08 April 2009
So far in The Apprentice, we've had a cleaning task and a catering task, and there have been interesting parallels in both.
Firstly, the programmes have made a strong case for the value that professionals bring to a job. You wouldn't think it would be hard to clean cars or make sandwiches, but they managed to screw them both up. Since I work in a profession (writing) that some people think is easy, that struck a chord. (I remember a woman at a party telling me that she thought she might change jobs to being a writer because it looked pretty easy. She was a teacher at the time, so I told her I'd often thought about moving into schools myself. "It's just talking to a bunch of kids. How hard could it be?")
The programmes have also focused on profit to the exclusion of everything else. Doubtless there will be the usual creative tasks in future episodes (starting tonight, I think), but where's the customer service? Alan Sugar's company Amstrad had great customer service and quality back in the 80s. Without it, it could never have entered the home computer market as late as it did and seized the market share it did. But he's encouraging his apprentices to look only at the immediate sale. There's no respect for the customer, no real drive to create a transaction that customers appreciate: just a push for a quick buck. To close the deal, the apprentices argue with customers, serve up shoddy products, and sell products they can't deliver. They don't seem to care (or even believe) that with every sale, their own reputation is on the line.
One of my writing customers is also in an agency type business and he says that in the current economic downturn, companies all need to love their customers a little bit more. They need to make sure they're focusing on the long term, and building a relationship that will survive the recession.
Wouldn't it be great if The Apprentice had an episode where the success was judged on how happy customers were at the end? If the apprentices had to try to truly delight the customer and build some desire for repeat business?
That's the kind of apprentice any company needs today. Cutting corners is easy. Delighting customers takes that extra spark of creativity and enthusiasm. Sometimes it will be less profitable in the short term. But in the long term, it's the only strategy that pays.
(I wrote a review of Alan Sugar's book after the first series, and co-wrote The Customer Service Pocketbook. The Apprentice is on iTunes now if you can't get it on proper telly).