July 26, 2008

Troubling Times? Consider This...

Some time ago whilst visiting London, I passed by a construction site which had the usual mix of safety signage and notice-boards affixed to the hoarding. But one notice in particular stuck out for me. It announced that the building company at that site was a member of the 'Considerate Constructors Scheme'.

A member of the Considerate Constructors' Scheme?

My first reaction was to laugh at the idea, as it conjured up images of burly brutes in safety-helmets and high-viz vests outdoing each other with 'After you! No, after you...Bill, I insist you go first' and 'Sorry son, is that draught bothering you?'

Not to mention steaming mugs of tea in great paws with pinky finger delicately crooked.

But the notion has stuck in my mind ever since and once I stopped smiling long enough to think it through properly, I've grown convinced that it's a great idea.

Someone, somewhere, has clearly recognised that builders have a reputation for thoughtlessness and instead of pretending it wasn't true or hoping it would go away, decided to grasp the nettle and publicly tackle both the problem and the perception.

Intrigued, I investigated further and found a Considerate Constructor Scheme website which didn't feature a weather-worn and tattooed Miss Manners but did include a How To Be Considerate section, which in turn had a Code of Practice and Checklist ('How have those affected by the site's activities been identified and have they been informed about the site's activities?'; 'Are road names and other existing signs still visible?').

How about if this were extended to other trades and professions: The Good Listener Taxi Driver Scheme; The Plain Speaking Politician Programme; The On-Time Service Engineer Plan?

Seriously though, pretty much every line of work comes with its own baggage in the mind of the customer. People working in communications like me often have a well-earned reputation for spinning: gilding the lily and employing smoke and mirrors to mislead or manipulate (not to mention mangling metaphors!). Perhaps we need our own Tell-It-Like-It-Is Scheme?

In these challenging (OK, OK, troubled) times, there's a great opportunity for each of us to tackle whatever perceptions undermine our customer's confidence in what we do and make a real virtue of our courage. In an environment of great change and upheaval, the seller who doesn't hide from the truth is hugely attractive.

Money-back guarantees work in this way. So does Java Republic's resistance to the "pressures that see most roasters mass-producing crap coffee with no regard for growers, roasting techniques, or flavour." How about a property developer that admits to the sharp practices that dog that particular sector?

Ask yourself: What are the fears that niggle in the mind of my customer?

Rather than pretend they don't exist or hoping that the customer doesn't notice, why not grasp those particular nettles and uproot them in plain view of your customer? And then publicly commit to being the exception they can trust.

That's a powerful message in these troubled times and one that would truly set a business apart.

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