And now for something completely different…well almost…

I’ve got a couple of meetings in London this week, one at the University of East London over in Stratford. Last time I went to London I just bought tube tickets as I went along; this time I thought I should look at getting an Oyster card, which I thought would definitely save time and maybe save money as well.

So I looked at the Transport for London website for information about the Oyster card, and costs of ‘normal’ tube/bus/train tickets to compare it to. After searching various web pages, at last I found a 20 (yes twenty) page brochure of tube/bus/train ticket costs for 2007 called ‘Your Guide to Fares and Tickets: Tram, Tube, bus and DLR’. I’m sure to find the answer here I thought. Not a chance. Having trawled my way through tables, capping rates, travel card and season ticket options, I was simply delighted to notice that at the end, as if the previous twenty pages weren’t enough, the brochure listed the titles of five other leaflets I could pick up from the Tube Station if I needed further information. Sacrebleu!

Compare this complete fiasco with my travel experience in France just after Christmas, when I wanted to get from Charles de Gaulle airport to central Paris. I get a 1 page summary of all the ticket options from the information desk. That’s it. One page. Admittedly it wasn’t a nice glossy brochure, in multicolour with graphics and a lots of diagrams. In fact, it was pretty poorly photocopied sheet of paper in black and white. It wasn’t even one page, it was HALF a page (the other half is left blank for notes), and it’s A5 at that. But it did the job superbly. I got the ticket I wanted straightaway.

The French definitely know something about Customer Service that we in the UK don’t. Plus, and this is where they have a huge advantage, they know how to be concise when it really matters. None of this ‘business speak’ that we so love and revere in the UK.

Think about how much time it takes to write a 20 page brochure, check its accuracy, and keep it up-to-date. And all the time (and money) it takes to maintain the myriad of different pricing tariffs that the brochure tries to explain. According to the Economic and Social Research Council, the good news is that UK productivity has increased substantially across each of the last four decades. However, they also quote data from the Office for National Statistics which shows that France has higher labour productivity per worker than the UK (see the paragraph called ‘Comparative Productivity: International), and this has been the case for many years. Another example of where ‘less is more’.

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