Victorian government

Victorian Parliament: 18 days to clarity or nine to calamity

The Victorian Parliament has 18 more sitting days before it is prorogued to end one of its most dysfunctional periods of government.

The Victorian Parliament’s last sitting day of October 16 will then see the government move into the mandatory six weeks purdah period before the designated election on November 29.

Three sitting weeks in June and August, or nine days, will be without the disruptive suspended independent member Geoff Shaw who has been principally the instigator of this dysfunctional period.

He holds the balance of power and is set to return on September 2 when parliament resumes for two weeks in September and the final week of sitting starting on October 14.

It will be during this period that the parliament will either be able to deal with many of the infrastructure bills and other regulatory and legislative matters that the Coalition government wants signed off, or Victoria faces another destabilising period.

The State does not need the latter.  Politicians and their Party administrations need to ensure that they are there for the advancement of the State, not for personal headlines or egos that appeal to minorities and don’t make a significant contribution to the development of the State, or go towards achieving a vision for the State.

This is also the period in which private sector needs to put its cases to all political parties to get them either incorporated into election policies or have them addressed before the purdah period.

In the health sector, the government is looking at outsourcing many of its functions to the private sector, in the agriculture sector they are looking to expand trade into Asia as well as enhance local processing, in the mining sector they want to highlight the significance to the State to the future opportunities, including a direction on future onshore exploration, in the manufacturing sector they are looking at every opportunity to attract new industries and grow jobs.

Transport, health, education, law and order are key functionary elements that the community expect, but they are not visionary. They are necessities that governments must ensure they plan and manage well.  This is not to say that the parties could not turn education or health (medical research and best practice) into a vision for the state with a bit of thought!

However, the window for the private sector to act is narrowing. They must act now!

All parties will be running functions to meet with Leaders, Ministers, Shadow Ministers and candidates.  All are important to you in the information process, but you must ensure that your case addresses the current policies of all the parties, or seek to influence these policies.

If you are going down this path and want expertise counsel, talk with us. Experience and knowledge are the basis of our practice.

Robert Masters


Lobbying – knowing what case to put to whom

Recently RMKA assisted one of our clients in lobbying policy makers to rectify a commercially detrimental departmental ruling that destroyed a business case for niche high-value local manufacture.

The client had taken the appropriate legal measures to challenge a departmental ruling but had been caught in a technical detail dead-end. To the point where even the legal advisors suggested that a revised policy direction should be sought.

RMKA reframed the matter in clear policy terms with all of the positive and negative implications outlined in language that had public and electoral resonance.  We then engaged with politicians who had a natural stake in a successful outcome and gained their support to take the matter to the appropriate Minister for policy direction.

The result was that the relevant government department was given instructions to work with the client to resolve the matter and to get the local manufacturing case back on track.

The point illustrated is that on occasions it may be more advantageous to present a policy argument to those charged with a broader public interest rather than to further pursue a narrow legal argument.  The trick is to know how to put the policy case forward and to whom to put it.

That’s why, be it a legal or policy argument to be made, the appropriate professionals should be engaged.

RMKA has over 30 years of experience in working with government and is listed on the Australian Government Register of Lobbyists and the Victorian Government Professional Lobbyists Register.


Male thumbs down unhappy

Too expensive or too slack?


Is Australian retail too expensive or too slack to compete in the 21st Century?

If you have any suspicion that the answer could be yes the critical question becomes,  what do your customers experience as a result?

Warning: here comes a grumpy old man story.

Recently we attended a parent group dinner at one of those “Local Taverns”, which is to say a thinly disguised pokies hole.

Having resigned myself to a substandard meal, accompanied by excessive noise, I really didn’t expect much. What I got was even less.

Having ordered a veal schnitzel at the counter (no chips, extra salad), announced on delivery was a “chicken schnitzel no chips?” When advised of the error the young plate-deliverer firmly retorted:  “Well what’s the difference between a chicken schnitzel and schnitzel anyway?” One presumes she meant apart from one previously mooing while the other clucked.

When I insisted on receiving what was ordered the response was : “There’s no need to be rude, why can’t you just have what I brought?”

Mentioning legendary Soviet Union service levels came to mind but, given her infant years, I doubt she had ever heard of the place.  One wonders at her reaction should the local Apple store deliver her a Chinese knock-off eyePhone.

You may well ask what do you expect of a place where the large screens are filled with a constant series of Keno numbers?

I understand it is hard, in this country, to get good hospitality staff. No one wants to do it, and many of those who do ably convey a commensurate level of enthusiasm. A recent trip to the United States brought the differences in service levels into sharp relief.

We don’t necessarily want the USA $7.25 per our minimum wage with up to 20% tip scenario here.  However, one can’t help thinking that a greater focus on some sort of performance incentives would help create better customer experiences.

For the “tavern” in question there would seem little point to put in place any sort of customer service measures and incentives. Staff seldom stay longer than a few months and the whole place is focussed on just keeping gamblers in the building.

Is that the situation in your business? Can you afford to ignore customer experience?

Recent ICG mystery shopping exercises, across a number of industries, have exposed concerning service issues.

In a world of easy Internet shopping physical retail needs to exploit every opportunity and must offer an experience not possible online.

Obviously that is easier in the retail of large purchases that benefit from the customer physically trying the product, say, automotive. But even in such retail the opportunity for customers to cross-shop and undertake detailed research online creates challenges in maintaining both service and profit levels.

During such exercises the range of experience delivered to ICG researchers covers everything from walk-in customers being totally ignored, to poor standard-form email responses to internet enquires, to the classic never calling the customer back on a telephone enquiry.

Good operators (and they tend to be individuals not entire organisations) know their product, engage with the customer and follow up quickly. They get the sales. The others appear to aggressively (or even passively) staff their station or desk.

The only way to improve group performance is good old-fashioned training, incentives, measurement and accountability. ICG’s mystery shopping exercises are often accompanied by the development of management plans covering all these actions.

To extract the maximum value from your investment in people you need to know what level of customer experience your retail staff are delivering and to plan for continual measurement and improvement.

The alternative to providing positive customer experiences is the complete commoditisation of whatever you are selling. Today that means the lowest Internet price sets the market and the profit (or loss) level. There will always be price shoppers and there will always be shoppers who appreciate proper service. Which group is likely to deliver better margins?

The next time you read of some mega-retailer complaining that the Internet is stealing their business think of the level of service delivered at their barn (let alone any interest shown in the customer).

Finally, an example of how not to compete with online.

Recently a high-end clothing store in one of the fashionable (and dying) strips introduced a policy of charging browsers $5 (refundable on purchase) for “just looking”. They claim this is their counter strategy to “shopfronting”, the practice of trying something at retail outlet then buying it online at a lower price. What a wasted opportunity!

Perhaps if they focussed a little more on providing a customer experience that justified their premium they could convert more of the “shopfronters”, who are actually in the shop, into buyers. Another “For Lease” sign will not be far away.

John Kananghinis

Customer Experience

What did your customer experience?


In any type of retail outside of commodity the customer experience must be king.

In today’s world, if you had any doubt then take a quick look at the vacant shops in your local high street.

The retail world is morphing into three basic models. The first model is the commoditised transactional retail: supermarkets, big-box category killers (think Bunnings or Officeworks), and value driven discount and bulk stores with the proposition “we have it all and it’s cheap".

The second model is the on-line retailer: Amazon, iTunes and any number of segment-specific sites with the proposition being “we can get almost anything to you quickly and at the best price and you don’t need to leave your desk".

And then there is the third model – the experiential retail outlet. This sector covers where you want to go to physically experience the service or product i.e. restaurants, vanity services (hairdresser, spa, beautician) and entertainment (cinema, live music). Increasingly, luxury brands are creating icon stores with the intention of immersing the customer in the brand values (think Apple, Bose, B&O, Montblanc, Bally, Louis Vuitton).

The inevitable impact of the shift to three dominant retail models is squeezing the margins of businesses occupying the middle ground of general retailing.

The impact of this trend is being felt in the far broader retail space as well.

Even in areas such as automotive retail (where traditionally physical attendance and interaction with sales and service staff is necessary), greater customer use of on-line research means minimising the physical interaction.

If retail outlets allow their customers to become increasingly distant they will eventually be unable to keep them.

For any premium product retailer the answer has to be a total customer experience that provides a compelling case for customer loyalty.

Recently the Cadillac dealers in the USA were sent to a three-day Disney “boot-camp” where they learned from Disney about the effort Disney employees invest to ensure that the Disney experience is one that gets customers coming back time and again.

One of the simplest techniques is to advertise a theme park opening time of 9.00am yet to open their doors, every day, at least 5 minutes early. Disney says “this is a nice surprise for customers who have arrived early and are waiting at the doors. We want to get them off to a good start.”

What a remarkably simple customer-centric action. This is both easy to achieve and sets up a positive initial impression. Take this philosophy to every aspect of the customer interaction and watch the loyalty and recommendations grow.

In a world of instant internet access, the “show” is the one experience you can’t deliver on-line.