My kids call me Grom (Grumpy Old Man). OK, pedants will know that ought to be GOM, but a Grom sounds grumpy. I started building internet businesses in the 1980s and these days invest in other peoples' start-ups. Now that less of my life is about to happen than has happened, I've got a lot to get off my chest. This blog is a series of posts about things that annoy me, things that excite me or things that just need to be said. Grumbles of a Grom... Grombles
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We don't enjoy flying, we endure it
Like most first world inhabitants, I use planes more than buses. Actually I never use buses. I use elephants more than buses. But that's not the point of this post. I have probably flown at least once every other month for the past forty years. Say around 500 flights somewhere and back. And on every flight, two things always happen:
The captain invites me to enjoy the flight - or hoped I enjoyed it
I loathe flying. First there's the airport. It's a shopping mall preceded by long queues where I'm instructed to take off my belt and shoes to check if they can blow up. Them I'm frisked in case I'm an Islamic terrorist and once again likely to blow up. Once through, I'm assaulted by over-priced shops in which there's nothing I ever want to buy. Gone are the days when you didn't pay duty in airports (unless you are leaving the EU, in which case your booze is cheaper than in the UK, but not as cheap as where you're going). So to avoid commercial hell, you congregate in airport lounges which, to be fair, are getting better. But you would never travel to an airport to go to one. They're just marginally better than sitting somewhere else waiting for your delayed flight's gate to be announced.
Once announced on screens that you have to squint to read, there's the long plod to get to your gate. Why is mine always the furthest from the shopping mall? Do they scan the passenger manifest the day before to make sure that my flight is allocated the one that's never normally used because it's technically not actually part of the airport or in the same county? So they get you to the gate, check your ticket again, and then you wait in the world's most uncomfortable seats... if you get one, unless you're one of the 'we've got to be first on-board' queuing professionals who seem prepared to stand one behind another for as long as it takes to get into their favourite seat. Or perhaps you've grabbed a passing kid as your priority boarding evidence. A wheelchair's useful too.
So now you're on board and studiously ignoring the safety briefing. You ignore it not because you know everything they're saying (which of course you do), but because everyone else is ignoring it and you don't want to look like an obedient pratt. As Oscar Wilde said, 'I want to be different like everyone else'. Eventually you take off and realise 'here we go again. I'm going to be bored in less than 10 minutes'. There is nothing pleasant about being strapped to a seat, even a reclining business class bed-like thing, for hour after hour after hour. Same clothes, same neighbours, messy toilets, rubbish films on titchy screens with crap sound, mags, books (or E-readers you can't use during take off and landing for fear of crashing the aircraft... go figure), aches and pains amplified, twitching muscles. Bowel gas pressure. Can't get comfy. Can't sleep. I'm hopelessly and helplessly uncomfortable. Writhing in misery for hours and hours and hours and hours. And then, amazingly, you fall sleep!!! Only to be woken minutes later by the head creepy gay mincer offering you deals on perfume or bingo cards. Or perhaps it's the captain hoping 'YOU'RE STILL ENJOYING THE FLIGHT' and informing us that we're still flying at 40,000 feet.
Bodies and brains weren't designed for sitting or lying in cramped noisy bumpy tubes. So why do the captain and head trolley-dollies always hope you enjoyed the flight? Don't they realise that no-one ever does, and no-one ever has - at least not since 1921, or whenever passenger flights started. In those days, people booked flights not to go somewhere, but simply to fly. Go into the sky and look down on buildings and poor people who can't afford to do it. That must have indeed been fun if you've never done it before. The only people these days who've never done it before are the bawling babies who sit right behind me and endlessly kick the back of my seat, and most of India. Like the wireless, the carphone, the television and other wonders of their age, flying is no longer a thrill (unless you're in a Tornado dodging SAMs). Travelling by air is incredibly boring. In fact it's unpleasant.
So instead of archaically and pointlessly hoping we'll enjoy our flight, why don't airlines update their patter and talk honestly to us? How about "We hope you find our flight less appalling than everyone else's" or "We trust you didn't slit your wrists during this flight because we'd love to get your money again". What about "If you're sitting in economy and consequently in pain, why don't you pay more next time? You'll still be in pain, but the air hostesses are better looking". "Ignore the airline ads, we're all the same. Admit it, you're on this flight because it's the cheapest."
Why don't airlines just drug us as we take our seats and then administer the antidote seconds before we arrive (actually just before we disembark so we don't have to ensure the endless wandering around runways and aprons to find the gate furthest from passport control). It works on Star Trek and will avoid safety demonstrations, film rental, food, drink and those dreadful in-flight magazines.
Don't get me wrong. They're a brilliant invention to assist automation and prevent screwdrivers from slipping off screw heads - damaging furniture, paintwork and fingers in the process. Interestingly they weren't invented by Mr Phillips at all, but by a John P Thompson who sold Mr P the idea after failing to commercialise it. Mr P, on the otherhand, quickly succeeded where Mr T had failed. Incredible isn't it. You don't just need a good idea, you need a great salesman and, more importantly, perfect timing to make a success out of something new. Actually, it would seem, he did two clever things (apart from buying the rights). He gave the invention to GM to trial. No-brainer #1. After it was adopted by the great GM, instead of trying to become their sole supplier of Phillips screws, he sold licenses to every other screw manufacturer in the world. A little of a lot is worth a great deal more than a lot of a little + vulnerability (watch out Apple!).
Most businesses these days have Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems which store and process vasts amounts of information about us. They use this information to generate communications, amongst other things, which target us to buy their products and services. CRM is all about how a business relates to its customers: Past (keeping them loyal through aftersales and service), Present (helping them buy through bricks and clicks channels) and Future (prospecting).
Most businesses will at some stage have declared themselves 'customer-centric'. They will probably have drawn diagrams on whiteboards that look something like these:
But there's a problem with this whole approach of keeping the customer at the centre of your world and the focal point for everything you do.Is it what the customer wants? Of course companies who ignore their customers eventually go out of business. And those who treat their customers well, tend to thrive. But is it really in the best interests …
I have a son who went to a well known preparatory school (7-13) in Surrey. He came home one day clutching a leaflet for fun activity holidays that the school promoted every summer. The Titus Trust operate several camps around the UK where they organise fun outdoor activities for youngsters. Something caught my eye in the leaflet hidden in a paragraph in one of the sections describing the holidays. They used the word Christian. It was the only place in the whole leaflet that the word was used. My suspicions raised, I hunted around the leaflet for more clues and found the imprint which said something like 'A Titus Trust Charity' (the name of the camps was on the title of the leaflet). I dug deeper and found some disturbing evidence of who was behind these 'fun' camps. This is what I wrote at the time to the headmaster: Dear Headmaster
XXXX came home the other day extremely excited about an outward bound camp next summer that he and his friends had been told about by a rep…