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It’s Friday afternoon and love is in the air – a love of all things simple that is! I obviously include myself when talking of simple things…

It’s the acronym that has been around for years and I was reminded of it when browsing the web earlier. I am of course talking about the KISS principle – Keep It Simple Stupid. It is the perfect moto for any business, why confuse your customers with too much information when all they really want to know is the facts.

The internet is no exception to the rule and the most successful sites, i.e. the ones that get the most traffic are the simple ones. Google is the shining example which we can’t fail to mention, with a site that is so simple it does exactly what it says on the tin and I’d challenge anybody to struggle using it. is another internet example who had originally got it wrong although nobody realised until they changed it.

This is how it used to look.


This is how it looks now.

Traffic to their site has rocketed since.

Sometimes though choice, which is usually a good thing can have an adverse effect on the KISS principle. Take for example walking into Starbucks and asking for a regular coffee, something I did once when I was in New York. This created all kinds of confusion and they ended up giving me a white americano as the closest thing they could find. Who would walk into a gourmet coffee house and ask for a regular coffee!? Well I did.

So remember the KISS principle when coming up with that new product, that new design, that new training piece. Taking a step back can sometimes mean taking 2 steps forward.


call centreWe were filming last week at one of the UK’s largest call centres and as myself and Mark the sound recordist were wandering around a thought struck us. Now that kind of thing doesn’t happen very often so when it does it has to be a real revelation! Standing amidst the hum of a thousand phone conversations Mark asked me how much longer I thought call centres would exist in their current form.

It was a good question, one we debated right through dinner that night. The prediction we came up with could turn the industry on its head.

14,000 people go to work at this call centre every single day. Why? To work as part of a big team? Nope, they are on the phone all day working by themselves. To be with other people socially? Wrong again because most social interaction for a call advisor actually comes from callers themselves. Do they come in because they need a place to work from and the most important tool of their job – a phone? Well yes actually, that’s pretty much all it is!

So wait, let’s think about this. I’m a call advisor, I leave my house every morning and travel x amount of miles to work to sit at a desk with a phone and a computer. Sounds like most office jobs doesn’t it? The difference is the call advisor probably has all the tools they need at home to be able to do the job just as effectively.

In the age of Internet telephony and remote server login do we really need a physical call centre anymore? Why not just work from home?

The problem in recent years has been the cost of running a physical call centre, not so much the cost of the staff which are employed there. The result of this is of course the contraversial move by many organisations to shift their operations to cheaper countries like India.

My suggestion to companies musing over what could be the next generation of call centres is this; ditch the physical call centres and create a virtual one. Create a system which has a hub where all the calls are routed through to advisors in their own homes. Once people log on to the system from their homes it will work like any call centre call-routing system where when a call comes in it searches along the chain to find the next available advisor. Many people would be happier working from home, and possibly more efficient. All every employee would need is a broadband connection and a computer supplied. Then pay them a basic salary (just like now), an allowance for electricity and then the rest of their wage comes from commission (just like now).

Don’t forget a broadband connection is cheap and all the phone calls will go down this connection too.

For many organisations this could cut their costs by more than half. This would mean there would be less need for cheaper “offshore” solutions and much happier customers because they are talking to somebody on the same soil as themselves.

Sounds like a win:win situation to me.

Shall we make bets on when this will happen? I’d say before the end of this year. What do you think?

ikeaI visited an Ikea store at the weekend. It wasn’t my first time and won’t be the last either. I’d just like to state for the record that I don’t really enjoy it and usually get dragged there by my girlfriend. She thinks she likes it but always ends up coming out the other end feeling rather deflated that she didn’t find what she was looking for.

I don’t think I’m alone in my dislike as when I’m walking round the store I see many other people looking like I feel.

Ikea have a strange business model, one which tends to induce a zombie mentality into it’s customers – people blindly wandering along a predetermined route, a bit like being on a giant conveyor belt as cheap goods whizz past. If you see something you want you’d better make a note of it quick as the conveyor never stops or slows and if you want to go back it’s easier just to come out of the exit and start again.

The strange thing is that Ikea is big business.

This is how it works. People go to Ikea with a purpose, say for example a cupboard they want to buy but invariably they can’t find what they are looking for and end up buying something they didn’t want because it’s cheap and enticing.

The Ikea brand shouts cheap but at a reasonable quality and also stylish too. There are also very few stores around and this tends to promote desperation, you see one and you just have to pop in. Also some people travel hundreds of miles to visit a store and when they get there as a reward they are encouraged to stay with a wealth of very cheap but good food in their restaurants.

People don’t like the idea of missing out on the bargains either so when a new store opens or they have a sale on Ikea know exactly how to get the trade in using super time-limited deals.

This can and does cause chaos.

A new store opened in the UK last year and people got crushed trying to get in the doors. Worse still 3 people died, trampled to death when a store in Saudi Arabia re-opened in 2004 with the promise of credit vouchers for the shoppers.

Behavior like this is not acceptable and in many ways is similar to looting during a riot.

Is it the fault of Ikea that incidents like this happen or is it purely the greed of human nature?

monkeyThen send it to somebody else!

This handy web application allows you to delegate tasks to other people at certain future times.  All you have to do is give your monkey a recipient (an email address), a description, and a deadline.

Monkey On Your Back will send the recipient regular reminder emails to make sure they don’t forget.

Another handy Marton House Friday tip, I’m sure you’ll agree!

kaizenI was doing some filming earlier in the week at the BskyB call centre and I was impressed to note that the sales teams up there use the Kaizen mentality – they even have a whole wall dedicated to it!

If you remember from our earlier post, Kaizen is all about learning or doing something new everyday for continuous improvement and also to keep the mind fresh.

What did you do today that was new?

I am currently reading The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford….. In it he explores some of the tactics for targeting price insensitive & price sensitive customers. And I’ve always thought that organisations produced different products/services for the mass market and for the premium market and then charged accordingly. In this book however, Harford suggests that companies have a number of almost reverse selling strategies to deliberately target price insensitive customers. Here are some  examples:

1. Train operators could improve standard carriages but they don’t so they can contiune to charge a premium for 1st class. Likwise, airport departure lounges.

2.  Flight attendants some airlines who physically prevent economy passengers leaving until after 1st class. This sends a clear message to the 1st class passengers – keep paying for your expensive seats or next time you will be on the wrong side of the attendant.

3. Supermarkets deliberately make low cost/value lines look cheap and unappealing – not to keep costs down but to put people off buying them.

4. Software & hardware companies – who develop premimum products and then switch off certain functionality (at more expense) so they create a mass market version.

Do you consider yourself typically to be price sensitive or price insensitive? What about the people around you? What does it say about us? Have you come across other examples of this?

Sometimes we just need a reminder ….. If one jumps out at you and makes you think, or you share it with someone else, then it is worthwhile.

1. Take responsibility for your own development

2. When you stop learning you stop growing

3. Never punish a learner

4. Feedback is the breakfast of champions

5. It’s surprising how much you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit

6. You get from people what you expect

7. Positive thinkers get positive results

8. None of us is as great as all of us

9. Think big! Act big! Be big!

10. Never! Never! Never! Never! Give up!

I show this clip for three reasons…
One: it features the legendary Kammy as the purple ‘Outlook’. Kammy has acted with us in pieces for Abbey and Prudential. Personally I always saw him as ‘Powerpoint’.
Two: It reflects our cross computer platform way of working at Martonhouse.
Three: It’s odd how one image can change the way you think about a product. I’ll always see Word as a girl from now on.

What would your products look like? Who would play them? Would your colleagues agree? Perhaps a nice fun exercise to kick off a sales meeting. If you don’t all agree this must be because your opinions of products differ? Why might that be and let’s discuss it.

CobblersAccording to a recent Guardian article there are several trades involved in making a pair of shoes.

The Lastmaker makes the wooden form the shoe is made on
The Clicker who makes the pattern and does the “clicking” (cutting out the leather)
The Closer who sews the leather together, and…
The Shoemaker who puts the pieces together

Caroline Groves, who is a bespoke shoemaker does most of this herself – everything except the lastmaking (although a good “last” is a key requirement). She takes measurements and photos of the clients feet, she develops the style of the shoe with the client and they help select the material. Clients then wear a mock up for a little while to check and refine the fit. This for her is what “bespoke” means. Another interviewee, Peter Schwieger, explains “very often our clients can’t buy ready made shoes because they’ve got foot problems of one sort or another”.

This made me think about shoemaking as an analogy for learning theories and models. 

As a training provider we have a stock of materials that we believe are appropriate, resilient and of the best quality. We work in partnership with our clients to find out what their problems are; we find the best possible intervention we can (in line with budget and time) and we then find the best way of creating and delivering this using a range of media rich learning material. Clients are involved throughout this process and they then have the opportunity to test the fit with a pilot.

Two weeks ago I spent the day with Brian, our MD.  He was delivering a workshop to a group of Regional Financial Sales Managers from a leading bank. Most of this workshop featured a model called the Managerial Grid which is one of his firm favourites and has been used with many of our clients. It was written over 60 years ago but with some care and attention from our team we had a high impact model with exercises and handouts to work through. This raw material was shaped around the work lives of these managers; sewing the elements together with stories,  shared experiences and role playing.

Generic “off the shelf” is for us much less desirable as more effort is required by the learner to make it fit and is therefore more likely to be stored somewhere and never used again. Much like the several pairs of shoes I have that I can’t bear to throw out but I never actually wear.


Working from home can be really useful…. vital travel time can be used productively; you can concentrate on what you are doing without interuptions… and you can have a free lunch if you have a well stocked fridge!

However, working from home can often be frustrating – especially when it takes you half the morning to connect remotely to the office…. just to get that file that you conveniently left on your desktop!!

Some good advice here from the Training Journal Online; which basically says make sure you know how to use your laptop; how to access your organisations server and make sure you have a back up plan so you can work even if you can’t log on.

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