Strawberries and Cream versus Worms and Grasshoppers

Last week I began reading the much-lauded ‘How to win friends and influence people’ by Dale Carnegie.  Having sold more than 15 million copies globally since its original release in 1936, I was intrigued to see how Carnegie’s tips on human interaction might apply to winning and keeping customers 78 years on.

Here are a few things I picked out for your consideration, though I would recommend the book in full.

Connecting with Customer wants

Put simply, we are all interested in what we want.  It affects our decision-making more than we realise. Henry Ford stated that the key to success was “the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle.”  A Customer, for example, may not want to be sold something, but if a salesperson can show how their goods or services can solve a customer’s problems they will want to buy it.

Carnegie illustrates this idea through his love of fishing.  Although he is personally fond of strawberries and cream, when choosing bait he defers to the fish’s preference for worms and grasshoppers.  The same common sense applies to fishing for customers or business opportunities, and yet how often do we see businesses adapting in this way?

Building trusted relationships with Customers

Here’s Carnegie’s essence of a trusted relationship.  These brief hints are covered in greater detail in the book:

  1. Be positive and friendly.  Smile.  Never criticise or complain.  Avoid arguments, show respect, and never tell a Customer they are wrong.
  2. Be appreciative.  It may sound like old news, but expressing sincere appreciation strengthens relations and taps into the human need to feel wanted and important.  Carnegie describes this as the secret to success.
  3. Be Customer centred.  Show a genuine interest in the Customer and talk in terms of their interests.  Try to understand their point of view and sympathise with their challenges.
  4. Be transparent.  If you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.  People want to feel important, so are more likely to take a magnanimous view of your mistakes if you are open and contrite.  This is particularly sound advice if the alternative is to be rebuked by the Customer.

Passing the test of time

In the quest to win customers and influence people I would recommend the study and application of these principles. Ours are unprecedented times, with business relationships (both internal and external) coming under increasing pressure.  Inevitably new business models and methods will emerge, but in the field of human relationships, the value of understanding ‘How to win friends and influence people’ will surely outlive this crisis and many more.

The Power of Love

As a man that had to ask an exasperating three times before getting the right response (and even then it wasn’t convincing!) I won’t pretend I have much to teach about romantic engagement proposals.  I met my better half in the library, and well leave it at that.


This week I have been reading a fascinating report which focuses on ‘engagement’ of a very different kind.  The ‘2007-2008 Towers Perrin Global Workforce Study’ demonstrates an interesting relationship between workforce engagement and business performance. 


This study shows that companies with highest employee engagement achieve better financial results and are able to retain their most valued employees.  For example, companies with high engagement saw operating income increase 19% over one year, while earnings per share grew by 28%.  Conversely, companies with low engagement saw income fall by more than 32%, and EPS by more than 11% over the same period.  Other findings outlined in the study further demonstrate the correlation between engagement and performance.


The downside to these revelations is the finding that of approx 90,000 participants, only 21% were ‘engaged’ (i.e. willing to go the extra mile to help the business succeed) whereas 38% were wholly or partly disengaged.  So how should companies seek to bridge this engagement gap?


No one magic formula to engaging the workforce was identified in the study, although leadership style and work environment were clearly key factors.  Employees were willing to give more of themselves for their employer (and like to be rewarded for it too!) but needed to know that management cared.  Worryingly, only 40% of employees in the study felt that the organisation they worked for had their best interests at heart. 


Coincidentally (or maybe not) experts say the secret to successful relationships is putting the other person’s interests first, and it would seem that organisations aren’t all that different.  As I’ve discovered from my 5 years of matrimonial bliss, you start with love and the pounds (or Kilograms if you prefer) soon follow.

What's The Big Idea?

Following on from yesterday’s insight from Andy Hornby, we promised you a first look today at some exciting developments. So here goes. Well firstly, there are four big ideas. No, make that four and a half.

1 – Cut the distance between our customers and us.
2 – Ambassadorise everyone
3 – Ban incentives
4 – Go public!
4.5 – Personal Service

Cut the distance between our customers and us.

By the time customer feedback makes it from the front line to the policy makers, it has passed through so many filters that it bears little resemblance to its original self. We then go ahead and make policy decisions based on this distorted view. Devolve the decision making close to the edge of the organisation. Speed up.

Ambassadorise everyone

You know when you are down the pub and someone asks “who do you work for?” I think I’ll keep that to myself in case the next question is “well my phone line/broadband/mobile etc etc ain’t working, who do I call?” Use knowledge management to enable me to find the answer and get back to my drinking buddy and solve his problem with him. If 100,000 BT people did that for 5 of their friends….that’s a lot of great customer experiences!

Ban incentives

Are we actually paying people to do dumb things? Everyone comes to work wanting to do a good job and intrinsically they know what’s right. Then we go and spoil it all by offering financial incentives which drive the wrong behaviour. How can that be good for us and our customers?

Go public!

Use the power of social media to share stuff with, and learn stuff from, our customers! Get blogging, facebooking, myspaceing, whatever. Set up a problem blog on, be open and encourage customers and BT people to answer the questions. The blog you are reading right now came about as a direct response to this idea. We’ve seen evidence of Twitter being used as a means of improving the customer experience too.

Personal Service

Something else that came up repeatedly was the power of the single point of contact. Most of our positive experiences involved the personal touch. So why not replicate that in BT. When you have a customer contact you, it is your responsibility to deal with it, own it and fix it, on behalf of your customer. Personal service from BT – how powerful.
We had great fun coming up with these ideas and we’re working on bringing them to life.

Can we make them work…what do you think?