I just learnt that the phrase ‘the devil’s in the detail’ is actually an adaptation of something attributed to the 19th Century French author Gustave Flaubert, who asserted that
Le bon Dieu est dans le détail
To me there is a world of difference between the two phrases that reveals wildly different outlooks on life and the world. At the start of this year I resolved to be more positive. Flaubert’s assertion is that there is beauty in even the smallest thing, in the tiniest detail, that there are countless reasons to be optimistic and awestruck. I’m sure that Richard Dawkins might challenge the presence of God, but he would not deny the wonder and delight to be discovered in the intricacies of an orchid flower or the synapses of the human brain.
The alternative mindset seems to suggest a dread or a risk inherent in every action, a fear of failure. There are problems and difficulties in everything, and no matter how hard you try, you will always miss something.
Frankly, life is too beautiful and (sadly) too short to sustain that kind of world-view. Revelling in and celebrating the positive things to be found in the details makes things simple. The little things matter. If we can remember the seemingly insignificant experiences that have lived with us, if we can start to pass on those experiences, we can treat others in the way we would like to be treated, and shape the future for everyone.
I’ve blogged plenty of times about poor customer service and experiences, but I very rarely remember them spontaneously. I do think often about Tetbury’s fantastic butcher, in fact every time I walk past or, more often than not, into the shop. I recall quite fondly the surprisingly terrific service we had last summer from Easyjet. It has long been a rule of thumb about marketing and customer experience that a happy customer will tell one other person, but an unhappy customer will tell ten people. As much as I know about complaining and ranting, I believe that it’s better to promote and champion my positive experiences. ‘Reward good behaviour, ignore poor behaviour’ is a good approach to parenting (apparently!). Don’t give poor service or attitudes the oxygen of publicity.
The little things matter (did I mention that already?!)…
I spent last weekend felling trees to make charcoal for The National Trust at the Dudmaston Estate in Shropshire. There was a lot of talk among the rangers and wardens about ‘visitor engagement’. They spend a good deal of time thinking about how to help visitors have a better experience when they visit Dudmaston, and they know that sometimes unexpected details can make all the difference…
- Being able to see dappled sunlight through the trees from a woodland path can be a ‘magic moment’ for visitors: hence we cleared lots of trees away to open up the canopy, improve visibility and encourage butterflies and other wildlife to return
- The carparking experience on arrival is really important to people being in a good mood before they even reach the ticket office: get that wrong and all the period features or landscaped grounds are wasted
- Making sure there is still a decent choice of cakes left in the cafe at 4pm…
Almost 20 years ago, Tesco recognised that ‘every little helps’. Among a myriad of seemingly small gestures or changes, they took sweets away from the checkouts and created parent/child parking – effectively setting the agenda for what is now the norm in practically all UK supermarkets.
More recently, a café in Bath started to sell its own home-made baby food, and introduced a ‘corkage’ charge for mums wanting to bring their own baby food, which provoked a pretty immediate backlash. The charge has since been dropped.
Lastly, and perhaps self-indulgently because I’ve always loved this campaign, Yellow Pages. Starting in the 1980s, Yellow Pages had a long-running ad campaign that focused on ‘the little things’, on scenarios where people were using Yellow Pages for very personal, immediate, emotive things (not just sorting a blocked drain, or looking for a taxi or a takeaway).
Perhaps one of the most famous executions (and one of my favourites) is the one from 1990 (when I had bouffant student hair) that gave me hope that men with heavy eyebrows could get on the telly…!
Some of these have not dated especially well, and feel amazingly nostalgic. More recent ads are definitely edgier. Some, like ‘French Polishers, it’s just possible you could save my life’, have entered into our cultural language.