Reporting from London
I’m in London for perhaps the 20th time over the last 37 years, beginning as an exchange student at the age of 17. I’m en route to Paris for work with a client, and London is the perfect intermediary rest stop.
What can we learn from the English?
- Seamless service: Every taxi driver knows the city by heart. In fact, an extensive series of tests is required before a permit is awarded. And this is in a city without any logical street placement, twisting lanes, and often bewildering names (Breton Lane, Breton Street, and Breton Square are all nicely, and redundantly, juxtaposed.)
- Anticipating needs: A call to the hotel desk for electrical adapters for the lap top I’m using for this article brings an engineer with enough equipment to build a power station. He has extensions and adapters for any type of computer as well as modems. However, the hotel already has built in to the rooms (as he politely points out) “American style” electrical outlets and modem ports.
- Minimum bureaucracy: British Air gives us a “fast lane” pass which propels us through immigration and customs in less than ten minutes. Our luggage is waiting for us by the time we reach the baggage carousel.
- Customer orientation: I’ve belonged to a small club in London for 15 years or more. I only show up every few years, yet I’m always greeted warmly and shown in immediately. After one prolonged absence, the hostess said my identification card was “a collector’s item,” and promptly provided a new, computerized replacement.
- Humor: English commercials and advertisements are famous for their dry humor and self-effacing tone. The are an absolute riot and gain your interest rapidly. One of my favorites attempts to built drama around the game of lawn bowls, which is so deadly dull that watching paint dry is great excitement in comparison. At the end, it simply suggests that you have the advertiser’s beer and grin and bear it.
- Innovation: British Air is the first carrier on the Atlantic routes to provide full reclining beds, complete with “sleeping outfits” and other amenities. Although it’s still an airline seat at the end of the day, the opportunity to stretch out under the covers at 35,000 feet is not to be taken lightly.
- °Flexibility: You can use American dollars virtually anywhere, although your change will be in pounds. And while the conversion rate will likely not be in your favor, you are able to use the money in your pocket when you first arrive without having to visit a change bureau immediately.
- Tradition: This, of course, is an English strength. In the best hotels, gentlemen are expected to wear jackets and ties in the public areas after 6 PM. While I once thought this excruciatingly formal, I now find it rather pleasant when I look around and see people so well dressed and well mannered.
- Honesty: Things don’t always work out the way they should. Most Londoners despise the “big wheel” and the “dome” constructed for the millennium. They’re upset about the traffic delays caused by bridge construction in the center of town. They inform you about it, warn you about it, and don’t allow you to be surprised by any of it.
- Diversity: Walk into any small shop and the proprietor is likely to say, “Morning, gov, what can I do for you today?” The words will vary but not the tone when the shop is owned by one of the many different ethnicities in the city. An Indian man runs the newspaper shop down the street, and the waiter at lunch was a young man from Spain seeking to improve his English, along with the other four languages that he speaks, so that he could become an interpreter. The shops and stores employ people who mirror their customers.
Seamless service, anticipating needs, minimum bureaucracy, customer orientation, humor, innovation, flexibility, tradition, honesty, and diversity: Not a bad combination anywhere in the world.
There’s nothing like travel to broaden one’s horizons and help with new business techniques, whether that travel is down the block or across the Atlantic.