Magazine article Management Today

Personal Services

Magazine article Management Today

Personal Services

Article excerpt

Although it was made in the '80s, Personal Services clearly belongs to that thoroughly '90s genre, the docu-drama, in which historical fact is loosely reinterpreted with viewing figures in mind. This particular piece of 'infotainment' is based on the life and times of Cynthia Payne, 'Britain's most celebrated madam'. Superficially, it follows the career of 'Christine Painter' as she rises from waitress and sometime provider of handjobs through callow prostitute to full-time madam and 'party hostess'.

As the title suggests, however, it is as much about the challenges faced by the service sector in the turbulent '80s as anything else. The business viewer is reminded how companies and staff, which had grown slack, were forced almost overnight to develop a customer culture as the complacent, unionised 1970s gave way to the libertarian free-for-all of the Thatcher years. Ultimately, the film's message may be a little obvious but it is well-taken nonetheless. If you know your customers, understand your marketplace and provide 'service excellence', the rest will follow.

Like many owner-managed small businesses, Christine's company initially relies almost exclusively on a single, high-concept product, the 'popazogalu'. Through customer focus groups and word of mouth, it soon becomes apparent that there is a large, untapped market for a wider range of services, however. Eager to exploit lucrative new opportunities, Christine & co diversify into untapped areas such as schoolboy discipline. Some might argue that this shows a lack of focus on the core business activities, on the contrary, it shows that chief executive, Christine, has a rock-solid grasp of the corporate 'vision'. Her actions expand the customer base, and reduce the company's exposure to the fickle popazogalu market.

Naturally, Christine knows that advertising in her sector is a difficult and exacting business: budgets are very limited and customer focus must be extremely tight. Market research reveals that deftly worded notices in local shop windows are the best medium. Thus, she develops a card-based campaign using slogans such as 'French polishing' and 'Large chest for sale'. This clever use of ambiguity works on two levels. Not only does it inject a welcome note of humour into the exercise, it also ensures that while potential customers will understand exactly what is on offer, other non-target groups such as the police - will simply assume that there is a particularly buoyant localised market in second-hand furniture. …

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