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What Could You Learn From a Bunch of Clowns?

James Lawther

James Lawther has worked for 20 years (and a bit more) in all sorts of operational roles, from counting frozen peas to chasing tax avoiders. Currently he is the Head of Operational Excellence for a FTSE 100 company. He writes about customer service operations at Squawk Point,

It was raining, hard.

I was stuck in a small holiday cottage with two children, both under 10.  Screaming, fighting, whining and moaning in the way that only children can.

And the rain had turned into a storm.

Then I stumbled over an advert for the circus, the Moscow State Circus no less.  In desperation I booked 3 tickets. 

I’d hoped for something to amuse the children, something that would keep them quiet for a couple of hours or so.  But it was much better than that; I was spellbound, in more ways than one.

The Acts Were Amazing

O.K. a group of Russian gymnasts were always going to make me feel middle-aged, fat and slow, but they were breath taking, they must have practiced their art for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for the past 10 years.  The professionalism was outstanding.

But professionalism was what you would expect.  If you go to see a dentist you expect a professional to treat you.  Likewise who wants to see a bunch of lazy gymnasts?  Professionalism was just the entry ticket, that wasn’t what blew me away.

The Operation was Perfect

I started to watch the stagehands; they were as impressive as the performers.  Every rope was stowed away perfectly.  Parts were colour coordinated so it was clear what went with what, the equipment was laid out in order so it could be erected quickly but safely, everybody knew exactly what they had to do and it was as well choreographed as the performance.

Without this level of organisation the star performers would have been left hanging (maybe literally).

The Customer Care was Obsessive

A lady walked around the big top picking up empty popcorn buckets. I had to queue in the rain for less than a minute for my tickets, no waiting around.  Best of all the toilets were spotless (this was a traveling circus, the last thing I expected was a spotless washroom).

Even the Support Staff were Remarkable

We attended the last show, they were moving on the next day.  When we left the big top after the finale they had already dismantled the ticket booths and food stalls.  By the time we left the car park they had lowered the big top and were stacking the seats in the back of a lorry.

Not a second was wasted.

The whole experience was exceptional, not just the performance.

It’s all About Focus

It was the best-run business I have seen in years.

I don’t know what Russian for “6 Sigma” or “operationally excellent” is.  But I will lay you a bet that the team at the Moscow State Circus doesn’t either.  They simply realised that they were there to put on the best show possible, and they focused on doing that.

You can learn all the tools, techniques and terminology you like but you will never improve your customer service unless you learn about сосредоточены, (which very roughly translated is Russian for focus).

As for my children, they where spell bound for 2 hours, unfortunately now they are busy fighting over who does the best cartwheels.

Copyright ©2012 James Lawther

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