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  • Liz Whitaker

When did you last speak to your Kevin?

Diamonds in the data. Sense from chaos. This is the rationale driving Propella and The Power of Personal. So, in the annual gloom and doom of rail fare increases, spectacular rail franchise failures and general frustration at public transport, I bring you a ray of light that involves … a human called Kevin who rights a very big wrong involving an item that it is both totally worthless and utterly priceless. It's a ray of light that shines a light on who your reputation depends on.

This is a from a personal story published in The Times by Emma Duncan, deputy editor at The Economist, How to turn life’s blunders into triumphs - A train firm saved itself, not to mention my daughter, a lot of trouble thanks to an attitude that should inspire us all.

It is a triumph of H2H/P2P marketing if ever I saw one.

Here’s the gist of the story (link here if you subscribe to The Times).

  • Emma’s student daughter is traveling home from Durham to King’s Cross on LNER with a “very large suitcase” that contains all her possessions including, Waddles, her toy penguin who has been with her since she was three. You’re probably guessing where this is going.

  • Arrives King’s Cross. Suitcase missing from the secure luggage van. Emma; “Looking for help, she [the daughter] found various people in LNER uniforms who said things along the lines of ‘nothing to do with me, guv’ ‘I’m not on shift’ and ‘you’d better report it to the police’”.

  • Stirred by her wailing daughter, Emma goes to help. “I was as angry as a rogue elephant needled by the spears of a thousand tribesmen. I would happily have trampled the entire board of LNER while strangling the chairman with my trunk”.

  • Enter Kevin, ‘a man towering above a small information booth beside the ticket office’. He listened, called in management, sent Emma and daughter to First Class Lounge to await developments.

  • Kevin reappeared an hour later with “glad tidings of great joy”. He had called all the stations along the route until the suitcase was discovered and it was dutifully returned on the 19.18 from Newark, arriving Platform 3.

  • Emma’s verdict “LNER was the best company in the world.” I expect these are not words familiar to LNER.

So what’s this got to do with your business and the advice in my book?

  • Kevin is one of the typical “invisible” employees outlined on page 46 “who, often unknowingly, represent your organisation by managing vital touchpoints.” In Kevin’s case he is one of 3250 LNER employees and, if 'management' were not on first name terms with him, I bet they are now! Your Kevins (and their female equivalents, obviously) are one of those 11 touchpoints in Google’s ZMOT (page 34). Our take is that introducing personalisation into the ZMOT journey for potential new clients would vastly enrich the quality of that individual experience and may speed up, or even determine, the final decision in your favour. For existing clients and contacts, personalisation at key touchpoints can strengthen loyalty (a primary measure on the Propella grid see page 103 onwards). We recommend you identify all your touchpoints using our Touchpoint 100 Checklist to see how well you’re managing them. Problem/complaint handling is one of those touchpoints and, as Emma highlights in her article; “The problem is never the original error but how you dealt with it”.

  • Kevin demonstrated total empathy with this customer. He demonstrated what Daniel Pink calls “the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position and to intuit what that person is feeling.” Empathy is everything in The Power of Personal (page 37) and many readers have commented on its compelling combination of EQ and IQ. Beyond the empathy, Kevin was interested in finding a solution, see page 263 (Be interested – it’s priceless) “all clients deserve positivity and a can-do attitude”. This might have been the one thousandth lost property issues he’d been asked about. But he behaved as if it was the most important he’d ever dealt with. He went beyond expectations (giving the access to First Class was touch of genius!). How would you rate your corporate empathy which, if you think about it, is as strong as your weakest link?

  • All day, every day, people are looking at your business for a reason” (Page 47) and, fact is, you never know who you are dealing with so it's important to get it right for everybody. In this case Kevin was dealing with the deputy editor of the Economist – I’d say that’s a Prize media contact to have on your side. In this case, a Prize (page 160) converted into an Ambassador (page 144), published in The Times and read by thousands of people. That is the joy of Ambassadors, they do the work for you. In the time spent on resolving this problem, Kevin probably achieved more positive media coverage than a whole department of media relations professionals would have done that week (or even month …).

  • A great example of generosity of spirit – thoughtfulness not thoughtlessness which is covered extensively in the final chapter on page 260 (Generosity of spirit – your greatest untapped resource). Something his colleagues did not demonstrate. Instead he paid attention – a quality identified by Simone Weil as “the rarest and purest form of generosity”. That one act of thoughtfulness will last a lifetime and sets the bar high.

Scan your organisation now (think front of house, who is answering phones, catering team) and think about how many Kevins are representing your business. Call one of them (see telephone calls, page 278) or stop by to talk to them. If you know of someone who has done something exceptional in your business, write them a handwritten thank-you note (page 276). It will make their day. And although you don’t know it yet, it could well make yours.

P.S. Because I know someone will want to know .... there were a zillion toy penguin pix to choose from but I went for this one available from

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