My dear friends,
I am writing an au revoir note to all of my friends in the MSPA and in the CX industry. I have just sold my last interest in a company operating in this business arena, 4Service, and have decided that now is the time to move on. There is nothing sinister in this decision, I am not unwell, I have just chosen to move on after 33 years in MS. I am doing a lot of writing these days and really enjoying it; maybe I’ll even publish someday, who knows?
However, I don’t want to just fade away with people wondering what happened to little Harv. Instead, I want to thank the MSPA and some of the very special friends that I have made during my journey and adventures in the business of mystery shopping and CX.
I first organised a mystery shopping visit in 1988, for Barclays Bank. I had won an annual contract to visit their 2,300 branches monthly and then had to decide how we could do it. Different times with different technology but it rapidly became obvious to me that there was a good business there. So we did more and fine-tuned our techniques until we could get it right, most of the time. Then 10 or so years later, along came MSPA in the shape of Mike Bare and Mark Michelson from the U.S. telling us that they had invented MS (when clearly, I had) and the Queen of MSPA, Veronica Boxberg Karlsson from Sweden; and a meeting in Amsterdam to sow the seeds for a much more authoritative industry. I was very happy to be involved with these very creative business people and we became good friends. I helped to define the rules and regulation for MS in Europe, spoke at MSPA conferences around the world, and ran training courses that I particularly enjoyed. Eventually, I am proud to say, I was appointed chairman of MSPA Europe.
But I had businesses to run, and clients to find and service, so having so many good friends across the MSPA world made international development so much easier over the next few years. During this period and later, I was involved with some truly remarkable people running their own businesses. Jan-Willem Smulders from The Netherlands, many Americans [you know who you are] and entrepreneurs from Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Croatia, Spain, Portugal. Brazil, Belgium, Germany, Australia, Georgia, France, Italy, Pakistan, Ireland etc, and of course Chris White and Nigel Cover and many others from the UK. Speaking of which, the remarkable Jamie Thorpe deserves a big mention here; we go back a long way.
I merged QAS, my company in the UK, with ESA in 2000 and we sold ESA in 2004. I then became a consultant and investor, involved with Jan-Willem at AQ in helping to develop his business into the Far East, and then with Alex Tsysar in the Ukraine developing 4Service dramatically in Eastern Europe and Russia, and carrying out Scheduling across the World. I very much enjoyed working with them both.
I know that I am in a very privileged position but I feel that I should say something about managing clients. I need to get this off my chest. They are a vital part of any business. You love ‘em; you hate ‘em. I have dealt with thousands of clients over the years, small, large, local, international, and across every market segment, so I have a qualified perspective.
My overriding feeling is that far too many clients are not very good at buying and integrating information services into their own organisations and then ensuring that it is used to their best benefit. There are of course some outstanding exceptions to this observation, and I am still in touch with a particular long-term client who was extraordinarily good and became a good friend. However, many clients seem to think that demanding an unrealistically low price, super-fast delivery and 100% accuracy is all that they have to do; coupled with being unavailable rude aggressive and overly-demanding a lot of the time. Good clients discover that having a true partner is the best way to get the best long-term service and results. This of course applies to every industry not just our own.
In fact, I learned that the wrong over-demanding client at the wrong price can do great harm to your business. I have sacked clients who have created havoc in my business, and I recommend that you do the same if you need to. You may then have happier staff and shoppers, a much improved bottom line, and you can pass the problem on to a competitor.
On a more positive note, although MS is now considered a little passe in favour of CX and enhanced analytics, I feel that there is still a very substantial business there across the world. You just have to offer it in a relevant useful and integrated fashion.
I am winding to a finish. So, let me thank everybody in this industry particularly Nikky Alkemade, who has been involved with MSPA Europe for more than 20 years and does a terrific job. I am aware that I have been lucky but you have to work hard and get the important things right to be that lucky.
And finally, having run businesses in this industry for a long time, people have asked me for advice over the years. So, let me finish with a few pieces …..…….in no particular order…
- Whenever possible get home for dinner with your partner, and to see the kids to bed. In these days of working from home, I guess this is about separating work from home-life and achieving the best balance for both.
- Love and respect the people you work with, only then can they truly reciprocate.
- Manage the cash in your business as though it was your own; often it is.
- Always pay your shoppers fairly and on time.
- Do not accept the presence of unprofitable or bullying clients in your business; sack them if you have to, quickly.
- If you feel entrepreneurial and are confident that you have something special to offer, GO FOR IT!
- Never enter into a fifty-fifty business ownership partnership.
- If you are really entrepreneurial, sell your first business at the first reasonable opportunity. Then do it again if that’s what you want to do.
- Do not try to cheat the taxman. He will win in the end.
- And most importantly, have fun and enjoy what you do.
I have enjoyed the ride.