1_DiscoverBenelux_Issue19_July_2015_Q9_Scan Magazine 1 26/06/2015 20:49 Page 76
Discover Benelux & France | Business | Columns
What communicates? TEXT & ILLUSTRATION: JOSIAH FISK
How paying a parking ticket became my alltime best customer experience. Not long ago, in the tiny French town of Marmoutier, I got a 13 euro parking ticket. There wasn’t even a no-parking sign. Since it was a rental car and I don’t live in France, my first thought was to tear up the ticket. But rental car companies can hunt you down for unpaid tickets, and when they do the cost is far higher. So I decided to pay. There was just one problem. Marmoutier wanted a check for euros. My checking account is in US dollars. And getting a cheque in euros would cost more than the amount of the cheque. It so happened I came home with exactly 13 euros in my pocket. I took this as a sign from the universe that I should do what everyone knows you should never do: mail cash. Did I really think this would work? Of course not. If the cash even survived its overseas journey, some chiseling clerk was sure to pocket it on arrival and destroy the evidence. I was confident I’d be hearing from the car rental company about my unpaid ticket. Confident, but wrong. About six weeks later, a large envelope with French stamps arrived in my mailbox. Inside was an official-looking form documenting payment of the ticket and a thankyou note from the parking commissioner.
But what got my attention was the third document: a letter from the mayor of Marmoutier himself, complete with seal and signature. In the magnificent flowery style of high French officialdom, he praised me for my honesty, perseverance and virtue. He fervently hoped I might visit his town again. He practically made me feel as if I’d be greeted by a brass band. So why do I count this as my all-time best customer experience? Because it so far exceeded my expectations. We usually think of negative expectations as bad, but when you’re communicating, they can be a huge opportunity. My advice? Always take advantage of that opportunity, especially because low expectations are so easy to exceed. I also have this advice: never park in the town square in Marmoutier.
Josiah Fisk is the head of More Carrot LLC, a clear communications company with offices in Boston and Luxembourg.
Space, place, flair and freedom TEXT: STEVE FLINDERS | PHOTO: JACK HOBHOUSE
I was very struck by a BBC television programme on architecture a few years ago. In it a home-seeking British couple was invited to the Netherlands to see some innovative housing designs. They were unimpressed. They just wanted to live in the same kind of executive cul-de-sac as hundreds of thousands of others. Are British unimaginative in their approach to personal and professional space? In particular in relation to badly thought-out workspaces which can have such a negative impact on individual and group mental health, as well as productivity. Perhaps it is about how open we are to others. Walking along a residential street in an English city, I usually get just a tiny peek into the residents’ living spaces. In Amsterdam there are no lace curtains: I may see into an often stylish space as if the occupants are saying: 'This is who and how we are, and we hope you enjoy sharing it for a moment as well.'
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The same programme showed us the creative, fun and worker-friendly office spaces that the employees themselves had designed at Interpolis, the big Dutch insurance company. When two of them were invited to spend time in a London open plan office, they said that a week was enough to drive them half-crazy. There are signs of change. The philosopher Alain de Botton is also concerned by the quality of our environment and, through his ‘Living Architecture’ movement, has commissioned leading architects to design holiday rental homes. The latest addition to this series is an excitingly eccentric work by the British artist, Grayson Perry. That middle-class couple should give it a try. We need workspaces where we can interact spontaneously with colleagues as well as formally in meetings; and where we can work alone and undisturbed. Employers who say this is more expensive, never seem to count the
productivity cost of constant interruptions and distractions, let alone the psychological cost of staff having no control over their environment. We need space to work and a sense of place for our work too. It’s time to bring not just ergonomics but also flair and freedom to the workplaces of the people we manage.