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The Sickness of Busyness

I’ll admit it.

Like any other companies, or culture within the company, we have our own little sayings to describe certain situations, certain issues or certain people. There is the often used phrase of FOMO – Fear of Missing Out, a situation where a person is so afraid to be losing out on things that they need to be involved with everything. There is the usual phrase of NRS – New Recruit Syndrome, where a newcomer becomes so enamored with making things ‘happen’ in the company that suddenly everything seems to be moving — until it stops again. There is also the term LLB, not to be confused with the Bachelor of Law – “Look Like Busy”. It’s basically to describe someone who always seem to be rushing, to be going someplace, to be doing something, to be typing things in their handphone, to be always sitting down as if their ass is on fire, to be talking on the phone with their bluetooth headset while walking around, making them look like they are doing a soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

With the advent of the mobile phone, the ultimate personal and intimate device, this LLB has taken into another dimension. Admittedly, as consultants, we do fall into the trap of being busy many times over. There are often remarks made to me: “You seem to be busy all the time.” The truth is, yes, sometimes I am rushing from one meeting to the next. Sometimes, I need to just get into my car, and in between meetings, I am on the phone to finish off another meeting. Yes, sometimes, we overbook ourselves because client A doesn’t come back to me and I booked in Client B and then Client A says OK, let’s do a meeting and I go, Ah Crap, can we move yours an hour later. Client A goes, “Wah So busy one ah?” and Client B, when I am rushing to finish off the meeting so I can go to Client A, goes “Wah So busy one ah?”. I think 80% of this LLB occurs because my daily schedule sometimes end up so dynamic, as in, random clients may need to meet for whatever reason – and to top it off, we don’t have dedicated sales, so many times we are doing marketing, meeting, administration, auditing, operational support etc.

But LLB isn’t about actually being busy – it’s about looking or being busy even when we are not. And that’s the truth. We are sometimes accustomed with being so caught up with things, we just think it’s unnatural to actually have….time.

Think about it. How often do we actually sit down over lunch/dinner and not whip our phone out, even when we are not working on anything? Or at the traffic lights or caught in a jam? Or when we are having coffee alone? Or when we are waiting for the one guy who is always late for meeting and we all sit around tapping away our phone. Truth: I’ve actually seen a client who, while waiting for the meeting to start, take up his phone and just started tracing his finger over his phone in circles while staring at it. He wasn’t reading anything. He didn’t have any app started. He wasn’t listening to Spotify. He was, in a trancelike way, just tracing his finder in tiny circles over his LOCKED screen.


How dependent have we become to this tiny little device we always have in our pocket? How often do we go absolutely ape*hit when we cannot find our phone? How often do we actually place this guy on the table in our meetings, in our lunches, in our time even with our family? Have we become so consumed with the idea that WE ARE NEEDED that we think we are needed even when WE ARE NOT?

Once, during an interview, a guy I was talking to kept checking his phone. Maybe he was nervous, OK, I’ll hand him that. But he kept looking at his phone until I finally asked: “Is your boss looking for you?” and he looked at me in a confused manner and I just shook his hands, said, “Thank you for your time to sit down with me” and I left. Oh, yeah, I was the one interviewing and he was the interviewee.

What is wrong with us? Are we so disillusioned with our own importance that we can’t even for a single minute stop this nonsense of tapping on the phone, writing an email, drafting a report, reviewing a document or composing a stupid blog post and just look up and find that we are still human?

One of the things we need to change, starting from our own, in this LLB business:

a) Meetings – if you are meeting a client, or meeting a service provider, or meeting a colleague, make it a point to limit the phone usage. It’s highly insulting that during a one on one meeting, while it’s going on, that you whip our your phone and tap an email or a reply to a chat. If you have to do so, such as answer a call, excuse yourself and say, “I am so sorry. I need to take this just for a while” and then tell the other side that you would call them back. Don’t take any longer than necessary. Of course, there are exceptions. Once I was with an important client and my mother called. She never calls during work hours unless it was an emergency, so these were exceptional circumstances. I took it, but I apologised first to the client. The concept is simple: if someone actually takes time to spend time with you, give them the due courtesy of your own time with them. Except for these exceptional circumstances, let’s have conversations and connections, as opposed to emailing or texting.

Another irritating habit (of which sometimes I am also culpable) is the constant tapping of the laptop during a meeting. This is usually done by non-leads (the guy in the meeting that is not participating much in terms of discussion). Unless they are doing minutes or capturing the discussion, this is strictly banned in our company. I had a client once who told off his executive to get out when he was tapping furiously on the keyboard while the meeting was going on, and it wasn’t related at all to the discussion. He was thinking to solve an operational issue or sending out an email to another client. No, his boss was saying. You aren’t that important. Get that in your head and sit down and shut the hell up and listen and learn. Good lesson, that one.

b) Mealtimes– Even lunch or dinner with colleagues, It’s very irritating to have the phone out the whole time. Don’t. Everytime you do that, it states that the people around you are unimportant. In our family, we try never to do have that. Yes. Even when I am bored stiff staring while my 3 year old is taking his own sweet time eating his food (he likes to eat on his own but by the time he finishes, fishes have actually evolved into birds) – and my wife and my other kid are no where to be found in the shopping mall, I have to refrain from whipping out my phone, unless it’s a call. Mealtimes are no-no for phones for us in our family. Why not during our corporate lunches/mealtimes as well? Why not interact without the laptop?

c) Travelling– Yes, I admit, caught in horrendous traffic, it is very enticing to catch up on things. I’ve avoided this (because of traffic summonses) primarily by either having a meeting in the car (yes, I am theoretically still using the phone) or just listening to Spotify, which is a God Sent to road warriors who spend half their day stuck in traffic. If I am with another colleague in the car, then getting on the phone is a no-no (also because some meetings are obviously confidential). Let’s interact instead! In the lift, don’t whip out your phone and tap around or continue talking. In the toilet, for God’s gracious sakes, don’t talk on the phone while you take a dump! I’ve heard this many times before. There are practical reasons not to do these things – primarily because of confidential information being accidentally leaked out – but also – come on, it’s crazy having to chit chat while doing something in the toilet.

Tell ourselves: I am not that important. Yes. This goes against all the motivation, self improvement philosophies that keep saying to us how important we are etc. No. We are not that important. Life for other people will still continue on if I don’t respond in an hour or so. While it is common courtesy to respond to a text or email within a reasonable time, nobody is saying you need to respond immediately. I mean, back in our father’s time, they didn’t have email. How on earth are they supposed to reply “yes” to lunch immediately? So unless it’s life and death and remarkably exceptional circumstances, sometimes it’s ok to put the phone down.

But take note. Many times, busy-ness occurs to us because we are poor time managers. When we promise a deadline and we miss it, and we complain because now our boss is calling us, and we go: well, family time more important, let me tell him to screw off. That’s also stupid, and will probably cost you your job. If you don’t do something or did not hand in something, then take ownership of it and do it. And doing something doesn’t mean just finishing it. It means finishing it with the proper quality required. I’ve seen many so-called reports on my table that could have been better written by llamas. As in the animal in Tibet. If you can’t get your work done, then be prepared to work over time, over weekend to fix or finish it and don’t complain about it. Deadlines are deadlines. It has nothing to do with looking like busy – it’s our own fault for not being good time and quality managers.

LLB isn’t about that. It’s about Looking Like Busy even when we are not. It’s about: Oh, let me stay up late tonight just to show everyone I am working late and send out an email at 4 am to impress my boss. It doesn’t matter what time you work until – some people like me work best between midnight at 4 am, so that’s when we get stuff done. It doesn’t mean that I send an email out at 5 am, I immediately get my morning off!

We should take our time to look around us. Observe. Even in our workplace – it’s almost like a family since that’s where we spend most of our daily hours. We can observe nuances of a person, how someone reacts, the way he or she speaks – human connection is being lost in the new generation of logical and virtual connectivity. Crack a joke. Laugh. Remind ourselves of the humanity of life.

I am often reminded of how precious little time we have on earth when I am with my children. I am reminded of a time not very long ago when I was their age, looking up at my dad as he waited for me to finish my damn meal, but (because there were no mobile phones back then I guess), still grinning at me as I attempted the foolish task of manipulating noodles into my mouth with a spoon. And suddenly I am here. Same situation, looking at a mini version of me doing the same thing and taking so much of my precious LLB time.

Are we really, truly that busy, or are we just needing to vindicate our importance on this planet before our clock is up? Our importance isn’t in the glowing screen of emails or Whatsapp messages or Facebook Likes. Our importance is in the reflection of ourselves in the eyes of our children. Our parents. Our spouses. Our friends. Or in many cases, even our pets. It doesn’t matter “who”, as long as it’s not a “what” that’s reflecting back at us.

So, enough of writing this blog post for now. I am not busy now and I don’t want to appear to be busy. There will be times when I am, for sure, so I’ll enjoy the times I am not. It’s time to get some coffee and converse with someone – or just look at my kid and wait for fishes to evolve to birds. Say no to LLB this year! Happy new year!

Customer Experience – The Often Missing Link to Services

We had a very interesting encounter this week, and generally wouldn’t have brought this up if not for such a degree of juxtaposition of two similar events that occurred with massive different outcomes.

Firstly, I had a meeting with a vendor at a coffee place called Page 2 in Bangsar Shopping Center. While talking, the barista approached our table and mentioned that she received feedback that the cake (or bread, I can’t recall) was bland or had off-taste. She was so concerned over this and she wanted to know more on how to improve and offered us a waffle for our inconvenience. She was going out of her way to really do two things:

a) Seek feedback openly 

b) Action on customer feedback

It’s really easier said than done. But she did it and I was very impressed. Out of all the thousands of coffee places in Malaysia (and they are mushrooming up), very, very few can actually differentiate themselves. Face it, coffee in Malaysia isn’t exactly the greatest. I walk into Brother Baba Budan in Melbourne and it blows every single coffee place in Malaysia away. So if the product is difficult to differentiate, then we are left with the service, and Page 2 really showed what great service is.

The very next day, we visited another coffee place called Thrvsday in Taman Tun. We were having our weekly team meeting and we usually look for informal cafes or Starbucks or Coffee Beans so that we can all get more informal and creative. As you can imagine, we tend to become more noisy, more boisterous compared to if we had our meeting in the office. Now, I personally have been coming to Thrvsday for many many times, even celebrating Christmas there once with my family. So it wasn’t as if I was first time walking in there. Many business meetings, many personal meetings were spent there for a good part of 2 and half years.

While we were discussing, suddenly, the barista (or the owner, I don’t know) comes to us and basically told us to not talk too loudly as other people wanted to ‘work’. It was very strange, because a cafe generally shouldn’t be treated like a library or a church. You walk into Brother Baba Budan or any great Melbourne Coffee place and you are assaulted with two things: SUPER RICH coffee smell, and voices. Laughter. Loud. Conversations. That’s real coffee culture. Not this strange, Church of England atmosphere that Thrvsday is trying to create. If you want a quiet place to work, go to the library, man.  Unless of course, we have mistakenly walked into a fine dining restaurant that is disguising itself as a coffee place. But that can’t be. Nobu KL wouldn’t have a stray cat sitting in one of their chairs, right? So this can’t be a fine dining restaurant!

So I just told the team to pack up and go find another place for a meeting. Because, no we weren’t going to whisper to each other or pipe down. We are a noisy lot because we have a lot to share, and we make no apologies for it. We came into a cafe expecting good coffee (which wasn’t great in our opinion), and an environment to stoke our creativity, not asking us to quiet down so someone can start praying — sorry, I mean, ‘working’. It’s ridiculous to have a coffee culture that puts boundaries on your customer’s voices. So if I brought my kids there, and they make a ruckus, you gonna tell them off? If I celebrate my friend’s birthday there, and we make a lot of noise, you gonna ask us to shut up? It made no sense to us.

And worse is they don’t even know their customers! I have been going there for almost  30 to 40 times over 2 and a half years period, and they don’t even create any recognition or rapport with their customers! How he could have handled it would be to say: “Sorry, <name> (you need to know my name by now), would it be better if we get you and your team somewhere outside, we can arrange a table, because our cafe unfortunately is very echo-ey. So while I am very sure what you guys have is amazing and we are so glad you are here in our cafe – the voices is making it very difficult for other customers to converse. If you don’t mind, let me arrange a place outside, and you know what – let me give you a coffee for your trouble. On the house.”

Bam. Done. I would have swore my life to his cafe and brought every single one of our staff there to celebrate birthdays and have our overall corporate events there (although I doubt 150 people can fit!). Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

I told the team, half serious, half joking: “Well, they are kicking us out!”. This Barista overheard and immediately approached us again and said, “You have something to say to me? Huh? I heard you say I am kicking you out. I just told you guys to be quieter. Why are you so childish, huh?”

I looked at him. He was barely out of puberty, really, he looked so young. In his mind, he must have created a beautiful plot called “Fighting for my honor and putting obnoxious customer in his place.” He must have really thought he was doing something heroic by confronting me and basically telling me off. It was so strange. I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life – that someone would be so brusque and seemingly so contemptuous to customers.

I could have thrown a ruckus in front of him, but I guess it would only feed his fantasy of being heroic further, and maybe he thought he would defend his honour and challenge me to a duel with swords. I don’t know. We had so much work to catch up, so much to do and I just didn’t want to waste anymore time in a place and with a person that well, to put it frankly – wasn’t worth the time and effort, due to other urgent matters we had on our heads. So I just said, “This is your cafe, man, you do what you like.” And I walked off – obviously never to return or to recommend it to anyone else.

Here’s the thing: I would have forgotten about this anyway if not for the degree of contrast that Page 2 had against Thrvsday. On one hand you had an establishment that really cared about customers, who really treats the customer as if we are their last customer. On the other hand, Thrvsday who, well, I don’t know what they were trying to do, but its for such a trivial matter. I could think of a million ways that the confrontational barista could have handled the situation so much better if he was properly trained in customer service. And I guess, herein lies the problem. Most of these so-called service establishment have no clue what is customer experience. They do not understand it because they probably never had a situation before where they had NO customers.

When we started out 8 years ago that’s what we had. ZERO customers. We understood the lack. We understood what it was like to be empty. To be starving for business. And that’s why we are fanatical about our customers today. Customer experience is everything. You may have good products, good solutions, heck, even good coffee, but if you don’t take care of your customers, you don’t deserve to have customers. You don’t deserve to be in the service industry.

So, great lesson from two specialty coffee shops – one that treasured customer experience, and one that, in our own opinion, hopelessly failed. It’s a timely reminder for us too – to never forget our customers and how we can better service them and not neglect the critical importance of customer experience.

At the end, we never want to wish any business badly because we understand the challenge of businesses, and I really, sincerely hope this is an isolated incident for this coffee place.  That our opinion here is an anomaly and that hopefully they have more positives than this single encounter. Unfortunately we won’t know as we won’t be going back there, unless we want to have a library atmosphere for some strange reason. I wish them all the best, though.

Looks like we will be going to Bangsar Shopping Centre more often!


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