gear with their online community.

With media titles dying or falling fallow on a daily basis, the MSM crisis seems just now to be hitting full stride. The number of recent closures has been drastic. In August, Condé Nast closed Portfolio, followed in October by the announced closure of Gourmet, Modern Bride and Elegant Bride, as well as a parenting magazine called Cookie. As reported by WSJ, “Ad pages at 14 of Conde Nast’s 23 print publications fell by more than the industry average of 29.5% in the second quarter, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.” Of course, the more startling statistic is the -29.5% for the industry…

But Condé Nast is only amplifying a trend that started with Hearst and Time Warner. And as Strategy and Business suggested in their recent article, “McGraw-Hill is said to be close to a sale — or closure — of Business Week.

So, as mainstream media continue to tackle the issue of the right internet model, below are three thoughts that complement and/or update my other posts on the topic (see here: Mainstream Media: Recommendation from a reader’s perspective and The Future of MSM).

Hyperlink Finger Icon1/ Cross-referencing with links. How is that online media (newspapers, magazines. etc.) rarely, if ever, link out to help readers understand the references in their articles? Not even a site like Wired!

Take this BBC’s article randomly taken from today’s news about how Russia’s economy will decline by 7.5% in 2009. As is their custom, they wrote the entire article on line without any links whatsoever.

“Russia’s economy will shrink by 7.5% in 2009, President Dmitry Medvedev has said – but claimed Kremlin intervention had prevented a worse decline.

Russia, which is heavily reliant on oil exports, has been hit by the sharp fall in energy prices. Mr Medvedev said the decline was “very serious” and admitted the government had been surprised at how severely Russia had been hit by the crisis.

However the predicted slide in GDP was less than earlier predictions. “The real damage to our economy was far greater than anything predicted by ourselves, the World Bank and other expert organisations,” Mr Medvedev told Russian television.”

I have re-contextualized these first three paragraphs for how they might have done it differently:

“Russia‘s economy will shrink by 7.5% in 2009, President Dmitry Medvedev has said – but claimed Kremlin intervention had prevented a worse decline.

Russia, which is heavily reliant on oil exports, has been hit by the sharp fall in energy prices. Mr Medvedev said the decline was “very serious” and admitted the government had been surprised at how severely Russia had been hit by the crisis.

However the predicted slide in GDP was less than earlier predictions. “The real damage to our economy was far greater than anything predicted by ourselves, the World Bank and other expert organisations,” Mr Medvedev told Russian television.”

The links I have chosen for these few paragraphs are sourced from a variety of sites, including Wikipedia and Google Maps, of course. By choosing certain words to hyperlink and the source of the new link, there is a new form of editor to invent. Naturally, such hyperlinking takes more time, but in this research for links, two things are going to happen. First, the very act of researching the links to make sure the content is viable is a form of value-added research for the reader/consumer. Secondly, the outgoing links will create synergies and link-love, bringing in more readers over time.

2/ Get more knowledge of your reader, gaining trust and, therefore, more opportunities for engagement. Too often, when you read and/or sign up for a news site, there is no effort to exchange in a give-and-get (i.e. a win/win) approach. News organisations need to find ways to have readers impart their personal information which can be used to enhance the reader’s experience. For example, they should view their readers as word-of-bloggers… begat from the word-of-mouth era. This is being done by the New York Times rather well with the “which articles are being blogged about” section.

Just as Amazon has a section of “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…”, so readers of an article could have “Customers who read this article also read …” Better yet, as the newspapers ramp up their database management system and get to learn who their clients are (intelligent CRM), they can refine the recommendation and suggest even more aligned follow-on articles to read. I would like to see some adaptation of the iTunes Genius or the brand new Genius Mix, for example, which could provide an intelligent ‘playlist’ of articles to read.

Text to Speech

3/ Add the text-to-speech function… Every morning, I read the news online as I am surfing. Sometimes, I listen to podcasts or videocasts which allows me simul
taneously to continue doing my online morning activities. As per the Readspeaker service I have included in this blog, there are several — and fast improving — read out loud services which can help, not just the visually impaired, but also the ordinary iJoe… to provide an easier experience for reading on the computer screen for us all. A few examples of available services: ReadSpeaker (the one I use), Natural Reader, Ultra Hal and Talkr.

What do you think? What should online media be doing to improve the readers’ experience?

And does Murdoch have a chance with his pay-for news scheme (read this great November 2009 article in Vanity Fair by Michael Wolff)?

Review of the Macally Ecofan bamboo laptop tablette

ECOFAN Laptop Bamboo TabletteI was intrigued the other day to come across a laptop “ventilator” tablette (2300 revs / minute and 23.5 decibels) which is designed to evacuate the heat coming from your portable computer. What grabbed my attention initially, I must admit, was the transparent computer (trick photography of course to show the tablette).

Produced by Macally, the computer accessories company has created Ecofan and Ecofan Pro, which have the additional particularity of being made “eco friendly” by using bamboo and recycled PET in the outer packaging [I am not aware of any other eco-friendly claims though]. Weighing 1.3 kg, the Ecofan Pro allows for three different inclinations (as opposed to one standard inclination for the Ecofan) for better ergonomy. That’s it for the good news it seems to me.

What is the ecological benefit to evacuating the hot air from the laptop? None of the doc I read cites any benefit that speaks to me. What I really would have liked is a way to use my laptop on my lap without it burning a hole in my trousers (or feeling like it!). This Ecofan clearly does not accommodate that market requirement because of its design (it will not lie across your lap) and, more emphatically because it needs to be plugged in (the 1m USB chord means you need to be very close to the wall). Instead, I will continue to use a cushion and save the planet for what, to my view, is a waste of bamboo.

BTW, the Ecofan Pro is priced at 39.95 € in Europe or $39.95 in the US.

Why do we sleep? Should we nap?

I have written in the past about sleep, in particular how interesting and revealing the study of sleep was for me at University (see here). What has always baffled me is that Sleep Researchers still have never scientifically proven why adult human beings need to sleep. We do know that if we don’t sleep enough, typically we suffer from irritability, forgetfulness and fatigue, and our motor skills in low-grade repetitive tasks diminish. One thing I also know is that, in ‘modern’ society, we sure spend a bunch of time THINKING about getting more sleep.

That said, sleep researchers have been making significant progress recently. LiveScience published this article, entitled ‘New Theory Questions Why We Sleep‘, by Charles Choi, which describes the latest research by Jerome Siegel at the University of California at Los Angeles. Sleep “is often thought to have evolved to play an unknown but vital role inside the body…”; but, Siegel suggests that the reason why we sleep is related to an adaptation to the outside environment. Specifically, Siegel “proposes the main function of sleep is to increase an animal’s efficiency and minimize its risk by controlling how a species behaves with regards to its surroundings.”
There are several other theories as to what is the purpose of sleep. These theories include promoting longevity, a role in learning, reversing damage from daily stress… The Choi article continues to say that “in humans, the brain constitutes, on average, just 2 percent of total body weight but consumes 20 percent of the energy used during quiet waking, so these savings have considerable significance…” Intuitively, the idea that the rest we get is most beneficial for the brain makes sense, knowing that the brain’s activity is never fully shut off during sleep and is hyperactive in the REM phases.
“I think this idea of ‘adaptive inactivity’ is an extremely useful way of thinking about the broader picture of sleep without getting lost in individual theories,” said sleep researcher David Dinges at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Dinges noted that regular cycles of light and darkness “put enormous environmental pressures on animals that all play into forced ‘time-outs.'”
Meanwhile, there are all sorts of myths about sleep, in part perpetuated by a lack of evidence, but also our lack of study/research and, more ominously, mis-information. It is worth noting that sleep (or at least getting to sleep) is also, unfortunately, big business: it is estimated that worldwide sales for sleeping pills (hypnotics) will surpass $5 billion in the next several years.
My own interest in sleep stems from a fundamental belief that sleep management is integral to time management. Actively managing one’s sleep should be part of one’s daily hygiene, just as much as eating and doing sports. One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that sleeping more is ipso facto healthier, to the point where taking sleeping pills is better than not sleeping enough. This is unlikely to be the case. From this LiveScience article, I quote, “[a] six-year study [Daniel F.] Kripke headed up of more than a million adults ages 30 to 102 showed that people who get only 6 to 7 hours a night have a lower death rate than those who get 8 hours of sleep. The risk from taking sleeping pills 30 times or more a month was not much less than the risk of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, [Kripke] says.”
I am personally a light sleeper and early riser, always living on the edge of what is necessary to live my conscious day in a comfortable way. While many people express a certain jealousy, it could yet be classified as chronic sleep deprivation. Do I naturally need less sleep or is it a self-imposed internal regime? Research by Ying-Hui Fu, a professor of neurology at the University of California at San Francisco, Mission Bay, suggests that a gene (DEC2) may be responsible for the amount of sleep we need (at least for the short sleepers). So, perhaps I am genetically predisposed?
If one is to sleep or rest effectively, there is also the solution of the nap. On weekends, a longer nap helps to accommodate the sporting endeavours and longer social engagement on the Saturday night… But during the working week, at least for those working in a company, the nap — even the power nap — is basically out of the question. Quite astonishingly, per a Pew Research Center study, reported in this article in LiveScience, napping is an activity done daily by 1/3 of all adult Ameri
cans. But for the other 2/3 [i.e. hard at work], it is a daily dream. Imagine a company where you could, without fear of reprisal, just crawl up for a power snooze of 10-20 minutes when the deep urge fell upon you. Would that not feel like a true daily gift? How much do you think that would be worth? Instead, snoozing is, almost uniformly, voraciously frowned upon and left to do on the commute home, stuffed in between two bodies on the tube/metro/subway or, worse yet, swinging upright, hanging on to a handle bar while standing on a moving bus. Of course, for power naps to be permissible, there would have to be some level of controls. The key is to set clear time-delimited objectives without focusing on exactly “when” the work is being done. This would also be a vital condition to creating more flexible hours for employees. On a side note, the much maligned pigeons (at least on this blog), apparently integrate the power nap into their daily crumb-finding, building-desecrating life – read here for more on those napping pigeons.
In a somewhat counter intuitive result of the Pew study, the most frequent nappers according to revenues were actually those in the middle, i.e. the middle managers : “Among people making more than $100,000, 33 percent said they nap regularly, while 42 percent of those making less than $30,000 clock out during the day. The income group that naps least? Those who make $75,000 to $99,000 (21 percent).” If such is the need for the human body, for the bolder CEO’s or leaders among you, is it not the smart thing to do to invest in organising a nap room, like they did for NASA’s Phoenix mission team members?
What’s your opinion? Is napping a luxury or truly necessary? Which do you prefer, the power nap or 90-minute snooze? Would a nap room make work conditions remarkably better? How might you go about instituting a ‘nap policy’ in an organisation?

MEDEF Universite d’Ete 2009 – Live Blogging To Come

MEDEF Universite d'Ete 2009I have been invited to participate as a Live Blogger [Journalist] at the MEDEF Université d’Eté 2009 (“Summer University 2009”) which takes place next week from 2-4 September. The MEDEF is essentially a union for French business people. It is the leading network of businessmen and women in France, boasting 700,000 member firms (90% with less than 50 employees) and is run by the enterprising CEO, Mrs. Laurence Parisot. As Mrs. Parisot says, “ Enterprise is life… and life should be wonderful!”

The theme for this Summer University is perfect for anyone wanting to look forward, to a constructive new way of doing business: “In Search of the New Times.”

The MEDEF Summer University Conference takes place at the HEC campus (Jouy-en-Josas) just outside of Paris, and consists of four half-day sessions. There are no less than 15 members of the current French Cabinet on stage at one time or another, including the Minister of the Economy, Christine Lagarde and the ever charming and dynamic Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who is in charge of the Digital Economy. There are also numerous CEOs (eg Maurice Levy – Publicis, Louis Gallois – EADS, Didier Lombard – Orange, Christophe de Margerie – Total), several ex-Prime Ministers (Juppé, Rocard…), some ‘celebrities’ (Alain Prost, Yann-Arthus Bertrand, Eva Joly) and a couple of foreign dignitaries (esp Mrs. Cherie Blair whose site is designed to help show “how women all around the world can work together to improve their lives”).

If the programme is entirely in French, I intend to provide an international report in English! So, watch this space.

Six Pixels of Separation – Mitch Joel – Ask “Why?”

Written by Mitch Joel, a man [and social media guru] whom I have had the pleasure of being connected to for the past 5 years, “Six Pixels of Separation” has just come out in North America. I haven’t read the book yet, but I surely will. In the interim, I thought I’d post this YouTube video from Mitch.


It is one of the world’s greatest questions, and yet one that is so often left out, especially as it regards management orders and style. If you give the why, you will get the buy in. And, as this 1″19 video from Mitch Joel says, if you understand WHY, you might put in place and execute a better social media strategy.

Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone Is Connected. Connect Your Business to Everyone.
Available on Amazon of course, here.

Entrepreneurship – Economist Special Report on Why and How…

Mind of an Entrepreneur

The Economist ran a special report (March 14, 2009) on Entrepreneurialism and there were several interesting and important points that I felt like writing about. The 16-page report discusses the state of entrepreneurship around the world. In some regards, the report contains an apologia for European entrepreneurship, at least as it pertains to the non-Anglo-Saxon countries. Denmark is cited as a standout example in many regards, and most of the Scandinavian countries, as well as Britain, have a good record in the promotion of and opportunity for start-ups. The United States generally retains its leader status for entrepreneurship and one of the articles, “The United States of Entrepreneurs” describes a number of reasons why the US has managed to continue its run of entrepreneurial successes.

The one reason that really caught my fancy was the power of the story. The notion is that, all throughout high school and university, American-educated children hear stories of inventors and entrepreneurs such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Steve Jobs, etc. How on earth one can substantiate the positive benefit, I have no idea. However, the underlying concept is that icons and role models have no uncertain power and stories, etched into the young, moldable minds, have a habit of being converted into dreamed up business plans.

The article describes the usual suspects of freedom to hire and fire and access to venture capital. [If the notion of investing in a start up is considered a venture in the US, it is called capital risk in numerous European countries].

Another surprising point, as far as I was concerned, is the link with Academia. According to the Economist article, another advantage in the US “is a tradition of close relations between universities and industry. America’s universities are economic engines rather than ivory towers, with proliferating science parks, technology offices, business incubators and venture funds…” That the content and instruction in the “MBA” schools, borne out of the US, provides best-in-class business-training is probably unassailable. But, I would not have known about the comparative strength of the link between academia and business, as I am unaware of the strength of the link in other systems.

The final point I would like to highlight is the U.S. “immigration policy that, historically, has been fairly open.” A professor of Duke University, Vivek Wadhwa, is quoted as saying that “52% of Silicon Valley start-ups were founded by immigrants…” What is not said, but which I firmly believe, is that the reputation of America – all that is incarnated in the American Dream – attracts the entrepreneurially spirited immigrants. Immigrants who, at least in theory, have the choice of which country to which they will attempt to emigrate, will not select the USA if they are fearful of failure, if they are looking for protection and care for [a large number of] children. The reputation of you can “make it rich” in the US is inevitably accompanied by the knowledge of the lack of a safety net. In short, I maintain that the US has a habit of receiving applications from immigrants wishing to create and produce.

The final piece that is fascinating to observe is the propensity for start-ups in the US, not only to survive longer, but more emphatically to scale quicker. Witness the number of companies in the top 100 (based on market cap) that did not exist twenty years ago (Google, Ebay, Yahoo, Amazon…, but the list is not just limited to internet stories). The chart below is particularly telling, measuring the net number of people hired by surviving, new companies. (Source OECD)

Net Employment Gains

If you want to have some fun, look at this complete list of the world’s countries ranked according to the ease of doing business (source: the World Bank Doing Business database). There is no single column on mafia or corruption levels, per se, but the different categories are broad and quite fun to explore: getting construction permits, trading across border, enforcing contracts… Topping the listing is Singapore, followed by New Zealand and USA (with no changes in the top 8 from 2008). Among European countries, Italy comes in at an appalling 61st, while France is 31st (2 ahead of Azerbaijan) and Greece is 96th. Russia (120) and Ukraine (145) are at the “deep” end of the table. Below is the top 20, ranked according to ease of doing business (2009).

Ease of Doing Business Top 20 Countries

A parting remark: The word entrepreneur is a distinctly French word, n’est-ce pas? But, somehow may have been lost in the [bureaucratic paper] shuffle, if not translation.

Walmart listening to its customers

THE MOST IMPORTANT DIGITAL LESSON I’VE LEARNED… I have picked this pearl of wisdom to share with you today: You can’t control what people say about you on the web, but you can be a good listener. This is from Walmart:

Walmart Customer Service
Walmart has been getting into the act it would seem in a big way, starting (if not chronologically) with its Save Money, Live Better portal. Except for starting off with fairly obnoxious Walmart tv ad, this site is refreshingly simple to navigate. The heavily blurred images incite you to click on them to find out what’s there and because there are only four (at least for now) to visit, it’s a quickly done. There’s also Walmart SoundCheck, (Listen Up, Look Good) here featuring Indie.Arie, a personal favourite (powered by Dove!). You can of course pick up her “Love & Politics” album at Walmart. Other initiatives by Walmart include ElevenMoms (curiously featuring 12 Moms for the price of 11; aka InStoreNow) which features a Save & Live Green portion (see below), CheckOut Blog (10 authors) and their own YouTube Walmart Channel.
Walmart Sustainable Development
“The organic nature of the web means that when you are the world’s largest retailer, people will talk,” said Wanda Young, senior director-digital marketing at Walmart. “And we’re OK with that. We believe the hallmark of a really great brand is that you are relevant. And part of the way you do that is listening to what your customers have to say.” Ms Young is surely committed, but I have no idea to what extent their sites are moderated and/or monitored by the Walmart senior executive team.

My last little pick up from these Walmart sites: a little rollover counter on the bottom left of the site that figuratively shows the compounded savings (since Jan 1 2009) generated by Walmart based on Walmart’s impact on the economy, no matter where consumers shop

Walmart Saves Customers
Not that I am a Walmart shopper or even a fan, but it is interesting to contemplate how the single largest worldwide retailer may be moving the tectonic plates of corporate social media…

Market prices for metals and paper fall off the charts…

With falling market prices, what is to become of the recycling market?

Falling Prices GraphIf it were not difficult enough to raise funds in the current economic conditions for sustainable development, market prices for aluminium, paper, plastic and steel have been falling through the [corrugated] roof, making recycling a far less attractive business. As reported by Gannett News Service, the prices took a turn for the worse once the Asian markets, specifically China, stopped buying at the end of the year. According to RecycleNet Corp., the national price of aluminium has dropped from $2,040 to $1,020 per ton since June. Steel has fallen from $210 to $77/ton. As a result of these lower commodity prices, recycling companies have had to cut back on services, including curbside pickups, and to lay off personnel. Aside from the financial difficulties for the recycling companies, a more harrowing risk would be that consumers get out of the habit of recycling. This will depend in part on how long this depression in prices lasts. More on the subject of falling market prices here from the Times Herald-Record (NY State). These price drops reinforce the notion that sustainable development may well take a back seat in the ongoing recession. Hopefully, the recycling companies will survive this downturn and, perhaps, find more efficient means to do the recycling in the process. That said, if the recession were to reduce considerably production and hyper-consumption, maybe that would be some kind of victory in the fight against global warming? Wherefore the quality of life after that shake-up, though?