Monday, 30 April 2007

Unispired. Demotivated and far from Involved.

Talk about putting more distance between customer and company! Standard Bank is an expert at that one lately! There is simply no way that their new telephone system was designed to improve customer communication - not matter how it was sold to the board! For those of you that are unaware, there is a new telephone system in place that takes long distance calls to a whole new level!! 

This new 'customer friendly' system has been in place for a few months now (as far as I know) and using it reminds me of another 'fun/efficient' call centre experience.... Vodacom. So I call in and the central person redirects my call to my branch, I am lucky of course if the central person even knows who my business banker is! I have tried to mention his name every time I call, and I get an .....'Er....I'll transfer you to your branch'. Now... not sure what happened at the branch BUT it seems that whoever was answering the phone before [the mass centralisation], no longer thinks the phone is their job, or they are the efficiency! Today I waited 10 mins before someone picked up the phone and I got a really professional 'hello'. For a split second there I thought ' where the hell did I call'....Lets think...... do you think the customer or internal efficiencies were the drivers for this corporate change? 

Ah well, that’s what I call standing up to your brand promise of 'Inspired. Motivated. Involved'. Real authentic.... 
You JUST GOTTA LOVE OUR BANKS, a really empowering lot!

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Country Marketing Woes...

So I’ve been reflecting this long weekend…. Not to harp on the Italian trip, but it got me thinking about the topic of Marketing and my endless quest for a positively consistent consumer experience. Although I think each person reacts differently to every experience, I believe there are common elements making up a positive experience for most people. Whether they are subliminal or conscious.

Lets take Italy…. In my previous blog I said I might have romanticised the idea of Italy BUT like a typical researcher I did my homework on each city (even if I had been before) and all the visual info looked fantastic….(I even read blogs!) It all looked just like a well-conceived marketing plan. So I purchased the goods.

Marketing the essence of a country is pretty easy from a distance using all the usual mediums…. Delivering on the experience is far from easy! Sound familiar!? A small example, we arrived in Venice (airport) and caught a water taxi to our hotel. We were the only ones on the taxi and as any traveller normally does, we all started soaking up our surroundings via our senses….. The boat driver oke was playing ‘guns and roses’ pretty loud and it was early in the morning. So the feeling… well a little odd. Delicate mist had settled eerily on the water and the romantic Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute (church) was floating silently at the entrance of the Grand Canal, we had Axl Rose screeching his heart out. I appreciate that not everything can be controlled and I am substantially anal when it comes to details BUT to really have the complete Italian experience would have required Axl singing to a vastly different tune! This may be one small example, but these added up make up one BIG confusing experience!

My primary business value is to make a difference, and I am more often than not categorised in the marketing/ad agency arena especially, because I work with strategy. I never want to be in a situation where I assist a client that has no intention of ever being authentic, yet wants me to assist with building a strategy that communicates authenticity to a base of consumers.…that would be like selling my soul.
So what business am I really in? Do businesses really want to make a difference in the lives of their customers? Do they really care and are they really trying to be authentic? These days consumers are far from stupid.
Does Italy really care? Will we really care in 2010 and will we provide an authentic experience (excluding the crime of course!)… mmm… can you train a nation to provide an experience? Sure the cultures make up a large part of the experience, but its more than that. Lets hope visitors to SA don’t feel cheated. Would be nice to know what the gov's plans are…..

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Final Italian Chapter...

I am back home.... YAY! Sorry, the signal was so bad in the Southern mountains, I battled to blog.
Have I ever mentioned how much I love my country!?

Not sure if Europe is a place I would like to visit in a hurry again, so here is my final take on a 13 day trip.
The final leg of our trip was to a little fishing village (sounds romantic- we thought it would be) on the Amalfi coast in Italy called Massa Lubrense . We had to drive through Napoli, and that was interesting, it’s probably the most condensed, visually poor looking cities I have seen in Europe. Like a large shanty town at the foot of a very large active volcano. There is certainly a polarised economy there. I am convinced that there will be a large disaster when Vesuvius does blow, the city is so congested that it would take more than a week to evacuate! Went to Pompeii (city built and covered by lava and ash in 79AD) that was something I was glad I could tick off my ‘life to do list’.

So, we hired a villa in Massa Lubrense and hoped to have a relaxed time, cooking, drinking and vegging......The cost of the villa was high so we obviously assumed to get what we paid for....YA RIGHT! You DO NOT get what you pay for in Europe, you need so seeeerious cash there.... we're taking mooocha bucks, but no matter how much cash you have its still very overcrowded! Eish! I battled with that.

The villa was in a beautiful remote surrounding with a fantastic view, but it was filthy dirty, and falling apart. I couldn’t help but feel that the owner’s thought process was ‘hey they will accept anything because the view is cool’. They made NO effort to prepare that house before we arrived. It smelt like one large dusty cupboard, it had been closed for winter. Not to mention that the first day we didn’t have hot water!!! I sooo don’t do icy cold water. We were assigned a 'chef'....this lady was as dirty as the house and told us she actually couldn’t cook, so we didn’t use that option. Trying to buy food was the next ‘joy’....there were only a few very little obscure shops (nothing like the North of Italy - where there are fantastic deli shops) These shops were on narrow windy coast roads and took us a day to find! Nerves were frayed as these people make SA taxi drivers look like they are the cast of Driving Miss Daisy!! I have NEVER seen driving like this…

We finally got hot water and things improved. The Isle of Capri is situated just off the coast near the villa and that was very pretty (see pic above), BUT I cannot honestly say that we got what we paid for. In the end you would expect clean as a minimum when you are paying Sun City Palace prices, so it was very disappointing.

All in all I still love Italy, there is an essence about it, Venice and Florence were great. The South was not great and I do think I have a tendency in my own mind to romanticise things a little, the last time I was there I was a student camping. Being all grown up and paying grown up prices I feel the cost of the trip did not equal the actual experience we had. Maybe we are just too fussy! We will be doing more S African trips from now on...

Chow for now.... or should I say Hambani kahle!

Monday, 16 April 2007

Firenze - Day 3

Come va!

The weekend in Firenze has been noisy but great, people here are NOT aggressive at all.... they are truly ‘lovers, not fighers’.

We have eaten so much I actually think I may be bursting, luckily we walk a lot so I suppose I could feel worse! We saw the Boticelli painting ‘Birth of Venus’ yesterday at the Uffuzi Gallery. One walk around that gallery (Leonardo, Michelangelo etc) and one starts to wonder……where have all these masters gone (wasn’t there a song like that…. on no.. that was ‘where have all the cowboys gone’) same thing I suppose? Do we really have any artists in the new world that have made such a vast contribution to the world as a whole…..?
Maybe I have just missed them or maybe they just come in different forms/applications?

This city oozes culture….once again don’t come here if you are not into art, food, wine, people and great design. We drove out to a ‘little’ town called Lucca on the outskirts of Florence, but I think everyone was disappointed that the town wasn’t very small at all. I was outnumbered so we made the fatal mistake of driving on, in search of the elusive undiscovered Tuscan village. It kinda reminded me of chasing the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow….. Town after town of industrial kak, we managed a little deviation into the hills that was great BUT when we found a place to eat it was closed because it was Monday!!! So although I am 100% sure that the little elusive Tuscan village does exists, we haven’t got a week to find it!! I realised (after a day stuck in the car) just as we relented and finally stopped to eat somewhere for lunch…. looking at a menu we could not understand…..trying to converse in a foreign language… a roadside place that looked just like a truckers stop… that….. I have no patience. I may have to seek help!

So we are back in Firenze again going out for dinner…..I am looking forward to moving on to the Amalfi coast and some fresh air.. and more food (it fascinates me that the human condition is such that we are bored so easily) And some call this progress!

Tomorrow is another Tuscan day… beats work that’s for sure!


Friday, 13 April 2007

Firenze - Day 1

Not sure if any of you have a list of ‘things to do before you die’ if so you HAVE to put gondola ride on the list. How fantastic! Wine (on request), man in stripy shirt with looong stick, wonky boat and in some cases accordion and a Pavarotti sounding okie on the boat as well (we didn’t have the music part but we had the rest). You have to take out a second bond, but it really is cool to see Venice from a different perspective. Very romantic!

Well we are now in Firenze (known to those non speaking Italians as Florence). It was a bit of a mission to get here though, it may have been the Friday the 13th thing, but the trains were on strike for 8 hours and we had to get up at 3.30 am to go to the station (we had initially booked the respectable time of 11.30). The whole station/train was totally filthy… public transport is really not my thing as you know.

The hotel is not as nice compared to Venice (never nice to go backwards on holiday). The rooms are VERY hot and they are apparently only ‘switching the aircon on, on the 1 May’! Talk about false advertising, doesn’t say that on the web!

Other than that, I LOVE the city. Food is really cool and architecture/art is cooler. There is SUCH a vibe here! Music, food, wine......

Sorry to harp, BUT I simply cannot believe the amount of graffiti in Italy generally. People have defaced almost every part of the city from trains to important cultural infrastructure (see picture of the back of a church in Venice). It is really terrible and I wonder if the locals even see it anymore. From a tourist perspective it makes me feel a little robbed of an authentic experience, I almost want my money back!......... Am tired now had a long day..........

Ciao! (Sorry someone pointed out that my mind is always on food with the last blog and me saying 'Chow'!)

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Italy - Venice - Day 1

So, the child that screamed was 2 rows behind us on the ‘big taxi in the sky’, but in reality she wasn’t that bad. Some old oke in front of us was worse, snoring so loud that I was sure he was going suck up all the air on the plane. Also, every time he took a breath in his mouth, he let air out his backside because there was a constant stink around him!

Anyway, our stop in Zurich made me realise how much I love S Africa. There is a relative freedom in an unstructured environment. Swiss precision is a little boring, boxed and not really all that colourful. Its not for me (could get used to the chocolate though… A LARGE LINDT SHOP!) Eish heaven!

Venice is a wonderful city that is really different culturally, boats are the cars and the age of the place makes me think that whilst we sleep, the city will slowly sink beneath the surface of the ocean. The problem with Venice in my mind is the number of tourists and the pollution/litter and bloody doves (flying rats) - see picture taken in St Marks Square. I was also horrified to see so much graffiti on ancient buildings. Very sad.

There is something special about Italy, a feeling that kinda makes you feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself. I think it’s the combination of historic infrastructure, religion, romantic notions (Casanova/Venice), colourful/expressionist people, fantastic design/fashion and yummy food. Not really sure what it is, I just love it. We are in Venice for 2 days, I couldn’t do more than that without boredom and bankruptcy setting in and then we move onto Tuscany…..

Will keep you posted!


Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Flying 'high'!

OK, so today I go to Italy, busy sitting at the airport and once again cannot help but think of a VERY large toilet! I think there is something wrong with me……
It just seems it’s the most public place on earth…. A BIG PUBLIC toilet, full of germs and stinky people.

You really do see some sites here, all sorts going about their business trying to waste time (aren’t humans funny). The most captive environment I suppose you can be in – besides a prison! If you are not in a business class lounge you will pay through your backside to eat and drink! Tap water is looking good.

Eish! There is a child currently screaming on top of his lungs, and I am sure that somehow out of all the thousands milling about here, I will sit next to him… or a stinky socked, odd ball that oozes onto my seat! So as you can see I am ecstatic about flying.

OK. Gotta go and squash onto the big taxi in the sky. Looking really forward to that whole communal toilet sharing part , especially cleaning someone else’s toothpaste out of the basin in the morning!

Will try and keep you all posted when I get there (if my Vodaom bloody works).


Friday, 06 April 2007

Easter Bunny wins!

Its Easter [just incase you didnt know] and I started thinking whilst chomping the ears off a Lindt chocolate bunny....[simply to die for by the way] where the hell did the Easter Bunny come from? Not sure if any of you knew, but I was a little disappointed to find after doing some research... that the story is somewhat boring!

"The legend of the Easter Bunny is far from a modern invention. Long ago, the rabbit was the earthly symbol of the pagan goddess Eastre, and was worshipped in the pagan festival of Eastre. Germans brought the legend of the Easter rabbit to America, though Easter itself wasn't widely celebrated in America until after the Civil War. The hare has long been a symbol of fertility and renewal of life -- which fit in with the Christian tradition of Easter and the tradition of Easter eggs." [snore...snore]

So what can we learn from this?
We can blame the yanks for making the bunny an Easter icon - and chocolate nogal!
So much great marketing has been done on the bunny that I am sure that most kids [and adults] don't even think of the Christian element. Pretty sad really, that at a time when children should be learning the importance of giving, they seem more interested in getting! Welcome to the new world.

Wednesday, 04 April 2007

Water can read!?

I LOVE pioneers especially the kind that keep me thinking.

There is a doctor called Dr. Masaru Emoto from Japan who has done some fantastic work on 'reading' water crystals. Yip... reading water! One of the things he does is strap words to water bottles -facing the water - like 'love' and 'hate' to two seperate bottles- he then studies the water from each bottle under the microscope and the results are facinating! The water reads or rather responds!! (See the pic showing words 'beautiful' and 'dirty')
A good friend recommended a fantastic movie/documentry called 'What the Bleep do you know' which is definatly worth a watch. In the movie they briefly touch on Emoto's water research and they make the comment, 'our bodies are 90% water, if words can have this effect on bottled water can you image what they can do to us.......".

This whole thing got me thinking... YIP... I can think......! I will never look at my bath water in the same light again, I mean, should you talk to the water?! Does it like soap?! Should I be strapping postive words to my body if I am 90% water- how the hell do I do that and will it work? I am crazy enough to try it so I will provide feedback! Will the body respond? Is that why people are compelled to tattoo their bodies.. EISH! Some are destined to be grumpy forever with the kak they have done..... also what about drinking water. Oh YA!...the same happened whether they used Japanese or English words on the bottles.... [scary movie sound effects].

Anyway, if you have time to look this up (ha ha), do it (maybe see that movie), there are more water crystal pics to see that are wonderful. Personally this has changed my view of water that's for sure... a little creepy in a way, but helluva facinating!

"You cannot see anything that you do not first contemplate as a reality."- Ramtha


Tuesday, 03 April 2007

Have a GAS!

This may not be everyones sense of humor.... my ears are already ringing from the lecture I am going to get from my mother! BUT I thought this was TOTALLY hilarious! Crude sure... possibly offensive... YES.... but still funny! It may be a little jerky on your machine if you have 'narrow' band (broad bands poor sister- for those in my family that are not technical).

WHY DO PEOPLE DO THESE THINGS... I really dont understand.. even planning this is ODD.. isn't it? Don't they work or go to school?

Turn up the sound have a gas! We all need it!

Monday, 02 April 2007


My sister in LA is coming home in May after being out of the country for 11 years. She recently mailed me that she was afraid of the crime in SA and asked me for my opinion on the topic. What a difficult thing to answer.

Suddenly the ‘South African discussion’ became like discussing religion for me! I am highly passionate about it, but feel it’s a personal journey. I had never really thought of it like that until now! I was really cautious of shoving my view down my sisters’ throat as I want her to make her own decision. I know that when people in SA start the ‘this bloody country....’ discussion, I generally have a tendency to argue a lot, especially when points that are made are shallow and unsubstantiated. (I need to work on ignoring that I think). Many white South Africans have still not ventured into a township (on purpose) but still make all sorts of sweeping statements and claims of understanding.

I try to have a balanced outlook on life and as with everything there are two sides to every story. (I personally still need to educate myself further on other cultures and practices, so I am not perfect I realise that). What you put in ends up being what you get out of life.

I love this country, I read a lot and am aware of the dangers and frustrations of living here, BUT I am also aware of the joys and opportunities. The world is becoming ever more dangerous every day and something bad could happen anywhere. I am not going to spend my life being afraid and would rather deal with things as they happen.

We need more skilled people in SA we need to build this country not run away. I have Africa pumping through my veins and no matter where I run I will yearn to return. So crime is a problem, it is scary, we have to be sensible, BUT we have a country filled with diversity, humour, colour, good weather, beauty and opportunity. It’s SHARP! SHARP!

Sunday, 01 April 2007

Rotten (Egg) Service...

Don’t you just hate bad service in restaurants? Maybe I am just 2 fussy!

Today we had a Sunday morning breakfast from hell at a particularly popular deli/bakery/restaurant in the new Chilli Lane centre in Sunninghill. The actual breakfast was not so bad (nothing fantastic) BUT the service made the journey to my stomach as bumpy as hell. In this particular case the woman that served us should have been staring blankly onto a chopping board in the kitchen - not dealing with customers! (Story 2 long to blog!)

Isn’t it simple really.... do they smile in an interview? If not... they AINT gonna make it in the service world! Smiling (naturally) is a non-negotiable requirement! Following on from that seemingly basic requirement, some intensive training would be required. I think people in the foodservice industry spend more money on the infrastructure (this being the case at this Deli) and a dismal % of the budget on the training. This begs the question, is an ALL ROUND positive experience for customers the objective when starting a business in this industry OR is money the object of desire? Of course you want to make money, but if your focus is mainly on the money not the customers won’t that show? People want authenticity nowadays.. they stop cheats from miles away!

In situations like the one this morning, I have this mental picture (can’t help it!) of some bloody brand smacking its hands together and licking it’s lips with glee as they see you approaching. They shove you in to the restaurant.. and once you are there….they go out of their way to be unimpressive and give you the minimum service requirement…. eyes AT ALL TIMES fixed firmly on your wallet! EISH !!! It almost seems they train staff to behave like that!! Getting up to leave was not an option this time as we were with other people (most people in SA would rather not ‘cause a fuss’) and they had not been there before… they will be voting with their feet though.

Its all in the detail really and how it comes together. One funny one…one of the kitchen staff came out into the restaurant to deliver some food and he had a T-shirt on that advertised the fact that he had been part of the correctional services and was now reformed…NOT SOMETHING that makes your food travel calmly into your stomach on its own.. not without a LARGE swig of coffee that is!

I think image is a large driver for S Africans to attend these kinds of trendy places. To be seen there (not the reason we went by the way!) Do you think that image overrides the personal requirement for an all round quality service in SA??? WOULD LOVE TO HEAR YOUR VIEWS?! We have to get this right by 2010! Not long to go….