Notices are one of those things that give me nervous twitches. If you want a clue about what an organisation is like, read its notices. A notice is so often a sign of a glitch in the works. For the sake of my sanity, I have named these glitches cucumbers, as explained in a previous post.
This is only partly a neurosis. My reasoning comes from reading notices and observing that they are so often forbidding or negative. Sometimes they are documented proof of procrastination – why fix a problem today when you can stick on a badly written notice? Some of us use a notice to relieve frustration: wild and underlined scribbles about ‘please shut the bloody door’, for example. Finally, notice writers have a habit of using negative, official and even poorly spelt phrases. ‘These Gent’s are OUT OF ORDER for Decorating Purposes. Use the floor above’ might be replaced with ‘these loos are being decorated to make them nicer for you. They should be fresh, bright and ready again on Friday. Please use other loos upstairs in the meantime’. We would probably all agree that reading the second notice might at least put us in a better frame of mind, and may avoid inconvenient misunderstandings.
In companies, angry notices are often for the benefit of employees, which is bad enough. The notices that I find most puzzling are those which are used to boss customers around – or even worse to announce that a product or service is lacking in some way. Hotels with ‘guests are kindly requested…’ notices are really saying ‘we find you troublesome and would rather you didn’t keep doing irritating things’. For ‘please queue here’ read ‘get on the naughty step’. In my head, the best thing is to design an environment so that you don’t have to bark at your customer in parking ticket language. If something is broken, fix it. If you want customers to queue, design your floor so that it’s just easy and obvious to see where to go.
And so to the Next cucumber. I was in a Next store recently. I had already noticed that they were behind with their payment systems – you can’t pay with contactless. More and more customers want to use their contactless cards and even their phones to pay. The two important words in that sentence are ‘customers want’. Instead of caving in to what customers want, the company remains obstinately chip and pin years after the introduction of the friendlier ways to pay. All the machines in the store had the same notice on each handset ‘not contactless, sorry’. It was someone’s job on a particular day to write it out a hundred times, like a schoolchild in detention.
In business schools these days, there is a lot of talk about the voice of the customer. An equal amount of time is given to employee engagement. Billions are spent searching for clues about what customers want and what will make employees more productive. And yet the clues are there to see – just look on the notices, stickers and banners under our noses.
I have just about enough self-awareness to realise that I might be wrong. It may be that notices are the way ahead. Perhaps we are all so bored with nice, polite communication that a terse scrawl is the best conveyor of messages and ideas. If so, just to cover a potential hole in our company’s marketing collateral, PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING:
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Don’t get me wrong, they can be useful. There are those workshops where people slap them around on walls with words like ‘OPTIMISM’ and ‘EMPOWERMENT’ scrawled on them. I am sure that can help but it’s a bit earnest for my taste. I prefer quiet reflection.
I used to be quite calm about door wedges before I worked at Fireco. Even on fire doors. In hotels, universities, factories – in any place you can think of, the door wedge rules. It’s cheap, it’s effective and it’s lethal.
When I was ten, I remember playing with a compressed air vice where my Dad worked designing and selling automation products. He was in his office, probably wondering which hydrocheck or solendoid operated valve to use and happily smoking.