Thanks All ‘Round!

These days, we spend most of our time searching for answers and handing out advice. But since it’s Thanksgiving here in Panoptika’s world, we think a little gratitude is in order.

We’re thankful for a great collection of clients, both large and small. We appreciate the trust you’ve put in us, to be the ones to spend time with your precious customers, getting to know their wants, needs, and ideas. We’re grateful for all the interesting projects we’ve had the pleasure of completing over the past year. And we’re thrilled to have had the chance to travel, meeting new people and experiencing different places along the way.

Much obliged,

Megann and Steve


We’re in a Canadian State of Mind

Canadian SouvenirsAround Panoptika’s place these days, we’re thinking about Canada Day. We make a big deal of our National holiday, uncharacteristically waving the flag (okay, we do that every day), and celebrating with friends and family. We like to listen to the CBC all day. We like to eat strawberry shortcake made in the shape of said flag. The main beverage is beer, although we’ve been known to partake in some wine from Niagara, or BC, or Nova Scotia, depending on where we are, on the day. We’ve spent the day travelling across the country in a hot car because one of our parents has been transferred from one end of the dominion to another. We’ve spent it at a friend’s cottage, lazily paddling around the lake. It nearly always involves a golf course. Or a barbecue party. Or a crazy household project. Or if we’re in Quebec, moving.

But this doesn’t just happen at our house. Across the pond, at Brother Rob’s place in Bicester, the annual Canada Day Golf Tournament will be underway. A motley crew of Brits will be thwacking a small white ball around, competing for a carefully curated collection of Canadiana. And this made us realize something. Being Canadian isn’t just about where you are. It’s not even just about who you’re with. This great country of ours is something we celebrate and carry with us, no matter where we travel. People recognize us as Canadians because of our inner Canadian-ness. You might say it’s because wherever we go, whatever we do, we’re in a Canadian state of mind.

Happy Canada Day, one and all,

Megann and Steve

The Big One is Coming

Everyone seems to be tightly programmed these days, with very little leeway to adapt or change their schedules. Then suddenly there’s a “Big One”. Some sort of event arrives that wreaks havoc and throws a wrench into the best-laid plans. This week, it’s the weather. Here in North America a massive winter storm is ramping up. Some major airports have already closed. Appointments are being re-scheduled. Travellers are re-routing. Logistics companies are adjusting and adapting. Cities and towns are preparing their emergency response teams and activating contingency plans.

As strategists, we encourage clients to look to the future. We encourage them to make a plan, and work the plan; to avoid being sidelined by distractions. But as facilitators and moderators, we also know that sometimes the way to the goal is not a straight path. We need to be willing to take a detour; to follow a different route than we had originally planned. We’ll get the answers we need, eventually, but often not in the way we expected. So over the next few days, if Mother Nature is blocking your path, think about the detour, and what opportunities you might discover if you take a different route to achieving your goal.

Safe travels,

Megann and Steve

St-Louis de Ha-Ha just Isn’t that Funny Anymore

It was a dark and stormy night…well, not that stormy. But it was getting dark, cold, and it was a Sunday, in rural Quebec, just outside of St-Louis de Ha-Ha. Our car broke down and we needed a tow truck. Couldn’t we just call the CAA? No, because we had let our membership lapse. In two years, we had never once needed a tow. Besides, we had a full service and checkup done on the car, just before we left.

Fortunately, we did get safely off the highway. We did have a Rogers Rocket Mobile internet stick with us. So we could search for towing companies; and hotels. Megann’s French is pretty passable, so she could converse even with the unilingual tow-truck drivers who answered their cell phones (and express her frustration when they wouldn’t come out on a Sunday night). Finally, we managed to get a tow from Belzile Auto, from Squatec. (Ironically, the driver is one of the local CAA towing services). We also discovered an amazing town, Cabano, which we highly recommend. Tante Lou’s Pizza is awesome. The Econo Lodge staff provided clean, comfortable rooms, plenty of sympathy, and a patient willingness to let us practice our French on them. Everyone in Cabano went out of his or her way to be helpful. We were especially impressed with the Garage Guildo Morneau, who looked at our car and determined the problem, and when they found it was something that would have to be repaired elsewhere, charged us nothing for their time and trouble.

Lessons learned?

  1. It’s hard to convince a customer to buy your product when they have been paying for it for awhile, but have never needed it. (But keep trying, CAA, and yes, we have renewed our membership!)
  2. Even when you want to disconnect, decompress, and otherwise hide away, technology is your friend.
  3. You can still depend on the kindness of strangers.

Wishing you all safe travels, wherever you may go,

Megann and Steve

Customer Service Doesn’t Mean Playing by the Rules

I can be quite negative about my experiences with Customer Service.  It seems that most people in Service Industries get by doing the bare minimum; smile, look directly at the person you are serving, be polite, etc., followed by inevitable “Have a Nice Day”.

Last Friday I had a great day!  Here’s the story:

A couple of days earlier my Blackberry had somehow slipped out of my jacket and found its way under a chair in the Maple Leaf Lounge (MLL) at Montreal airport.  I notice it missing when I got to the gate for my flight, quickly ran back up looking for it, but could not see it.  I asked the employee working the desk, who asked the cleaners….but no luck.

I dutifully notified Bell that it was missing, and they suspended the service, I notified Air Canada’s Lost Baggage service, who seemed to have trouble understanding how to record this occurrence, and started researching my replacement device.  I was sure it was gone forever.

Two days later there was a message on my home phone from Barbara in the MLL.  She had been checking around the lounge during a quiet time and had spotted my phone.  She found my contact information on it and called to tell me she had it.  At this point, I suspect the standard Customer Service Handbook would have instructed her to turn the phone over to the lost baggage office for them to follow up.  Perfectly understandable and acceptable.

But Barbara realised that these days your “mobile device” is often your lifeline to the world.  So she offered to courier the phone back to me so that I wouldn’t have to go through any more trouble.   I was suitably appreciative, I hope.  In fact I was stunned that this person who didn’t know me, worked for an organization that we Canadians love to dismiss as “Customer Phobic” would take her personal time to make my life easier.

Thank you Barbara for continuing to enhance my respect for the human touch in Customer Relations.

Keeping on focusing on the customer,

Steve and Megann

P.S. By the way Barbara, I sent a note to Air Canada praising you for your help.  I hope it helps them continue to focus on letting their employees solve their customer’s problem.

Lucky You!

“Lucky you!” said our colleague’s email this morning, when we told her we’d been to England and back for a brief 5-day holiday with family and friends.  She’s right, of course. How many people get a chance to jet off to another continent for the weekend?  But the reason that we were lucky on this particular occasion didn’t have as much to do with good fortune, than it did with taking advantage of an unexpected opportunity, and having faith in the future.

Back in the winter, when business was abysmally slow, and the clients we did have were stretching out payments longer, and longer, and…well, you get the picture, we got a notice for a seat sale.  We’d need to buy three tickets.  Two were a regular discount fare to Eastern Canada, but the third was a bonus ticket to any one of a number of fabulous world cities including London, for just $199 (Canadian!), taxes and fees included.  We thought about this very carefully.  We, as many people, are being much more frugal.  Did this make sense?  We looked carefully at our budget, figured out how to come up with the money (goodbye, new shoes), and decided it did.

Our rationale was threefold: it was an opportunity to see more of our family this year, including Megann’s 95-year-old grandmother, Gladys Hergett, in Nova Scotia, and Steve’s brother Rob, who teaches in the UK.  Secondly, we’ve lived through downturns before, and if we didn’t have faith that things would turn around by the time the travel dates arrived, we felt we’d simply be giving up.  Finally, whenever we go away for a few days and experience new sights and sounds, the creative juices seem to get flowing and we do a better job of coming up with unique ways to serve our customers.  (OK, a fourth reason: when you’re an entrepreneur and take a holiday, business inevitably picks up!)

So we’re suggesting you go out and make some luck for yourselves today.  Go somewhere, read something new and different, or take any small step that will give you a fresh perspective.

Here’s to luck,

Megann & Steve

Pioneers, We Salute You!

This week we’ll be away from our office most of the week, so we’re planning, organizing, and trying to get a head start on the things we won’t be able to do while we’re gone. Thanks to technology, that list has become much shorter than in the past. 

But it also brought to mind, all of the people we’ve met on our travels. We all have a collection of “travel archetypes” in our mind; think of the term “road warrior” and you can probably form an almost instantaneous mental picture. In fact we think that this particular stereotype is so commonplace that it may be impacting people’s view of business travel so powerfully that they (and that includes business travellers themselves) have difficulty seeing business travel in a positive light. In fact, they may even be confused or embarrassed if they actually feel good about packing a suitcase and heading away from home.

We think that needs to change. Going away from our home or office gives us a chance to do things differently. It’s a way to see new places or form fresh connections with places we’ve been before. It can make us better planners and organizers, and it gives us a chance to expand our network. So we like to think of ourselves not as “road warriors” but maybe “road explorers”, or on a really great travel day, full of discoveries and moments of serendipity, “road pioneers”. We like to use our time on the road coming up with new ways to solve problems and generate ideas.

So the next time someone says to us, “Gee, it must be tough being on the road so often”, or asks, “Isn’t it hard, all that travel”, we’ll give them a firm and enthusiastic, “No way!” Then we’ll tell them about our latest adventure and how it’s made us better, wiser, faster, or stronger.

If you’re on the road this week, and are happy to be there, we salute you!

Megann & Steve