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  • Tom Bell

When the empty seat is more than a consumer...



... according to the world of business folklore; i.e. it must be true now because so many people on the internet have said it, retweeted it, shared it, quoted it, you get the gist, Jeff Bezos, he of Amazon fame and one of the privileged travellers on Russell Brands infamous diamond encrusted billionaire hosting fun bus, well he, Jeff that is, apparently insists on having an empty chair at each of the meetings that is held within Amazon. The idea of the empty chair is that it represents the customers interests in the meeting, the presence of the empty chair is to help people in the meeting maintain a focus on the ultimate purpose of what they are doing, it encourages them to remember that the purpose of what they are doing is to serve the customer...


...if it adds no value to the customer then it serves no purpose to the business. Sounds like a useful tool to employ in the course of running any organisation. We all occasionally need a gentle reminder that the purpose of our businesses, whether in the Public or Private sector, is to serve the needs of our customers.


Right now in the NHS earnest attempts are being made to introduce technology into organisations, people are at last trying to bring the business of healthcare into the 21st Century...for me there is something deeply empowering about the effective use of IT, there is also something incredibly frustrating about seeing just how far behind the game the NHS has become. And this is where our book selling hero Jeff Bezos and his team of talented IT gurus really come into their own...when I look at my purchase history on Amazon, as you may well do yourself, I can visit each and every purchase since 2001, that's twenty-one years of purchase history and interactions that I can look at using any internet browser or the app on my phone.


I have never had security concerns about my Amazon account, my information has never been stolen (famous last words Bell I hear you say) and all this functionality has been offered to me, to you, and to the wider world by a bloke, albeit a very clever bloke, that started out by selling us books online...just dwell on that thought for a moment, a bloke that set up a business selling books and who called this business Amazon, well this blokes website contains more functionality and personal history online than the National Health Service presently offers its patients, tax-paying patients who fund it to the tune of over one hundred and twenty billion pounds a year.


When did we reach a point where our expectations of Public Sector services became so low that we thought it was acceptable that we should be offered less user-friendly online services from the Public Sector Services we fund than from the private sector companies that only serve us well because it serves their balance sheet and their shareholders to do so? For me, the idea of having an empty seat at the meeting table is perhaps more poignant than most, but the concept is solid, the notion that we all need a subtle reminder that it's all about the customer, be they called a patient or service user, the customers of the services we provide are the real reason our organisations exist; Public or Private.

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