Ever change

Published on November 2, 2015


In the ‘70s ‘80s and ‘90s the status symbol of many was the car. From the Sweeney’s Ford Granada, to the Golf Gti and James Bond’s ever present Aston Martin, power and looks were the thing. But the onward march of global warming reduced the appeal. Luckily Steve Jobs invented the iPhone whose sleek looks matched even the Aston and out-performed it effortlessly in its energy usage.

But global warming marches onward and everyone has a phone now so what is the status symbol of 2015?

Plastic bags.

Yup. Since the beginning of this month we have been incentivised to change our habits and use the same bags as before by the simple mechanism of charging 5p. The aim is to reduce our use of plastic because of their emissions and disposal costs. Now I don’t mean to be presumptuous but I think we all have sufficient 5ps to buy as many bags as we wish. So why has this worked in Scotland and Wales and is working in England? It’s not the cost but the way that things are organised and peer pressure that are changing our habits. If you go to a supermarket (that employs at least 250 people) there are no bags thrust at you, and so a habit is changed. I may be slightly paranoid here but I distinctly observed the person in the queue watching me with guarded neutrality as if to say “it’s early days mate so yes let’s buy some now but come November we should be “bagged up”.

Contrast this with the so-called helpdesks of corporates where the organisations don’t seem to be changing and their peers (other corporates) aren’t exerting any pressure: my recent experiences are the same as my past ones, despite my changed approach. I rang a satellite TV company to ensure that my free TV was on its way. I was assured it was but I pointed out that this verbal assurance wouldn’t work because the call is only recorded for “training and quality control purposes” and so wouldn’t be any use to me if in three months’ time the TV didn’t arrive and I relied on this call. His repetition of his position did nothing to resolve the situation but, miraculously, my webpage was updated the next day and TV arrived 24 hours later.

My energy company still has some work to do too. Although I now have three methods of being frustrated, as opposed to the previous two (with live chat added to phone and website) the result is still the same dizzying circle of moving from one method to another since none of them actually provide a complete answer. I even used the opportunity to assist in their “quality control purpose” by pointing out that I couldn’t set up a direct debit on-line. Her response was either to log this as a complaint (it wasn’t) or allow another department to explain it to me. But I am trying to explain it to them!

To make real change you need to keep working at a problem, and listen to the customers’ feedback until the solution is clear and good for everyone. I am now the proud owner of four good quality plastic bags that I can re-use. Sainsbury’s didn’t just charge 5p for their old bags they worked out what was the right way to respond to this and changed things until they got it right. Maybe Justin King (who seems to be enjoying a well-earned break) could be gainfully employed helping others to think and act like this? Or should we just accept the one about “how many life-coaches does it take to change a light bulb? One but the light bulb has to want to change”.