Episode #155: A Surefire Way to Make a Point

Collecting, managing, and applying feedback is a critical piece of the CX process. In today’s summer flashback episode I go back to my P&G days to regale you with a story about marketing recommendations, and the gift of honest, unfiltered feedback.

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All right. All right. All right. Jimmy is playing us in, takes me back, takes me back to Summer Love 1969. It’s a flashback. In fact, today is our very, very first inaugural flashback episode. We’ll see where this goes, this can be kind of weird, but I’m going to just go with this for a second or two because I kind of do flashbacks all the time. If you’ve followed me on the journey of the Unified CXM Experience, we’re at around Episode 150 now.

We’ve done a few of these now, and I’m always recalling stories from the past and talking about things that happened, and occasionally I’ll have a story or two that are really kind of cool and interesting but have nothing to do with the topic of unified CXM. And so I’m just going to try to maybe join them somehow or just throw a flashback in and see if I can make it work. We’ll see what happens. We’re going to spitball this one a bit today. So welcome to the show. I’m Grad Conn, CXO, or Chief Experience Officer at Sprinklr, a New York Stock Exchange listed company, ticker symbol, CXM. Really great to have you here today. If you don’t like this episode, actually, maybe phrase a bit differently. If you really liked this episode, DM me on Twitter and tell me what you liked about it. I’ll try to do more and try to build out more of the same. And if you didn’t like the episode, well, you know, good riddance. Customer complaints go in the garbage can. That’s CXM for you.

Actually, I read a hilarious, hilarious customer experience post the other day. How did it go? It was customers will be charged based on how they treat us. That was an interesting way. I once knew a photographer named Alex Meyboom; I don’t know if Alex is out there anymore. But Alex and I did a lot of work together over many, many, many years. And Alex Meyboom had a thing that was like an official thing in his accounting system called an idiot charge. And when someone did something that was, you know, inconvenient or made him work extra hard, or was just awkward or weird or strange or idiot-ish, he would just charge them extra. And that always made him feel better about whatever they’re asking him to do. So I thought that was kind of fun.

But that’s not the flashback I want to talk about today. So the flashback I want to talk about today is a Procter & Gamble flashback. I was doing a podcast with Neha, our breath Yogi. We were getting into a whole bunch of stuff around just how to manage feeling overwhelmed, and we started talking about creating patterns and creating habits. And then we got talking about how we had to show up at 8:30 every day at P&G, and we had to wear blue suits. And so we got into a whole bunch of P&G stuff. And there’s this really great P&G story that I didn’t know how to fit it in, and it didn’t really seem appropriate. But I did want to tell it because it’s just such a great story. And I think it’s true. There’s a non-zero chance it’s not completely true, but I think it’s true. It’s likely enough to be true that I’ve heard this story from multiple P&G people who weren’t talking to each other. So I think it’s probably true. Let’s just put it that way.

So this is a story about someone named Yong Quek. Yong Quek ultimately became the president of P&G Canada. Yong Quek did very, very well. And he became president in the late 90s. And very successful executive and as far as I know, is still enjoying a prosperous retirement in Toronto, Ontario. But Yong Quek famously was quite acerbic and grew up in companies in the day and age when wokeness and all the sort of culture stuff we talked about today were not maybe respected the same way as they should have been. And so I’m just going to paint a picture for you a little bit of the P&G office, so you just understand what it looked like. So this is an original Procter & Gamble office in Toronto from the 60s on to about 1987, was at Yonge and St. Clair. It was on the corner of Yonge St. It was sort of a steel building. Looked a little bit like a Seagram Building actually, a kind of classic 60s sort of exoskeleton structure. And it was on the northwest corner of Yonge and St. Clair. It’s still there, the building’s still there, and had those really great elevator buttons where you don’t push them you just touch them like they’re just touch elevator buttons but only worked about half the time. And so we had the top few stories of the building. I worked on 19. Executive floor was 21. The other brand groups were on 20 and then there were other teams and stuff floors below us. And the floor was in tiled vinyl. This is the vinyl tile floor. Our desks were these Steelcase desks, like standard old-fashioned Steelcase desks like you’d see in – if you’ve ever seen the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – those desks. And they had a very low barrier around the desk, just enough to provide a tiny bit of privacy. And it was about 11 to 12 inches high. So you could pin a single piece of paper on there. But you could see right over it, so everyone could kind of see each other’s heads. And then the Steelcase desks for the assistants were arranged outside the doors of the brand managers’ offices. And every brand manager had their own office. That was why I wanted to become a brand manager. And so the brand managers would be sitting in their offices. Now a couple other things about the office, there’s a coffee cart, everyone could smoke if they wanted to. And obviously, I wasn’t a smoker, but there were smokers. So it was kind of uncomfortable a little bit sometimes.

But I loved it, it was an interesting office, I spent a lot of time there and I spent a lot of evenings there and I watched every single P&G commercial ever produced. And it was a really great time, that was sort of the environment of what it was like. It was very much in some ways – they hadn’t really updated the office since the 1960s – so it’s very much a 1960s environment. For example, there was a secretarial pool, wrap your mind around that for a second. But within two years, like it was all changed, we went to voicemail, and we were just like suddenly a modern office that would look just like an office that you would go to today. So I just briefly touched the face of the 1960s. It’s kind of fun.

And Yong Quek was in that environment. And if you if you follow my blog, I’ve got a number of posts on P&G selling technique, and how to write a P&G reco. And there’s some pretty good advice in there actually. And there’s a very particular structure for P&G recommendations and P&G documents. You’d always make a proposal, always have the conclusion first, and then you justify it based on whether it’s on strategy or not, whether it is proven or not, that’s a tricky one, and whether it’s cost effective or not. So, and I’ll talk more about all P&G reco structure and other flashbacks in the future. But today’s flashback is a little bit different. So not me, some other brand assistant was working for Yong Quek when Yong Quek was a brand manager. And they finished their document and keep in mind, to write a recommendation back in those days, you had to write it out longhand, then you had to take it to the secretarial pool and as a brand assistant, of course, you were the bottom of the pile. And if there was a bottom below the bottom of the pile you were in that bottom. You were in the bottom of the bottom. And then eventually you would get typed up and this would take several days, just to be clear. This wasn’t turnaround that was instantaneous. So days would go by, and you would get typed up and you would make a photocopy. And then you would take the photocopy and then give it to your brand manager, and they would review it, mark it up and give it back to you. And then you’d rewrite it. Every recommendation was rewritten at least 17 times, that was the average. I was way below that by the end of my career at Procter & Gamble, but there were many times when I was above that.

And the rewrites weren’t always just grammar rewrites, there are sometimes you know, strategy rewrites, or we’re going to change the way we’re going to spend and all that kind of stuff. But they got rewritten a lot. It was a constant cycle of rewriting. It was really good practice. Stay with that for a second. And so this person’s written this up, gotten it typed, dutifully put a lot of time and effort into it, probably gone through several rewrites and revisions on their own, finally hands it to Yong Quek and says, “Here you go, here’s a recommendation”. And then they go back, and they sit in their Steelcase desk just outside Yong Quek’s office. Now, I earlier told you that the floors were tiled and vinyl, it’s a very important part of the story, actually, because if the floors were rug, or anything flammable, this probably would not have happened. So the office is a little bit more rambunctious because we were sort of essentially in an indestructible playpen. So we could do stuff that you wouldn’t normally do in a nicer office because you’d spill stuff, it didn’t matter, etc. So, person sitting at their desk, the brand assistant sitting on their desk, and they hear a shout from the office. You would sit right outside your brand manager’s office. I worked for Doug Brownridge for many years. He’s a cool guy and still living a cool life driving his Chris-Craft out in BC. And Doug would say, “Hey, Grad and I would say, “Yeah, great” and I would jump and go in his office, and we would talk. So Yong Quek makes some noise. And he yells out and I won’t use any names here because I don’t think that’s helpful to anybody except for Yong Quek, obviously. I’m completely slamming him right now. But he did this so he’s going to have to own this one, but the people involved are going to keep their names quiet for the purposes of, you know, privacy. So Yong Quek yells out the person’s name, but just barks and the person looks up and Yong Quek goes, “This reco is garbage”. And so of course the blood chills in the brand assistant’s body. Oh man, it’s garbage. And then they look up.

And a couple pieces of information that are important to understand here. So the way the recommendations work at Procter & Gamble is they have to be one page, one page, and not one page with quarter-inch margins, and two-point type; one normal page, because if you can’t express your idea in a single page, you don’t have the idea clear enough yet. So every recommendation was a single piece of paper. So the brand assistant looks up and coming out of the office, so imagine the brand assistant is sitting at the desk, and they are looking up. The office is just to the right, so this is kind of coming out of the door of the office, there is a paper airplane, made out of the recommendation the person had written. There’s another piece of really important information I have to give you, I also teased this at the beginning. I mentioned that a lot of people smoked in the office. Yong Quek was a smoker. So not only was this paper airplane sailing out of his office with this sort of, I think it was potentially more than just, “This is garbage”. I think he said something a little bit worse than that. But let’s just stay with ‘garbage’ for now. So there’s the invective, there’s a paper plane coming out. And then, before he had decided to throw the paper airplane out the door, you’re going to see how this all comes together, Yong Quek had taken his lighter and lit the tail of the plane on fire. So, a flaming paper airplane, comes sailing out of Yong Quek’s office with him saying, “Rewrite it”. Oh, my god, there’s feedback, right? So anytime somebody tells me that they didn’t like how I marked their paper up in red or something, I’m like, “Hmm, there’s other ways to get feedback”.

But yeah, that’s a good, funny story. This is a good flashback story. And, you know, it’s like, it’s so funny. Like, it’s funny how things have changed in so many ways, in so many good ways. And then I think it was kind of weird about Procter & Gamble is that they would basically hire like a zillion kids out of school, and then throw us into this sort of snake pit and just see what would emerge alive. So I think there was maybe one person left from my year by the time I left after nine years. And it was so funny that people got fired, like, right, left and center, not every day, obviously, but like, every week, someone just disappeared. And this is just pre cell phone. So I remember Stan Simpson and I were going to have lunch together one day, and we had made arrangements and I said, “I’ll come by your desk at 12:15. We’ll go downstairs” and Stan’s like, “Great”. Stan was a great guy; he and I had a really fun time together; I haven’t seen him in years. But you know, we were really looking forward to getting together and I said, “Great”. And I went to my place, and he went to his place where you know, in cubes, and then I got up at 12:15, wandered over to Stan’s desk, literally completely empty. He’s gone. He’d been walked out of the building. And he was gone. And I don’t know how long it took me to actually reconnect with him because it wasn’t that easy. Finally Stan and I connected. And he’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m not working there anymore”.

This idea of people just disappearing was, I don’t know, it added a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the air of sort of this kind of imminent threat at all times. You know, I quit under my own steam. But I’m not sure that was a really great cultural attribute. Because it made you always feel like the job could go away anytime. So I think it affects your loyalty to a certain extent, because you’re like, at any moment in time, they might just come in, you know, just saw my chair off and dump me out the window. And I think that was not particularly great, although I did stay there nine years somehow. Anyway, so that’s a bit of flashback about Procter & Gamble. And anytime you complain about the culture you’re in, think about a place where recommendations are thrown out of offices on fire. And people are terminated without notice, walked out of the building, and you don’t even know what happened to them. It could be a lot worse, could be a lot worse. And that’s it for today. I had a lot of fun. I enjoyed doing that. I think I’m going to do more flashbacks. That was super fun. We’ll see how people react to it. Again, if you’ve got an opinion, please feel free to turn it into a paper airplane, light it on fire and send it my way.

For the Unified CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn, CXO at Sprinklr, and I’ll talk to you … next time.