Ep2 – The Business Success Edition with Bob Bradley

Ep2 – The Business Success Edition with Bob Bradley

James chats with Bob Bradley, a specialist in businesses that succeed and grow by delivering consistent quality, service and experience in premium segments, having run five such businesses as Managing Director or Chief Executive.


Bob now runs MD2MD, an organisation that runs private meetings where leaders develop their strategic thinking through peer discussion.


They discuss adolescent businesses, peer-to-peer groups, business scaling and challenges, smart leadership, delivering great customer service at scale, printing things that nobody reads, as well as what the quality of toiletries means to your customers.

Contact Bob:

Phone: +44 1865 600 800
LinkedInBob Bradley
Twitter: MD2MDTips
Facebook: MD2MD

Click for the full transcript

James Nathan: Welcome to the only one business show and in the studio today, I’ve got a wonderful guest for you two gentlemen who’s a specialist in businesses that succeed and grow by delivering consistent quality service and experience in premium segments, having run five such businesses himself as MD, and as chief executive, his last employed role was running a 16 million pound turnover family business, having previously been chief executive of the list of PLC. He now runs MD to MD, an organisation that runs private meetings where leaders develop their strategic thinking through discussion or peer discussion. He also provides mentoring coaching around business leadership growth merger integration and exit planning as well as facilitating board workshops, he’s passionate about the positive impact that most SME businesses have on society, and is fascinated by the challenges that adolescent businesses face as they transition from small to medium.


Please welcome Bob Bradley. Bob, nice to see you.


Bob Bradley: Hi James Good to see you again.


James Nathan: So it’s been a little while since we’ve been in touch obviously we had a little chat today. How’s how’s life treating you?


Bob Bradley: Oh, yeah, good. Yeah, I’m managing to enjoy the sunshine, work hard, have good fun at work and also plenty of time to travel the world.


James Nathan: Well that sounds that sounds absolutely terrible. Adolescent businesses Bob, what do you mean by that?


Bob Bradley: It’s a term that I don’t know that I heard or I invented. It’s the idea that just as teenagers in the human being world, go through a troublesome adolescence. My experiences a lot of businesses due too, and a lot of startups there’s lots of large companies, the difficult bit, I think, is the bit in the middle.


James Nathan: Typically in the kind of growth of the business when would that come about, is there a particular time. Was it just it doesn’t depend?


Bob Bradley: It links to the scale of operation probably in terms of number of people. I think of it as somewhere between 10 and 30 or 40 people. It’s where when you you know about it when you’re talking to somebody, because that’s the basic conversation is. Oh, Bob, if only I could get everybody to do everything exactly how I want them to do it, as well as I want them to do it as quickly and as enthusiastically and as passionately as I want them to do it and I do it myself. But they won’t they don’t they do all the wrong things and I’m running around in circles trying to keep them keep them all heading in the right direction. I can’t do it anymore.


James Nathan: You know, with a 12 year old in the house who’s thinks he’s about 16 I completely identify with that, and in business world I think it’s a fascinating time. With MD2MD obviously you come across, huge numbers of businesses and have done for many years. What’s the challenge at the moment, what is the big problem that most businesses are seeing or the big challenge that businesses you’re in touch with you’re going through?


Bob Bradley: Well, to dropping the moment bit  I mean that it relates to this adolescent business thing I think it is a real challenge to transition and scale up from a small startup to a medium sized business, and it’s a challenge because of personalities.  You see the person that starts a business very often is very passionate about solving that customer problem or getting their technology to market or getting their product invented or wherever it is, and you know that they haven’t got a lot of money behind them, unless you know they’ve raised venture capital or something but they often it’s a tightly run business, very driven by very controlling very focused very irrational in some ways, person who really wants to make this happen. You know, Alan Sugar is admired as a great entrepreneur by many people. You know, he was nuts, you know the idea of putting a PC in the home and selling to consumers was crazy at the time. But he made it happen just by sheer bloody mindedness.


And you know those characteristics of what, in my experience gets a start up on you know, underway and going nicely. The problem is, those are the opposite of the characteristics that you need to run a organisation of scale.


You know you can’t do everything yourself,  you can’t shout to everybody when you’ve got a thousand people working for you or 500 people working for you. You know, you have to have systems and structures and bureaucracy and managers and meetings and all this stuff that they hate. And either the entrepreneur transitions themselves, or they find somebody else to work alongside them, for them, or to hand over to that takes the businesses that next stage of that growth pattern.


James Nathan: That’s quite a famous thing is it, you talk about people like Richard Branson, for instance, who famously surrounds himself with people he needs, and people who can do the things that he doesn’t want to do himself. And I guess that’s that’s a difficult thing to detach from when the business is growing and you really very passionate about it.


Bob Bradley: I think it’s more. I totally agree what you’re saying and I think the smart leader surrounds himself the people that are best themselves at whatever they’re doing, but it’s even more crunchy than that, in that actually you’re surrounded…. you’re giving you know your baby that you’ve nurtured from sort of growth till 12 year old.


So it’s you know, quite a tough emotional challenge, as I say, some people made that transition in my  experience not many can, and indeed my career was picking up where the entrepreneur, you know, was plateauing, because that’s usually the same symptom.


James Nathan: Right


Bob Bradley: It starts to plateau and they’re running around in circles trying to make it grow and it won’t grow anymore.


James Nathan: So is that the point where something like MD2MD, a peer network like yours is the right kind of move for those businesses.


Bob Bradley: Oh, absolutely. That’s where we began really that’s the common theme from all of our members.  Our members are what I call operational leaders, 10s or hundreds of staff, they are going through the transition from small business, below 10 where most of the time you’re doing or selling yourself, through to the thousand point where you need to become a corporate. And so they’re going through exactly these are the growth pains, building the team, learning how to lead a team, delegate authority, put structures in place put schemes in place but policies, procedures, systems in place without doing too much of it. I should emphasise as well that’s the challenge to see if you over engineer the business, it won’t succeed either.


James Nathan: Or end up doing a lot of that stuff and not much of the business.


Bob Bradley: Yeah, yeah. So there’s, you know it’s a tricky job and that’s why I talked about it as like being adolescents.


James Nathan: I get your idea, I completely understand your fascination. Where does service as fit then within the context of these businesses as they’re growing or as they’re starting.


Bob Bradley: You mean customer service James.


James Nathan: Yeah, yeah.


Bob Bradley: Well I think that’s an interesting question to focus on because it’s at that scale where it becomes really tricky because you’ll see there’s loads of speakers on customer service, and they’ll talk to you, you know they talk to you about, you know, attitude, customer centric, customer first, that sort of thing. They’ll tell you about the hotel where your customers are welcomed by name, you know, because the doorman is being briefed by the security guard who sees the registration all these sorts of things. And they make it sound like it’s all about mindset and enthusiasm and caring for the customer from the staff, and, to a degree. Yes. Yeah, that has to be there, but to deliver at scale is actually slightly, slightly unusual.


Or it has a dimension which people miss a lot is I think people get confused between being customer focused, and doing everything, every customer wants.


James Nathan: Right.


Bob Bradley: I’m completely with being customer focused. But when you’re doing it at scale that does not mean doing everything every customer wants. If you try and do that, you’ll trip over you’ll get it wrong, and you’ll disappoint, people let them down.


James Nathan: A lot of the examples that you hear in the wider world and through speakers I guess through even myself. A lot of these examples come out of the hospitality industry because it’s one which is very obvious. You know we all go out for meals or, or walk into pubs or whatever it is and look at how we were looked after.


But there’s a lot of sequence and lot of process that goes behind how that works. When it’s over processed, I think, then that’s the point where we notice it when it’s done as a matter as good training, then you know, people are customer focus but they also take the time to care about the individual people.


Bob Bradley: Yeah, I would challenge or sort of add another slant to it. You can be over processed, but you can also be under processed. And that’s where the trap is that a lot of people don’t see and where you know I have issue with some of the hype merchants, you know, it’s all about attitude and, wanting to serve the customer. See at scale, I mean I would be very pedantic in the words I’m about to use, that to deliver excellent customer service, at scale requires you to listen to the customers. Plural. And when I say customers, and I emphasise the plural, and then manage their expectations and be appropriately consistent and firm with the single customer.


James Nathan: Right.


Bob Bradley: So, you know, you at scale you can’t do everything, every customer asks for unless you have a way of making sure you can deliver it again and again. And you know if you’re running a chain of hotels and one hotel an enthusiastic member of staff is able to do some great stuff on that day for that customer. When they go to another bunch of the same chain and don’t get it. There’s a problem. That customer is then disappointed because the expectations have been set wrongly, you know, you have to be very careful about ad hoc requests and getting special service for one person from one person because unless the organisation is geared up to deliver that for everybody, every time it will go wrong. And so I would say you have to know what your positioning is in the marketplace and make sure that your systems and cultures are geared up to match the expectations you realistically sent your customers in your marketing. If I’m making any sense.


James Nathan: Yeah, no you are absolutely but in a perfect world I guess you don’t understand the core values of the business and the core value of the people that you’re hiring, you’re interviewing, and then you interview against those core values to try and provide people who are complementary to your business. If you can do that then you end up with, you know, a good mixture of staff. The reality, though, is that it doesn’t always work that way, people hire for lots of different reasons. And even in the big hotel chains, you know, getting the mindset right of every person… I work for Hilton group a long long time ago. You know, and this guy’s been paid four pounds an hour to do one job and guys being paid 20 pounds an hour  to do another one.


And, you know, we do hear great stories of, you know, the doorman who worked his way up to managing director, those people are as rare as rocking horse teeth. And actually, most people are there to do a good job. It’s just the, the odd one who does an exceptional job, I take your point very nicely about the one person to one person. They’re the only storys that people talk about and it’s the important, I guess in all businesses that we have the opportunity to delight people. so that they then talk about us more.


Bob Bradley: For me, successful customer service means you consistently meet or exceed or delight the customer. And the, word that people miss in that is consistently. And to do that you’ve got to do a few things you could understand exactly who your customers are, and I’m using customers with a plural there and what the needs are really well. Note the plural, you know it’s not this single customer you need to be thinking about the MD, it’s the customer set, and what their needs are. You then need to set the expectations clearly and accurately and the marketing.


The reason we’ve had so much fuss about broadband speeds in this country is not so the broadband suppliers are not delivering, you know, fairly reasonable band. It’s what they’ve said is 20 megabits per second and then only deliver 10 megabits per second. You know, it is the expectation setting that’s gone wrong not the delivery of the service. You need to develop people well I totally, you know, reinforce what you’re saying about people, all I’m saying is you also need to build systems and processes that enable them to deliver that service consistently.


And if you leave it all to the frontline staff, it can work depending on the business depends on the position you let’s take the example of a restaurant. If you are the local Italian restaurant, owner managed, with a couple of dozen staff, then you don’t need a lot of systems and processes, you need the right attitude in those people and you can deliver a great service because they do what they need to do for the customers that come in each night, and the boss is only around the corner in the other room and they can talk to them and, you know, and can deal with it and sort things out. At the other end the scale if you’re McDonald’s, and somebody comes in says, you know there’s beef burgers you do what could you could you make me one with lamb instead of beef. And if the local person says oh yes I can do that yeah I’ll go and get some lamb and I’ll mince it up and whatever. Delighted customer that day for that branch. But what happens when they go to McDonalds down the road in the next town next week. You know, McDonalds succeeds because it consistently meets or exceeds expectations. Yes expectations are , you know, are not world shattering, expectations are around quick and cheap. And so they make those expectations. They don’t pretend to be something they’re not.


James Nathan: No, that’s a business which actually started in an interesting way with the way that they used to make chips originally and how they kept their potatoes and how they got the consistent flavour from each place to each place but even with McDonald’s going from, you know, the original however many three or four shops to two more was a nightmare for them. And it was all about process and the only way they could do it was putting those systems and processes in place.


You talked about the needs of the customers plural. How do you understand those?


Bob Bradley: Listening and measuring, learning. One of my key beliefs, is that you have to work really hard to listen to your customers, as a group, as they are distinguished from the individual,  I’m not saying don’t listen to the individual customer.


But, you know, you need to need to do enough research so you aren’t distracted by the one squeaky wheel that makes a lot of noise, and you’re looking at what does the marketplace need I suppose that’s probably a better term and customers. Understand what they really want and really need. You know the McDonald’s example you know if the McDonalds says no to the guy wants a lamb burger because they don’t sell it. You know, that customer is not gonna be happy. But the customer set as a whole, or however many hundred thousand they serve every day across the country are going to be happier because they deliver beef burgers regularly, reliably, that sort of thing.


So, it’s about measuring results and consistently. My background service businesses, training companies. Every single delegate going through every single course, we would take feedback from, qualitative, you know, sort of words and tell you how you know what their feelings were and what could have been better. The detail, and we used to look at those, but also quantitative, we used to look at…. we had average scores for every centre. We had every average scores for every lecture we had every scores for every course. And we we knew which courses would score. you know what, on average, when you’re talking about a significant number of people. We would talk about 500 people going through our training centres every day. So we can average them up and we knew what worked and what didn’t work. And we could keep trying to improve based on the feedback.


And there’s a little bit more just give you there, we had a process called twos follow up. So if somebody scored two out of five or less, we would follow them up and ring them up, and we’ve asked them, What is it that meant you only scored two? How can we do better?


And likewise if somebody scored five we would ring up and say, what is it we did that made you feel so good about our course. And because we’d like to make sure we do it for everybody else.


James Nathan: Do a lot more of that


Bob Bradley: Yeah exactly. And what was interesting was with the twos was about 50% of the twos, at first sight was saying it’s not your problem. I was on the wrong course. And so our team, initially was putting those in a box saying, not our problem, forget it, etc etc. Me being awkward and having a bit of provocative customer service background, said no, hold on a minute. Why are they on the wrong course. We need to find that out because they’re still not happy, even if they don’t blame us for it. And after doing some digging around you discover that your course specifications in your course catalogue weren’t quite accurate. So actually the problem was with us in the first place even though they didn’t blame us. We hadn’t done enough to make sure the right person’s on the right course and they were satisfied.


They were generally being sent by the businesses, and there was some individual as well.


James Nathan: So somebody else was potentially making the decision as to what courses to send them on and they were using your collateral as the goal.


Were these people who were coming individually or they being sent by the business.


Bob Bradley: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, we, you know, when we track this down to the root cause, which is a technique I recommend you know trying to understand why that happened, and taking ownership of customer satisfaction, if these people are not happy, whether they blame us or not it’s our responsibility to try and work out why they’re not happy and how do we fix that. And so you we learnt to spell out the criteria, you know what what skills you needed before you went on the course, a lot more carefully, because then when people came on of course as they were happier.


James Nathan: So when, when that was all changed, getting the same feedback process. How did it improve?


Bob Bradley: I can’t tell you the answer on that one because that was a long term sort of cultural change and we didn’t instantly change the catalogue so it was me as MD changing the beliefs of the team about whose fault it was from, you know, the customers fault for buying the one course to us, specifying better so it was difficult to measure the direct effect but I can tell you about something we did do that was quite an interesting story that was much more tangible, where there was a direct measure. Now, excuse me if I haven’t got the numbers precisely right but basically situation was that in our training centres in the toilets we had toiletries.


James Nathan: Right.


Bob Bradley: You know, part of us positioning ourselves as a great company you know you’ve got some aftershave the gents and some similar stuff in the ladies. And one day my ops director came to me and said, you know what Bob, we spend £200,000 a year on these toiletries and I’ve had the team do some work on this. And they look to them every day, and then never used. You know they hardly ever get used, and then they disappear somebody’s nicked them.


So all we’re doing with that £200,000 is is giving it to thieves. So, I reckon we shouldn’t be bothering, you know, I don’t think anybody cares about toiletries because they don’t use them, the only people who benefiting from it are the thieves. Convincing case, sensible and of course every business is trying to drive its profits all the time as well as deliver customer service, of course, you know, our thought was this isn’t going to affect people because they don’t use them anyway. So we took the toiletries out the toilets. And because we measured, we knew what happened. This centre was let’s say an average 7.4 centre that we you know the average across 500 people per day was always about 7.4 within a month within a small amount. Because when you add these numbers up they, you know there’s a pattern to them.


And within days. It dropped by two points to 7.2 as a centre.


James Nathan: Wow


Bob Bradley: And it was like, “what’s going on?” And we did some more digging around and I called the Ops Director and asked what’s happened to our quality score in the centre? You know, why is it gone wrong? Well, you know we talked about the toiletries, we took them out. Well, something’s going wrong here let’s try and stand again so we went and did some interviews and got some work done, trying to understand what you know there’s 500 people going through each day was going on. And, the light bulb moment was when we realised that although they didn’t use the toiletries, the very presence the toiletries in the toilets sent them a message saying we were quality organisation.


James Nathan: Isn’t that interesting


Bob Bradley: And so we put them back, because 7.4 vs 7.2 sent us a signal that, you know, we reduce the quality perception of our clients. Now you could argue that did really need to have the toiletries was there. Well, maybe not, but if that’s what was what mattered in the customers mindset and their beliefs about where we live in a good service or not. You had to deal with it. You know you had the reality, you know, that’s what I mean by understanding customer needs very very carefully. It isn’t always the obvious. It is a perception as much as reality in many cases, and you know you’ve got to work at this it’s not simple.


James Nathan: I really like that example, it’s a kind of thing that people don’t necessarily think about and I’m gonna knock accountants for a moment being one I think I’m allowed to, but often the numbers are not as they seem. And, you know, there’s plenty of examples of managers who cut costs out, like your toiletries and held on the shoulders at board meetings about a wonderful increases in profit as a result of this person. What they don’t notice is the negative knock on for the business in the future. And when that division closes, they don’t then pointed the person who got rid of the toiletries, they blame something else, and there’s lots of examples in many many businesses or small things like that which actually mattered very much to people. It’s never the big things.


Bob Bradley: It’s the little things that make the difference as somebody said once, yeah, absolutely. And, Yeah, you could argue technically that the toiletries weren’t important or shouldn’t be important, but they clearly sent a signal and that was important in terms of the perceptions of delegates being sent on a course and actually if you think about the motivation of companies sending people on training course, the companies are sending people training course yes because they want the skills, but it’s also got lots of other connotations about reward and motivation of their staff and things like this you know. Their staff want to feel good about working for their employer. So we were part of that picture. And if we make them feel good about work for the employer because our courses are great. Then we provide a better service to our customers.


James Nathan: And the course is very much about everything attached to the course. You know when I do training for businesses and I’m putting a nice hotel, the whole thing changes out of sight. You know, you can go into a into a very sterile boardroom and you know they have to make their own coffee and that’s one thing but going somewhere more pleasant changing the environment, you know is slightly nicer. Even a decent coffee can make a whole world of difference too big.


Bob Bradley: Yeah, absolutely.


James Nathan: And the one thing that I think is also interesting with that is that people’s mindset attaches to those little things so if they see nice toiletries and they see nice coffee and everything’s clean and tidy and it’s all very much as they would hope it to be. Then they don’t feel or they don’t look for any other in consistencies. If they go into the bathroom and, you know, the tiles are chipped and there’s paper missing from one of the loos and all that sort of thing then they start to wonder what else has been missed.  It’s an interesting knock on.


Bob Bradley: I would emphasis that I’m, I mean, whist I’m sort of saying you pay attention to the numbers, pay attention to the process, my key message I think is about understanding your chosen customer base and their reasonable expectations and how you manage their expectations, because it may be that there was a customer set the ones… we were premium pop provider. We were providing high quality courses to the sort of senior people. It could be that there is another subset of the market that wants the cheapest possible, and is prepared and doesn’t worry about those thing and indeed would say you haven’t toiletries in toilets probably shows that we’re, you know we’re not the right course.

So, what I’m saying is it’s about getting the processes and cultures in line with your chosen business strategy. You know if your business position is a Ryan Air, you do it one way, if your business position is Emirates you do it a different way. Both are perfectly viable business models, and both are successful organisations based on setting customers expectations and in Emirates case, you know, knowing you’re going to be cosseted and treated really well, and it’s worth the extra money, in Ryan Air’s case, knowing that all they care about is on time and cheap, and that you’re not going to get any niceties, but they will get you there on time and cheap most the time. And if they don’t, they’ll be quite hard nosed about, you know, the way they manage it.


James Nathan: The airline thing is a funny thing though because even though we know, Ryan Air is cheap and we pay that, we go with them because it’s cheap, people still complain about the service. I flew recently with Whiz Air who are a similar thing. And my flight was £13 pounds to Lithuania. Now, you can’t even travel to London tomorrow for that, and the people were complaining on the thing that there wasn’t enough choices of food… 13 quid… What do you want?


Bob Bradley: That’s exactly what I’m saying about you cannot listen to every single individual customer. And that’s a mistake, some people make the customer services. You know, I’m not saying you can’t listen, you can listen, you should listen to them,  I’ll let me correct myself. But that doesn’t mean to say you have to adjust for them because if you are running Whiz Air or Ryan Air and you do all the other things you’ll go bust and you won’t be there in six months time. So, it’s about being clear about what your business, your chosen market position is and then building the systems and the cultures and the people around that and that can be, you know… and there’s a whole range of different ways of doing it, you know. The Ryan Airs of the world have to give their front end staff, very limited discretion and insist they follow up processes systematically and reliably. Emirates, I hope, and I believe they give their front end staff, a lot of discretion to do what’s necessary to satisfy the customer.


It’s, neither is right or wrong, it’s just understanding what is our chosen market position and let’s focus on on that and make sure we set expectations in our marketing that are accurate and set expectations in our operations that are accurate. And, yeah, and if you’re a Ryanair right you know I’m measuring success, not by the number of people who will whinge and complain but by the business’s longevity and ability to survive and and grow and do more. People like Ryanair, even if they pretend they hate Ryan Air  they still buy it.


James Nathan: Well, absolutely. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be here. And I think the longevity thing you mentioned is interesting, because that business has been around a very, very long time rather than gone pop.


Bob Bradley: Yeah.


James Nathan: And so it’s, you know, it’s obviously a model that works very well. With those low price businesses, you mentioned that, you know, they can’t they can’t do a lot of things because of the costs and what have you. But is there something that they can learn from…. can Ryanair, learn from Emirates? Or can Ryanair learn from Ritz Carlton, can they take aspects of their process and put it into a low cost environment?


Bob Bradley: I think it can work both ways. Because what a great organisation is doing is looking at where its costs come from, what drives its costs, Looking very carefully what its customers value, and trying to identify things that they do that cost money that the customer doesn’t value, or think customers value that don’t cost very much. And then having done that, trying to work out how to, you know, how to optimise if you like for me, customer service, customer value, is about matching, it’s about doing well the things the customer values and spending money on things that customer values, and not spending money on things that don’t value. A very simple example, and I know it irritates many people, and it does mean too is that a lot of products nowadays don’t have instruction books. Now, that’s for very good reasons. Because most people you know, the joke about RTFM, you know, people don’t look at the instruction books historically. And yet, actually, some products, the instruction book was costing more to develop than the product. And, you know, then over the last 30 years, people begin to realise why are we spending all this money on an instruction book that gets out of date, because we keep changing the product. And, and we can’t maintain? Isn’t it better to provide on a website or DVD originally, and now on a website. Zero incremental costs, we can keep it up to date much better. And we don’t have to produce, print it in order and distribute it and deliver it for somebody to sort of take out the box and throw away and ignore.


James Nathan: Does it change people’s perception of the business though or the product, because I know that, you know, in my mind, I find it irritating that I have to go and look elsewhere for something. But also, I find it more irritating when I buy it, for instance, I bought a microphone recently. And it came with four instruction booklets in about 20 languages. So most of those are going to go in the bin. So to me, that just seems like environmental terrorism, and extremely wasteful.


Bob Bradley: I’m with you. And that that’s I think through regulation, I’m not close enough to the industry to know but I get irritated by that thinking, well, if you’re going to print things, put some in useful to me, you know, But you know, it’s trying to understand, you know, regulations apart. It’s trying to understand what is it the customer really values and actually wants and how do we deliver that, you know, most effectively. And you know, the reality was people didn’t value instruction manuals which is why they never looked at them. And okay, it’s inconvenient not to have them now just look them up. But interestingly, some things are going the other way I was just just sort of bumped into my head was the example. Again, the story many people talk about about customer service or product or quality of product. And I don’t know if you’re aware of the Apple Boxes on the iPhones, and how much attention Steve Jobs put into making sure the box open would stay half open, If you held it from the top. And how they invested a lot of money in designing really high quality box. Now It’s really ironic, really, they don’t build an instruction manual, They spend a lot of money having a really nice box.


James Nathan: Well, didn’t that story start with him watching a child opening a Christmas present and the anticipation of opening that present and how long it took to get into it. They did some….  I’m bit of an Apple fan, I read some some things about that packaging, they have a department of packaging. But also there’s a way that they reduce the pressure inside the box. So the first time you open it, it actually opens much slower than the second time. But that expectation…. if you’re you know, when you buy a car, the cheaper manufacturers, and  I don’t think there is such thing as a cheap car anymore, but the cheaper manufacturers use some of the tricks of the of the more expensive ones. So they give you a little box with a key ring and a chain and a drink thing and, a pen and make you feel a little bit more special about your purchase. And most of us when we do that, we go away from that kind of thing, just feel that little bit of extra quality. Which makes a big difference.


Bob Bradley: That’s exactly what Steve Jobs was doing. You know, he understood Apple’s position in the marketplace, you know, they were not simply supplying a bit of technology, they were supplying the experience, they were supplying something that says something about you. And so, you know, the packaging had to be consistent with that message. And he, you know, hence the investment is ridiculous if you think about it in a sort of hard nosed logical engineering view of it to spend so much money and time and on, you know, reduce the pressure and so the packaging, But Steve Jobs got what customers valued was the feeling about themselves they got from having that product, things like that. This is what I mean by understanding customer needs is quite, is not easy. It’s not always the obvious as a lot of subtlety as to what people really value. And Steve Jobs had worked out that people value the impression they got when they first opened the product. And that was part of why they were paying a premium for Apple.


They didn’t value instruction book, so you don’t get the instruction book. But you just get a really nice box.


James Nathan: Yeah, the instruction book thing I think was interesting as well with them because they sold basis, you know, ‘just works’ was their motto wasn’t it at one point, or something along those lines. Particular when you bought a PC, and you had to spend the first three hours getting all the crap off it you didn’t want in the first place to make it work the way you wanted to where there’s just got on with it. And so we don’t need an instruction books, it’s so simple. But is there’s lots of bits and pieces to it. When you look at the smaller businesses when you look at the small and adolescent or the the juvenile adolescent businesses that you come across, which are the ones who are doing this the best.


Bob Bradley: It’s difficult to generalise. But the immediate reaction is the ones that think about what I’ve just been talking about that think about who is the customer? Why are they buying what they want, what really matters to them? And How do we deliver that to them effectively, efficiently economically? And clear about the extent to which that needs to be an automated routine process and the extent to which there has to be a flexible personalised process. I actually, just side tracking to talk about my challenge and running and MD2MD for a moment. And one of the things I feel is a challenge in running my business MD2MD is that our customers are business leaders, they are senior people whose time is precious, and who expect high quality.


And now, what they mean by quality is that the all the meetings organised reliably consistent, they get emails out on time, they get noticed, they said, you know, they get information they need when they need it, all that sort of stuff. So for that to work, I have tried to inculcate in my team, a culture of reliable, systematic processes that you know, work the same month in month out. But the challenge for me, when the MD2MD is at the other end of the spectrum, When we’re in the room at the meeting, I need to treat every single members individual, and remember everything about them in the ideal world. Now I’m supporting doing that with processes as a bit, because we keep notes of things and we keep notes of what they’re going to do with the actions, they’re going to implement, how they’re going to get value out of the organisation. But generally, that’s about being very flexible at the front end. So What I’m getting at is I’m very clear about what is standard, what is a routine processes, repeatable and scalable, back office, getting them to the meeting? And what is flexible, which is the face to face in the meeting. So It makes sense. And I think every business needs to be quite clear about what is personalised and flexible. And you do what you need to satisfy the customer in their organisation, And what is fixed and standard and routine and automated. You know, somebody said to me, could you send the invites out to the meeting four weeks in advance than three weeks in advance? Well, no, I can’t. Because if we start doing that for one person, and then somebody else wants it seven weeks in advance, somebody else wants it three weeks, you know, we will get it wrong, I guarantee we will get it wrong.


So we have to send the invites out together, so everybody attends the meeting. Now thats being a bit trivial about it. But that’s what I’m saying is that you’ve got to be clear about where you can be flexible and where you can’t. Because being flexible in the wrong place, creates, you know, the high chance of things going wrong. Whereas being flexible in the right place is customer service. Going back to very beginning this conversation the you know, the hotel, the story about you know, the personal welcome: “Hello, Mr. Jones”, the doorman is able to say because the security guard has rung them to say I’ve just spotted the registration, the car coming on the drive. And it’s it’s Mr. Jones. And actually, when you look at that in more detail that isn’t about the culture. Although obviously culture is going to be important people will be good at doing that. It’s actually about the system and process behind the scenes enables the people front to deliver high quality service, if I may.


James Nathan: Interesting that because I’ve seen that done a few times in hotels where they open the door. And as you come out of the car, they say Hello, Mr. Nathan. Hi, Dr. Nathan and it’s lovely. However, a lot of businesses are trying to copy that and do it in all sorts of ways, you know, checking on the internet to see what the picture looks like, and all this sort of stuff. But actually, it was actually the Ritz who started that the way they do it is really simple. When the car arrives, the doorman opens the booth and takes the luggage while you’re paying for the taxi, he looks at the tag on the luggage. And when he opens the door, he knows your name. It’s a very simple process. But when you when you make it complicated, it makes it difficult. But there but the caveat with that process is if they can’t pronounce the name, but don’t try.


Bob Bradley: You see, that’s exactly the level of detail you have to go to if you want to be excellent. And I mean that I’m two elements, that one is looking for the simple solution of the complex solution. And secondly, knowing where the limits to what you can do are and how it will go wrong if you try to…. If you get carried away with it, if you don’t think it through properly.


James Nathan: Bob, you’ve given us so much to think about those absolutely wonderful, Thank you. If people want to get in touch with you or talk to you about MD2MD How do they do that?


Bob Bradley: Getting in touch with simple bb@md2md.co.uk, you can look at our website, obviously same md2md.co.uk. My phone number 01865 600 800. See simple thing they’re easy to remember number 1865 600 800. So be delighted to hear from business leaders, you know, we’re very open to showing anybody who’s what I call an operational business leader with 10s or hundreds of staff what we do Very proud of what we do, And and you know, so how we build our business people come along, like a sign up. That’s great.


James Nathan: I must say having been at one of your events, they are absolutely fantastic. And there’s some really interesting and impressive people go along as well. So very, very good indeed. Bob, one last thought for our listeners, if you could leave them with a golden nugget of service. One thing that they could do in their businesses today or in the years to come to make their business better, what could they do?


Bob Bradley: Measure, understand and learn to use three words, measure, understand and learn. And you know, have a way of finding out what your customers value, understand that properly. And then learn from that what you need to do to improve your business.


James Nathan: Bob, wonderful. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been lovely chatting with you. I look forward to seeing soon.


Bob Bradley: Great pleasure. Thank you, James.



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