Series on Customer Centricity: Sainsbury’s Takes Advice from a 3-Year Old

Customer-centric is an approach to doing business that focuses on providing a positive customer experience both at the point of sale and after the sale in order to drive profit and gain competitive advantage. We reproduce here a series of anecdotes that showcase some ‘customer centric’ efforts of prominent and even not so prominent organizations.

A rigid attitude might just be the antithesis of great customer service. Proving that they’re a company that knows how to have a little fun, this next story from Sainsbury’s supermarket highlights how your support team should spot great opportunities to do things that are quirky and out of the ordinary.


Lily Robinson (three and a half years old) was quite confused by one of Sainsbury’s products called tiger bread. In her eyes, the bread didn’t resemble a tiger at all, and in fact looked very much like a giraffe. It’s hard to disagree with her!

With a little assistance from mom and dad, she wrote a letter to Sainsbury’s customer service department. To her surprise, customer support manager Chris King (age 27 and one-third) told her that he couldn’t agree more. He explained the origins of the name: “I think renaming tiger bread giraffe bread is a brilliant idea – it looks much more like the blotches on a giraffe than the stripes on a tiger, doesn’t it? It is called tiger bread because the first baker who made it a long time ago thought it looked stripey like a tiger. Maybe they were a bit silly.”

Lily’s mom enjoyed the letters and ended up posting them on her blog. Before long, this cute correspondence was a viral hit, and the pressure was on for Sainsbury’s to change the name of the product to the much more appropriate giraffe bread.

Knowing the customer was certainly right in this instance—and spotting an unusual opportunity to do something fun—Sainsbury’s changed the name of the bread and put signs around their stores that give a humorous nod to Lily’s original idea.

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Series on Emotional Intelligence: Handling conflict

Conflict triggers strong emotions and can lead to hurt feelings, disappointment, and discomfort. To successfully resolve a conflict, one needs to learn and practice the ability to quickly reduce stress in the moment and remain comfortable enough with his/her emotions to react in constructive ways. Staying in touch with one’s own emotions is particularly important in the midst of an argument or a perceived attack. Read on…


Dave runs a marketing company. A client had accepted some work without criticism but, sixty days later, still hadn’t paid up. Dave was getting irritated: after all, cash flow was tight. Dave started emailing his client requesting payment. After a while, he was very surprised to receive an email back from the client asserting various inadequacies with the service Dave’s business had provided and making various allegations of incompetence against Dave’s staff.

Dave was indignant and sent off a long, businesslike and polite email, but one which made his position clear. He got back another email from his client like the first. So Dave responded in kind, and got another unacceptable reply (and no cheque). Dave responded, got another reply (and no cheque).

By this time Dave was frustrated and he called his Business Consultant. Before going on to read the resolution, below, what would you do in Dave’s position? (It’s a safe bet the client could have kept up the emails indefinitely rather than pay up.)


When Dave called the Consultant, Robert, asked to see the emails. Robert had no way of knowing whether the client was right about the quality of the marketing. On reading the lengthy emails from both parties, it was interesting to see that, under Dave’s polite and business like writing style, there were plenty of little attacks. Robert pointed out that there was a point in the letter where Dave wrote “I attach another copy of the invoice for your convenience”.


“Are you sure you’re doing that for his convenience? Do you know he has lost the previous copy?” Robert asked Dave—it felt a lot more like Dave was electronically waving it under the client’s nose and shouting “pay up!”. Of course the client was giving as good as he got, but Robert didn’t have access to the client, so there was no chance of any mediation process (and no need either).

The obvious point is that Dave and his client were in a fight. Strong word, perhaps, but let’s call a spade a spade.

From this we can say that (1) whether or not he felt he was in the right—or even whether he was right—Dave was colluding with the client in perpetuating the fight. He was as responsible for it as the other party. Most people believe that if you walk away from a fight, the other side is going to walk all over you. This is not usually the case. Dave had to be brave enough to just stop fighting.

Then (2), an attachment to being right (even if you are right!) always stops you moving forward. Dave had to let go of that need to be right, if he wanted the situation to move forward (something most business owners find very hard).

The practical action Dave took was to draft an ultra-clinical, very short and objective response to the client’s recent email, answering the points of fact raised, but not rising to the bait of any allegations, or anything that didn’t have to be answered. He resisted the temptation to have a go at the client, or to ask for the money. To his surprise he got a similarly brief clinical response which required, in turn, an even shorter response.

The client paid up two days later.


There are two principles of emotional intelligence at work here which Dave needed to be reminded of:

(1) If you’re in a fight, you’re equally responsible for it and, if you want it to stop, stop fighting.

(2) An attachment to being right will always stop you moving forward (more precisely it stops you communicating fully and therefore prevents you from finding a resolution).

Applying principles of emotional intelligence almost immediately resolved the problem (at no cost) and Dave’s business got paid. Any other intervention would have been costly and time consuming, at the very least.

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Series on Emotional Intelligence: Being emotionally aware

Working well with others is a process that begins with emotional awareness and our ability to recognize and understand what other people are experiencing. Once emotional awareness is in play, we can effectively develop additional social/emotional skills that will make our relationships more effective, fruitful and fulfilling.


Martha owns a small chain of shops. It is a mature business, and Martha has decades of experience in retail. For various reasons, she wanted to increase the revenue from the shops and was sure that her sales staff had room to improve their selling skills.

Accordingly she recruited a Consultant to deliver some sales training. Now, the Consultant had no way of knowing at that point whether the staff needed training or not; nor could he be certain that improving the skills of the staff would in itself increase sales. Nevertheless he went ahead with what the client asked for.

retail store

As it happens, the store staff felt disinclined to have their skills improved and, during the training session, decided that there was nothing the Consultant could teach them. It was not the happiest of experiences.

In the end, the means by which the business increased its revenue as advised by the Consultant was for Martha to recruit a part time admin assistant.

Before reading, below, how this came about, you might like to ponder the issues this story raises.

Martha’s business, like many small businesses, was run on limited staff. And Martha, like so many owners of small businesses, had a deep belief that it was her job to do all the paperwork.

Now retail is notoriously heavy on paperwork, so Martha spent much time in her office dealing with it all. Her other job was delivering stock to the shops. Having loaded miscellaneous stock into the van, she would drive it to each shop, pausing for no longer than was needed to open the door, thrust the merchandise into the shop and leave for the next one.

When Martha hired an assistant, the following things happened. The assistant did all the paperwork. Martha still delivered stock to the shops but now she was able to spend time with the staff in each location. The staff realised that Martha was as interested in them as she had always claimed but previously had failed to demonstrate. The staff became more enthusiastic about the business. The staff became more motivated and more productive. The staff sold more…

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Series on Emotional Intelligence: A shiny red car

Emotions shape all human interactions. Emotions are particularly important in sales because of the need to engage, understand and motivate customers. Emotional intelligence helps sales professionals to become authentic in their conversations with clients and create positive relationships. When we are able to understand how others feel, we manage relationships and sales situations more successfully and more effectively. Read on…


A few years ago, it was time for Sam to replace his car. Off he went to Bristol Street Motors in Stroud, where he had already bought two second hand cars, in search of a third. He discussed with the salesman his particular needs: “I was quite happy to buy another Ford Focus as I needed fuel efficiency (I did a lot miles then), reliability and so on.” The salesman picked up on the fuel efficiency. “Have you thought of a diesel?”, he asked.

“No”, I replied. “Why not?” “I don’t like them.” “Have you ever driven one?” “No”, Sam had to admit.

“Well, there’s one”, he said, pointing out of the window. “How about giving that a spin?”

Sam didn’t really feel he should decline the offer, so he did. They drove halfway to Cirencester and back and Sam realised that all his prejudices about poor driveability and a sound like an old London taxi were completely irrelevant. What was commendable was that the salesman, who came with Sam, made no attempt to talk about the car, let alone to suggest that he had been right all along. He just sat there, chatting with Sam about what he did at work, and other things. Sam duly bought the car.

The moral: If you want someone to change their opinion, you give them an experience, if you can. Experiences put us in our emotions and that’s the place where we change our views.

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Series on Emotional Intelligence: An emotionally intelligent approach to sales

Selling is not about you and how you feel. It is about how your prospects feel. Emotions drive sales! Emotions are powerful and they control our thinking, behavior and actions – all the things that also control our motivation to buy. Many sales professionals only communicate at the superficial level of selling features and benefits with a one-size-fits-all approach. This approach creates an unstable foundation when attempting to connect, engage, inspire and build value. Read on…


Jack went to a retail outlet to buy laptops for himself. He made it clear to the salesman that he wanted to buy just two laptops – nothing else – so, when the salesman attempted to sell him some ancillary products, he politely asked him to desist. Moments later, the salesman had a second go, and Jack explained firmly that he only wanted to buy two laptops, so please stop trying to sell him other things. Undaunted, the salesman carried on and Jack felt it necessary to threaten to walk out if the salesman didn’t stop.

Amazingly, the salesman still persisted – so Jack walked out, the laptops not bought. He walked straight into another shop and explained very clearly that all he required was two laptops. The second salesman duly obliged and sold him two laptops. The nice twist in this story is that, apparently, at the billing desk this salesman just happened to mention that Jack would benefit from a certain product – and Jack bought it!

How come the second salesman succeeded where the first failed? The key thing is the intent behind both salesmen’s behaviour. The first salesman’s remuneration is based on performance as defined by value of sales, so the salesman has a clear interest in making the additional sale – as evidenced by his persistence. The second person is on a salary and has no personal interest in whether the client buys or not.

Of course, he has a wider interest in the success of the business of which he is a partner and knows that that success is based at least as much on customer service as it is on price. He believed Jack would find knowledge of the extra product of value. In short, the first salesman was pushing the extra products for his benefit; the second was doing so for the customer’s benefit.

And the twist in the tail of this interpretation is that, of course, the first salesman believed that everything he said was of value to the customer. It was. But the reason he said it was his self-interest; the benefit to the customer was secondary. And Jack picked up this self-interest. Human beings are very good at picking up unconscious communication around needs. Although, consciously, the first salesman surely believed he was acting primarily in the customer’s interest, unconsciously he had a need, had an expectation, that Jack would buy the additional items.

The crux of this article is the observation that people are very good at picking up hidden expectations such as this, and they interpret them as demands. The salesman would never say “I demand you buy this extra item”, but that is the message the customer picked up. We don’t like demands being made on us. We resist them. The louder the demand, the more we resist. Hence Jack walked out when the demands became intolerable.

Because the second salesman wasn’t making an unconscious demand – he was genuinely and simply being helpful – Jack was convinced of the reasonableness of the proposition to buy the additional item. Extreme examples are useful to point out phenomena that are prevalent in a much diluted form – so diluted we don’t notice them. For all of us who do not force our services and products down the throats of prospects, it is worth remembering that the person we are talking to may still be feeling ‘sold to’, may even be aware of a sense of demand. You know that you were being demanding if you feel any sense of disappointment when the prospect declines to buy.

It’s a tough one to eradicate completely, but the principle way forward is for the ‘seller’ to let go of their need to make the sale more important than the buyer’s need to solve a problem. Find out from prospects what their issues and problems are, and demonstrate how your service or product solves them.

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Series on Emotional Intelligence: Glass of water

Think about a time when you have been overwhelmed by stress. Was it easy to think clearly or make a rational decision? Probably not. In order for you to engage your emotional intelligence, you must also be able use your emotions to make constructive decisions about your behavior. When you become overly stressed, you can lose control of your emotions and the ability to act thoughtfully and appropriately. What should one do in this situation? Read on…


A trainer walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she did so, she raised a glass of water. Everyone expected they’d be asked the old “half empty or half full?” question. Instead, she asked, “How heavy is this glass of water?”

The answers ranged from 8 oz to 16 oz.

She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. What’s important is how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not heavy. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will be numb and feel paralysed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change but, the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes”.

She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralysed—incapable of doing anything”.

It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses. Put your burdens down when you can. Don’t carry them for hours and days and months.

Remember to put down the glass!

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Series on Emotional Intelligence: The monks and the lady of the night

Being able to connect to our emotions—having a moment-to-moment connection with our changing emotional experience—is the key to understanding how emotion influences our thoughts and actions. For this, one has to practice mindfulness. It helps shift our preoccupation with thoughts toward an appreciation of the moment, physical and emotional sensations, and brings a larger perspective on life. Mindfulness calms and focuses us, making us more self-aware in the process. Read on…


Two travelling monks reached a ford in a river where they met a young lady of the night. Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders. Together the monks strode through the river until they reached the other side. The monk set the woman down on the other bank. She thanked him and continued her journey.

As the monks continued on their way, one was brooding and preoccupied. Unable to hold his silence, he spoke with anger. “Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women—let alone that sort of woman—but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!”

“Brother,” the second monk replied, “I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her”.

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Calendar theme for August – 2016

“It is only when you let go of the desire that it can fructify”


The force of desire becomes the obstruction if it is not let go. Letting go transforms this force into a ‘pull’ force. The pole vaulter uses the pole as a support to gain height. Yet, to clear the horizontal bar, he has to drop the pole.

A Swach मन knows when to nurture a desire and when to drop it.

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