Feel free to fire me your questions – the theme for the debate is going to the Future of Communications Security, which gives rise to the hashtag for this debate: #comsecfuture
Tag Archive for: siphon
I am what people politely refer to as a “prosumer” when it comes to coffee. Suffice to say, Google Now tells me about driving time to two locations on a Saturday morning – the St John Ambulance operations center and the Starbucks Dunleavy Drive Thru and I will invariably have gone to at least one if not both before the day is out.
So you’d think that given that I drive past a Starbucks twice a day that I’d be in there at least 3 times a week…but I’m not. I simply don’t go there – possibly once or twice a year if I’m desperate. In fact, if I want a coffee, I will go out of my way to avoid this store and head down to the Dunleavey Drive Through instead. So what’s so bad about this one Starbucks store?
The secret is, it’s not Starbucks. I’ve been in a few of these and they almost invariably suffer the same problem – although they’re branded identically to a normal Starbucks store, have the same menu and offer the same basic drinks, this isn’t a Starbucks store. This is Starbucks branded store inside a Welcome Break motorway service station. They don’t take Starbucks cards and worst of all, they don’t seem to have the same training or care that you get in a true Starbucks store. Starbucks is all about the customer experience, they chat with you; they name your coffee; if your coffee isn’t how you want it, tell them and they’ll make it again just the way you want. Almost entirely across the Welcome Break chain, every Starbucks branded store I’ve been to has sullen, uninterested employees more reminiscent of a McDonalds. And the coffee? I like Starbucks, especially their drive to bring better quality beans as part of their Origins beans. I like that the Starbucks card gives me discounts as a loyal customer. I like that I can use the Starbucks card in any Starbucks over the world – in the USA, in Holland or even in Hong Kong…but I can’t use it in Welcome Break.
Starbucks have truly done themselves a disservice in the UK with this tactic. These aren’t branded as “Proudly serving Starbucks coffee” stores who buy the raw materials but aren’t Starbucks, they’re branded exactly like a regular store. Without going inside and going to buy something, I can’t tell whether this is a regular store or a watery facsimile of a real store. And that, is the problem – the brand doesn’t distinguish them. Starbucks UK have allowed their brand to be diluted – this great customer service that has drawn people into their stores builds a huge brand following and loyalty, but this business strategy means that my experience in their stores is hit and miss.
This really hit home recently when the key staff in Siphon sat down and reviewed our strategy and values as a company. After the acquisition of VCOMM in 2012, we’ve been busy integrating the systems, processes and services of the two companies. We realised earlier this year that as part of that process we hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about the culture and values that were coming out of this period and decided it was time to take stock. Part of what we did was to think about our brand as a company and how we want to be perceived and I’m really proud of the value statements we put together. We’re justifiably proud of our brand – over the last 5 years we’ve delivered really high quality work to our customers that have improved their service and by association, improved the service that thousands of their customers receive. Much of our work is on word of mouth which goes a long way to showing what our customers think of us. it’s been 5 years of hard, diligent work for us, so it’s even more perplexing to me that Starbucks is diluting this good will.
What are you doing that devalues your brand?
Just around Christmas we announced the acquisition of VCOMM, previously a subsidiary of Coms PLC. With all of the integration work that’s going on at the moment work has been pretty busy, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about what this means for my team and I – I’m sure our MD, Steve Harris would have plenty to say on the commercial side, but I’m going to focus on the technical and service delivery aspects.
Those people who read this blog who are our customers are already familiar with the incredible quality of service that we already offer. We’ve made it a point that any new product we bring on board isn’t sold until we understand the equipment, how to design networks with it, deploy it, configure it, break it, fix it and debug it. We make a point of knowing the products well enough that most of the questions we see are answered within the team and not escalated to the vendor. As a result, we close some 75% of tickets in-house. This has resulted in some interesting feedback including one customer who’s a major UK provider of hosted telephony remarking that he would groan when we said we’d have to escalate to a vendor as he knew it wouldn’t be resolved quickly.
Of course, this kind of knowledge doesn’t happen overnight, so products in the VCOMM range that we don’t know will take a little time to get to that standard, however there’s some crossover there that we can take advantage of immediately. Our ideals and goals that our technical team applies to the work we do will apply equally to the work we do with the VCOMM customers, something I think will benefit everyone in the long run.
Although this isn’t going to have a significant impact on our operations in Siphon immediately we’re working hard to make sure that whatever changes we make are for the better for both companies – and I can tell you that the team is excited by the acquisition and the opportunities it’s going to bring us and our customers!
I was in a meeting recently discussing a new business opportunity. As part of the discussion, we were talking about processes by which companies select contracts and the concept of an ebay-style auction which I’d not come across before. When it was explained to me, I was aghast.
If you’re not familiar with the process, it starts quite simply with a Company announcing that they have a project or a purchase to make and requesting people tender. This is pretty normal and a number of companies will respond with details of how they would meet the Company’s requirements and what else they can bring to the table. A team of people will evaluate each of these responses – some will be discarded outright as they don’t meet the requirements. Others will be visited, probed, researched and will answer questions, provide demonstrations and generally invest a large amount of time and money in the process. Eventually a list will be drawn up of those companies that the team believes could technically fulfil the requirements.
Then those short-listed suppliers will get a link to a website. There, they will see the contract they’re bidding for. During a set period, they will bid against each other to win – with the obvious difference from ebay that the lowest bidder wins.
That sounds eminently sensible and fiscally responsible. And, to me, it sounds completely and utterly insane. It’s pushing everyone towards the lowest common denominator; to provide the minimum necessary to clear that bar; telling people not to bother – it’s driving mediocrity.
What am I on about?
When I joined SIPhon I had a purpose – I wanted to make sure that when someone spoke about us, they said “Those guys are awesome”. I wanted people to remember us because we were excellent. Because we did incredible work. Because we helped them to make their service and their company better. I was tired of people saying that VoIP was a poor cousin to traditional communications. That it was a budget technology. I wanted to show that we could make a difference.
So we built a company that did that and did it well. We’re good at what we do. We’re flexible. We’re able to all that because we’ve got good people. And this – all of this – this is what makes us better than the next guy.
But what does any of that matter in this system? So long as we can meet the minimum, why pay more, right?
Have you ever had a business relationship that ended up the same as it started? Relationships grow. Companies grow. Nothing stays the same and you often have no idea where the future will take you. Our best partners are those that learn and grown and help us grow with them. Our best customers are those that learn and grown and let us help them grow. But all that requires flexibility. It requires excellence.
There’s no space in that bidding system for excellence – it just keeps driving mediocrity.
I’m not a specialist on purchasing or business so I might be missing something here – if you know what that is, drop me a line below or email me directly. I’m always happy to learn.