An Interview with Andrew McMillan
Famed for its legendary customer service, Andrew McMillan’s role in defining and growing the John Lewis brand has been key to its success today. As an engaging keynote speaker, Andrew draws upon his three decades at the organisation to share insights on creating a distinct customer experience, leading teams, and engaging employees.
We caught up with Andrew to chew the fat about customer service and so much more.
How can a business quickly transform its reputation for customer service?
Quickly and reputation are words that don’t sit comfortably together – reputation is won over the longer term. That said, the sooner you start to develop a defined and consistent customer experience, the faster your reputation will develop. It also depends on the age and size of the business along with their starting point. A smaller business can often turn around reputation much faster than a large established one, but in my experience any organisation should be able to demonstrate a positive degree of change within a 12-month period, if they really commit enough effort to it.
How did the corporate speaking start?
I used to speak publicly on behalf of John Lewis when I worked for them, I really enjoyed attending the conferences and meeting such a variety of people. After I left I was approached by a couple of organisations who had heard me speak before and it all developed from there.
Can you remember your first speaking engagement?
It was for the University of Buckingham shortly after I had been made responsible for customer service at John Lewis. I remember being terrified, not only at the prospect of speaking to a large unknown audience, but that I presented the right corporate impression for John Lewis, too. The audience were very kind and, at least retrospectively, I really enjoyed it.
And your last event?
My last event was for Carillion construction and it was fascinating to be involved with a business sector to which previously I’d had no exposure.
Which event has been your favourite and why?
I think my favourite would have to be my first overseas event, which was in Dubai. It was equally exciting and daunting to speak to a culturally very different audience for the first time so far from home. I’ve been back on several occasions since, and although they have all been great, nothing is quite like the first time you stand before 300 people in a foreign country. The fact I was there for four days in November to escape the UK winter was a bonus too!
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome?
Probably starting my own business after 28 years in a secure corporate environment at John Lewis. I left in May 2008, obviously not knowing what was going to happen to the economy just two months later. Starting as a consultant with no existing client base, with no guaranteed income, in the depth of possibly the worst recession in my lifetime was very scary especially with a family of five to look after. I learnt a lot very quickly and I now look back on that period with some degree of pride, but it was terrifying at the time!
Who is the most interesting person you have heard speak this year?
That’s a difficult one as I have been lucky enough to meet so many great people in the last 12 months. I think it would have to be Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE as she takes an almost incomprehensible subject and makes it accessible, relevant and fascinating all at the same time.
If you could speak at any event, past or future, what would it be?
Speaking at one of the TED events would be an honour.
Who would you most like to share a platform with?
Richard Branson for his humour, energy and entrepreneurial spirit, or Allan Leighton for his clarity and focus on execution of strategy, or Kjell Nordstrom for his depth of thinking and vision – was I only allowed one?!
What do you do to ensure your presentation has a lasting impact?
I like to have an in depth briefing call with every client as the presentation is then written bespoke to their requirements. That should ensure it has relevance to their delegates and increases the likelihood that they will be able to take something away from it. If there is time I also enjoy running post presentation workshops to explore how my thinking can be specifically incorporated into their organisation.
What can a typical corporate audience learn from your experiences?
It depends what they have asked me to speak about: employee engagement, leadership, customer experience, fun at work, complaint management etc., but the fundamental principle that runs through all of my topics is the primary need to think about what sort of personality the organisation wants to present for both its employees and customers and how authentic that personality really is.
What’s your favourite way to spend a Sunday?
A lie in with the papers followed by a traditional Sunday lunch and either an afternoon walk or cycle in the countryside where I live.
What personal ambition must you fulfil before you die?
To travel to all the countries in the world left on my list.
Can you leave us with an inspirational one liner from your speech?
It almost sounds too simple, but being nice to each other and your customers can be one of the most powerful business strategies you can deploy.
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