Surveys, Sam Cody, “Boaty McBoatface’


Surveys, Sam Cody, “Boaty McBoatface’

 We are a service industry, and it’s important that we understand, and respond to, our customers’ need. Ignore this at your peril. 
However, please don’t go down the route of an increasing number of businesses that seem to believe that the way to do this is to offer every customer a “customer satisfaction” survey, which I suspect that they never actually do anything useful with, each time they visit. Over here in the UK, this has got ridiculous. 
A few days ago, I went into my bank to pay in a cheque. Yes, I still do cheques, not Internet banking, and each time my bank tries to get me to change, I ask the same question: “When was the last time someone hacked a cheque book?” I am still waiting for the answer, which is, of course, never. 
Anyway, I digress. I paid in the cheque, and by the time I got home, I had an email from the bank containing a survey. How was my experience? 
I paid in a cheque, no one threatened me or vomited on me, and my life wasn’t immeasurably enriched by going into your bank, which has four cashier desks, but never, ever has more than two cashiers, and so could have been smaller and cheaper, reducing costs. 
And, no, I won’t use the auto-till because (a) it never wishes me good morning, (b) it never checks my maths on the paying-in slip and (c) the bloody thing can’t read machine-generated cheques. 
Yes, I’m a Luddite, but I’m quite happy with a system that’s worked fine for more than 100 years, and I don’t care if it costs the bank, which is making more profits per second than most of the people in the world earn in a year, a few more pennies. 
This “experience” has since been topped by the store that’s sent me a customer satisfaction survey relating to “my recent in-store purchase.” I bought some candles for a birthday cake – give me strength.
Anyway, parking … We have just had the annual British Parking Awards, where we try to identify and reward what’s best in British parking. These are a mixture of awards for individuals, teams of people, carparking facilities and technical innovation. I have been a judge for these awards for some years now, and historically, there has always been a lot of discussion in the judges’ room with, usually, two or three front-runners in each category. 
Although I missed the awards ceremony, judging this year was different. The awards are widely recognized as having value in the industry, and some organizations will go as far as hiring a PR company to prepare their submissions. 
An awful lot of entries were frankly poor. 
This year, quite often we got a page and half of badly written, ungrammatical waffle, that failed to address even the criteria listed on the entry forms. In the end, the judges did some horse-trading and we redefined one or two categories to finally come up with a credible list of winners, but this was the first year that the panel had to consider not awarding some of the prizes. 
Personally, although we just made the standard this year, I am never in favor of giving an award for “least bad”; I think that “best” must always also be “good.” 
I live in a place called Farnborough in Hampshire. Farnborough’s main, indeed only claim to fame was that the first powered heavier-than-air flight in Britain took place here on 16th October 1908 Oct. 16, 1908. This feat was achieved by a Samuel Franklin Cody, who started life as Sam Cowdery, born in Davenport, Iowa, supposedly in 1867. 
Sam was a bit of a showman and wheeler-dealer, obtaining a second wife while still married to No. 1, and according to some tales, fleeing to England just ahead of the famous showman “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who was looking for him after young Sam apparently claimed to be related to his more famous namesake while appearing in a rival wild west show.
Anyway, Farnborough has managed to make the national news – and all because of a carpark! Farnborough town centre is “naff.” Think of everything that you could do to make a small town centre work, and then do the opposite – and that’s Farnborough. 
The main street was pedestrianized and planted with trees and grassed areas so that it was a relatively pleasant environment. Now that the trees have matured, they have all been cut down and the grass dug up and paved over, so we have a soulless concrete canyon. The only public open space remaining in the town centre has been sold off to build a hotel, in what is a questionable deal. 
All parking is charged for 24/7, even though there is no policy, technical or financial justification. 
A few years ago, the owners of most of the centre decided to redevelop part of the town and demolished some shops with apartments on top to build … some shops with apartments on the top. 
What nobody seemed to notice was that atop the new building was a rooftop carpark with about 75 spaces. So far, so good, but the building went up during the recession and, unfortunately, the builders didn’t build the ramp to access the carpark, meaning that for the last five years or so, these parking spaces have been sitting, all beautifully laid out and striped, with no way of getting to them! 
And that pretty much sums up my hometown, where local planners allowed a 16th century coaching inn to be converted into a drive-through McDonalds, even l though there is another of its drive-throughs about a mile up the road!
The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is one of those very British “quangos” that does something worthy, although no one knows quite what. To do whatever it is, NERC is spending $300 million building a new research ship and, in a moment of madness, invited the great unwashed British public to come up with a name for said ship. The runaway winner: Boaty McBoatface. Love it.
Peter Guest, a Consultant in the UK, is PT’s Editor-at-Large on all things British, European, Middle Eastern and Indian. Contact him at
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