Simon Thorpe – Welcome to The CX Chat with Matt and Simon, the weekly podcast series on all things customer experience. My name is Simon Thorpe and I’m joined by my partner in crime, Matt Dyer as we dive into some of the hottest topics and burning issues facing CX professionals today. Matty, another podcast. How are you today?
Matt Dyer – I’m very well, thanks. It’s been pretty busy as usual. Currently, or this week, I’ve been spending a lot of time giving my dad remote support to set up his MacBook Pro, which is taking me back to the start of my career. And I must admit, hats off to IT support workers everywhere, who have to give phone support. It’s not an easy job.
Simon – Is that something you used to do back in the day?
Matt – When I started Sabio, I was in the Sabio support desk a long time ago.
Simon – I did not know that. Well you live and learn. Well you’ve let yourself in for it now, because now anytime I have any IT support you’ll be the first person I ring. So unlucky there chap. And hey we have got something a little bit different today and something quite special, I think as our subjects for this week’s episode. And with all the madness in the world right now, you and I have been looking at companies and individuals that have stood out from the crowd or they’ve gone the extra mile to support their customers. But today’s guest is pretty extraordinary, and what they’ve managed to achieve in lockdown. And you and I were talking earlier about altruism and how true altruism is pretty rare in big business. I pinged you earlier and said, Can you think of any companies that have done anything like that? Did you come up with anything?
Read the full transcript
Matt – Well, I saw something in France where the group who own I think is Dior and Givenchy have re-purposed the factories that typically made the lovely perfume we give to our partners. They’ve converted that into hand sanitiser manufacturer plants and they’re giving that to hospitals for free. So that’s one of the ones that I’ve noticed.
Simon – That’s good. That’s good. Yeah. Didn’t the beer company do that? I forgot the name of them, the craft beer companies that did that as well.
Matt – Brew Dog? Yeah.
Simon – Yeah. Brew Dog. That’s the one. That’s the one. Yeah, yeah. But to be honest, this is kind of altruism I think it’s pretty rare. But altruistic is probably the best word to describe our guest this week. He and his peers have done something which, frankly, is nothing short of astonishing. And so they’ve used their background and CX research, service design, consumer products, and all of that kind of learning and experience to create a national programme called Meals for the NHS. And that’s a way for the public to donate meals to the heroes on the frontlines, so people like doctors and nurses to give them a good meal and a good feed so they can carry on doing the extraordinary work they’re doing. But also at the same time that’s pumping vital revenue back into the hospitality industry.
Matt – Yeah. And the numbers on that are truly astonishing. I think, from what I can see they’ve raised 1.6 million. They’ve had over 16,000 donors, they’re north of 150,000 meals delivered to over 85 hospitals in the UK.
Simon – It’s absolutely. Well, it puts me to shame in terms of what I’ve achieved in lock down. So without further ado, let’s get our special guest on the pod. We’re going to treat this slightly differently this week. It’s going to be less of a chat and more of an interview to hear about the great work but please welcome Dr Andrew Muir Wood. How are you Andrew?
Dr Andrew Muir Wood – I am very well thank you, Simon. It’s lovely to be here.
Simon – It is brilliant to have you on the podcast. We have got so many questions and hopefully, we’re gonna connect even more people to your cause and what you’ve achieved and then hopefully we can try and get some more donations coming your way. But let’s just start with this kind of whole concept of using your time productively. What does your day look like with this whole initiative?
Andrew – So I split my time 50/50 between this initiative, which we’ll talk about later, and my day job, which is a product research consultancy, so the mornings I’ll be having meetings, stand ups, discussing strategy for Meals for the NHS, and then in the afternoons, I’ll be doing client workshops, new business and that kind of thing.
Matt – Very interesting. So in terms of your background, can you give the audience a bit of a feel or flavour around kind of where you started?
(Dr Andrew Muir Wood’s background)
Andrew – Yeah, sure. So I studied Product Design Engineering, back in the day, and then during my internship at Gillette Making manual Hair Removal systems, we call them razors.
Simon – The best a man can get.
Andrew – Exactly. I started getting interested in design strategy more than actually product design itself. And then so I ended up doing a PhD on the evolution of consumer products. And then got started really getting into the idea of designing kind of mixed methods research to understand design. And then I worked in strategy consultancies in some mid and early stage startups, and then about two years ago, I started and I went out by myself, and I started my own kind of mini consultancy, which does product discovery work.
Simon – So you were introduced to us, I think through a connection of Alex Barker. So, am I right in thinking one of the things you specialise in Andrew is called research isn’t it? So you kind of primary research, deep dive into customer segments and pulling out some really interesting insight.
Andrew – Yeah, that’s correct. I particularly specialise in just the discovery phase of research. So that’s when you’re using ethnographic techniques. So that you know, interviewing but also things like observation, diary studies and experiments with prototypes, early stage prototypes to understand people’s behaviour
Matt – Sounds like another topic we can get onto this podcast.
Simon – It does, it does. And you’ve not always had your own consultancy have you Andrew? Am I right looking at your background you did stints with people at Deliveroo and a few other companies.
Andrew – So they I did projects with, Deliveroo and other companies. The longest kind of stints I’ve had in house have been at a product strategy consultancy called Plan in London and then a financial technology startup called Judo where I was head of research for two years.
Simon – Got you. So for the audience’s benefit, I mean we gave a few stats at the start of the introduction to this week’s episode. But tell us more about Meals for the NHS. You know, what is it? What are you doing? And what was the ambition when you started this off?
(Starting up Meals for the NHS)
Andrew – Yeah, so it all started with a few of us, about four of us who have all have friends and family who work in various NHS roles. And we learned about this problem around them not eating properly. And so a number of reasons for this one is that they were working much longer hours, they were taking, you know, they have very short breaks at the best of times. They’re all wrapped up in PPE, it takes, you know, 20 minutes to get changed to get out of your PPE so you can’t just kind of pop out to Tesco and also if you did manage to pop out to Tesco then that, you know, at the start of the crisis, the queues were huge and the shelves are empty. And so there was a real problem with the these NHS staff members not being able to feed themselves. And so we got together to think about how can we go about solving this problem. And our initial ambition was that we would just try to get out a few meals to you know, a few hospitals in London and see whether we could get the public to fund this. We had a thought, we, you know, we thought, let’s try and raise 100 grand and we’ll you know, we’ll find some food providers to provide the food and then to see if it works. And then obviously, as you said, it kind of spiralled out of control. And now we’re up at those numbers that you mentioned before.
Simon – And is it, just so everyone’s clear that did I summarise it correctly in the introduction, so you’re inviting the public to donate, which is a monetary value. And then you take that money and then you order food for NHS staff members, doctors, nurses, for the very reasons you just described and you take care of all of the mechanics so you’re doing the kind of ordering process, the delivery you know getting the food to the people etc etc, so it’s not just helping NHS staff I read into that it’s also helping and pumping money into the hospitality trade as well. Is that right?
Andrew – Yeah, that’s correct. So it’s quite a complex value chain that we’ve set up where it always starts with the end customer. So it starts with us understanding the demand in for a given hospital, usually talking directly to the clinical staff themselves. They will then say, you know, it would be great if you could send us 50 meals tonight, half of them vegetarian, and we’d like them to arrive at 6pm because our canteen closes at 5pm and this means that the people on the night shift can get, you know, get some food before they get started. And then, you know we have the fundraising platform where we’ve you know, we’ve told the stories we’ve demonstrated the deliveries that we’ve made in the public have donated money in order to fund these meals. And then we find local food providers who are small independent restaurants and caterers, who can produce food, you know, in those volumes in a safe way. And that you know, they’re they’re confident doing the delivery. And then there’s a logistics piece where we either work the restaurant delivers themselves, or we work with a delivery partner to deliver it on time. And this whole process is managed by by us all via WhatsApp.
Matt – Wow.
Andrew – So for every hospital and every food provider, we have a WhatsApp group. And so in the morning, we confirm with the hospital that when the food is arriving, and who the main point of contact is for the food delivery, and then we’re now at a point where the orders are all confirmed, you know days ahead of time/ But essentially that then goes through to a restaurant that says yes, we can do 50 meals, 50% vegetarian at this time and then nearer the time as we approach the delivery time, we then confirm with the restaurant that things are running to schedule. And then you know, we let the hospital know if it’s running late at all and then during that process we problem solve any issues that emerged along the way. So if the driver gets lost or something, you know, something goes wrong. We create this kind of human API on top of the operation to try and smooth that out and to make things as easy as possible for the NHS staff members.
Matt – Yeah, that’s an interesting point. Because when you look in the website, it seems to be the who’s who of disruptor companies. So you’ve got people from the likes of Deliveroo, Uber, Monzo, Spotify, Google. Did you learn anything specific from these organisations, are able to leverage any of their skills with the project?
Andrew – Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the team is ridiculous. The talent that’s in, you know, in the room. You know, I always like to say when we have our, you know, whole company meetings, shouldn’t call it company, organisation meetings that this is the most expensive meeting I’ve ever been to in terms of the, the you know, the sound the quality of the people there and and this is a unique time that we’ve had, you know, all of the furloughing it’s quite a big proportion of our team are on furlough at the moment, some people are doing this on top of their day jobs and others work has dropped off and this is just their main thing. But yes, there’s this enormous amount of talent coming from these organisations. And, you know, they bring, there’s a few areas that they’ve really kind of shown, I guess the first one is probably fairly obviously that we’re kind of start up, but the first attempt to the first stab at a solution has been pretty good because the people in the team have done this kind of stuff before. And so, and then, you know, and then since everything, every aspect of the organisation of the operation has been, you know, service mapped and iterated on two or three times, and so whenever we identify a bottleneck, we were able to kind of work quickly to resolve it, you know, to optimise it. The next piece is I think the fact that we’re able to do this kind of low code, rapid prototyping approach to you know, building a solution. You’re using things like WhatsApp and Airtable. I mean, the whole thing is held together by WhatsApp and Airtable. It’s, you know, it’s this incredible multi-tab spreadsheet that where all of the orders, all of the hospitals, all the staff members in hospitals, everything is in there and being you know, and it works as kind of slick process every day.
Simon – Andrew is Airtable Excel for Macs?
Andrew – Air table is more of a combination between Google Sheets and a database.
Simon – Gotcha.
Andrew – And then I think the other area where we’ve really benefited from the experience of these organisations is in people scaling. So we went from, you know, 4 to 70 people in the space of about five weeks. And this was largely that, you know, this, the sourcing and training of these people has been largely driven by, you know, the individuals from companies like Monzo and Deliveroo who have, you know, have done that many times before. And so, we’re able to find high quality people, and get them tooled up really quickly so that they can help you know, scale the operations and start to move you know, to 50, 60, 80 hospitals.
Matt – Interesting. A friend of mine tried to set up a similar scheme but they floundered, I’m not sure the specific reasons why so what would you say has been your biggest struggle in trying to get the project off the ground?
(The struggles setting up Meals for the NHS)
Andrew – Yeah, I think the main struggle has been the growing pains of that most organisations come across, you know, over a period of two or three years, we went through in about, you know, three to five weeks, where you have all of these people who are, you know, super smart, super talented, they can go a million miles an hour that you know, the speed that comes into the organisation when you have this talent, but if you don’t have a, you know, super, super clear alignment on what the goal is and where you’re running to, then there’s a chance that those fast people are going to be running in different directions. And so, you know, that was definitely a challenge for us to make sure that we had super alignment on our operating principles and also on our goals.
Simon – I just love the idea of this. This really appeals to me so you saw a problem and then, I mean, was it you Andrew that kind of solved this problem and brought these people together, these four people together or was it four people around the table? How did that first nugget arrive?
Andrew – It came from, you know, two friends having a conversation, and then bringing me in to a phone call, just to discuss, what can we do about this issue? And the other thing we found was that a similar scheme had been set up in California. Okay. And so there were there was an organisation that was delivering meals to five hospitals in California, and they blogged about it. And so we use that as a bit of a starting point for us. And then what happened then was the calls with the hospitals. So I was adamant that there’s no point in validating the fundraising or the food provider side of the equation until we fully understood what the hospitals needed. And I think since then, we’ve seen a lot of, you know, hospitals receiving ad hoc donations which have actually caused you know, some disruption. It’s very, very generous, but it’s quite disruptive if you receive three crates of black bananas.
Matt – Where would you put them? [Laughs]
Andrew – Lots of stories about kind of old bread and things like that just arriving in hospital and you know, in the the A&E like, here you go, here’s a crate of bread. And so we definitely wanted to make sure that we started from the customer need and that, you know, every day, we are making sure that the food that they were sending in is exactly the amount of food that they can handle and that it’s being delivered in a manner that is not going to cause any disruption to those people. And that was something that was the drum that I was banging from from the start.
Simon – So I love that idea that you and your three cohorts have sat there and looked at it. This is very CX, isn’t it and that kind of service design. You’ve looked at it, you’ve mapped it, you’ve worked through any kind of problems, you’ve walked in your customers shoes, I mean that must have helped that kind of background that you’ve got in CX design?
Andrew – Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you’d love the, you know, the whiteboards that we put together to map out the process, you know, the process of raising money and then not funding orders and then and also the process of managing deliveries on a daily basis.
Simon – Sorry to interject, but how did you know about the NHS Andrew? Has one of your group got that insight intelligence, or was it just a case of talking to them?
(How did you know about the NHS?)
Andrew – It was, so we all had connections to the NHS. So my sister in law is an anesthetist at the Whittington hospital. And anaesthetics are, you know, very much a frontline team. They’re, you know, they’re one of the groups that are just working super, super hard, and you know, really struggling to take those breaks. Obviously, intensive care is another a huge one. And each of us had a relative or a close friend who was working in one of these areas, and so we were able to set up those initial calls with them or their colleagues.
Simon – Right. But presumably, I mean, working in intensive care is very different to kind of understanding how the NHS manages supply chains and deliveries and all that sort of thing. I mean, that that initial piece must have been quite a bit of work just just to try and get on the same kind of workflow and understanding how, you know, how you could physically get deliveries in in a safely well managed, well curated way,
Andrew – Yeah, that was, that was a little bit of a, you know, rapid prototyping approach that we used there, because we were dealing directly with the the clinical teams a lot of the time, this was this is the equivalent of them ordering 50 pizzas to their team.
Simon – Right, I see.
Andrew – So we weren’t going through your traditional procurement routes. And since then, we are having a lot more conversations with you know, with the you know, facilities management and we and then with a number of hospitals, we we deal directly with catering departments, but in the case of…
Matt – Has that slowed down the process or speeded up.
Andrew – And it really depends on the hospital. And on the on the individual. There are big, slow procurement processes in the NHS, but there are also individuals who understand that this is a unique context. And it’s free food.
Simon – Yeah.
Andrew – So, you know, let’s, you know, maybe we can remove a little bit of the red tape, as long as it’s safe, as long as it’s been produced by people who have a very high standard of hygiene, and that it’s being delivered and packaged and stored at the right temperatures, then, you know, meet those requirements. And then by all means, send the food in.
Simon – I think you just touched on something really interesting there Andrew, because for me, one of the big learnings I think we’re going to look back on from locked down at COVID is how quickly we can actually get things moving. If we put our minds to it. It feels to me like there’s been so much bureaucracy slowing down decisions and things like that. I mean, for you, you’re just demonstrating as you call it, rapid prototyping and action, but speed must be must be so it must be so good to be able to do what you’ve done and prove that speed can happen.
Andrew – Yeah, absolutely, I definitely, I’ve got a bit of a saying which is fake it while you make it. [Laughs]
Matt – Like it.
Andrew – And you know you buy if you think about the outcome that you’re trying to get towards and just just start delivering the outcome immediately even if the way that you’re delivering it is completely manual, you know, so that’s, that could be WhatsApp groups. It could be just people with spreadsheets, who are just behind the scenes making it seem seamless, then and get to that outcome.
Matt – Yeah, cuz interesting seeing that from a Monzo perspective. And they talk about the minimum lovable product and then behind the scenes, as you just pointed out is a lot of people doing the groundwork behind the scenes. So yeah.
Andrew – Yeah, absolutely. And then the benefit of that is that you you’re only really going to get the true customer learnings when you, when they have the full service with the full outcome in their hands, that’s when you only really start learning. Like, you know, of course you can do your discovery beforehand, I’d be remiss to say, career wise, I should [Laughs] be a mistake to say that but there’s always something that you that you miss until you’re actually the customer has the product in their hands. And so this way, you know, by just getting the meals in there, and then learning as we go, ‘Oh, you know, we need a second phone number in case the first person can’t answer the phone’, you know, these kinds of things that just, they just start to appear as, as you start delivering. And, and certainly from you know, flipping it around from the from the NHS perspective, when they when hospital, you know, management trusts, see the the emotional benefits of receiving these meals, then something that they may have resisted earlier on, because of, you know, the practicalities, they now see there’s a bigger benefit to it. And it actually it was, you know, they would consider having a more formal relationship going forwards.
Matt – And would you say there’s been a standout uplifting story that you can talk about.
(Most uplifting story so far)
Andrew – And this has some, I’m lucky enough that I get to speak to about three or four NHS staff members a week. And some of the stories, you know how it was, especially during the peak of the crisis, and in the early weeks, some of those stories are very, they’re really heart rending. And then to, to feel to hear how meals fit into that. And I guess to understand that it’s more than just, you know, physical sustenance, that that that that a meal provides, you know, when you get to when you take a break from, you know, that 14 hour shift with your, you know, with your teammates who are also going through the same the same thing, you know, you’ve lost patients, you may even have lost teammates to the disease. So then that opportunity just to take a break and reflect is is huge for morale and for you know, for mental health from from a group of people who are very stoic that you know, they they really like to kind of get on with things and so, you’re hearing stories about that, again and again is extremely rewarding. And that’s probably what stands out to me the most.
Simon – Yeah, it really does make you make you think the, the impact must have been huge and urge any and well certainly, if we’re allowed to Andrew, share the videos, that’s on meals for the NHS website, I mean, it’s, it really brings it home. How did you, how did you get the message out there Andrew in terms of kind of looking for donor support and you know, you know driving the message of the whole project was it all through social or did you use other means?
(How important was social media in building the message?)
Andrew – Yeah. So with social media, I think we really got the timing right, to kind of meet a sentiment and in the public, that we you know, we were demonstrating a way that people could help at a time when people felt helpless. They everyone wanted to do something to give something back to the NHS but, but it was really hard to know exactly how to do that. And so it really resonated on social media. We started actually going through friends and family just through kind of messaging privately and in WhatsApp groups and things like that. But then we started getting some fairly high profile donations and then some celebrities got got wind of it. Natalie Imbruglia…
Simon – Really? Nice.
Andrew – … did a shout out for us early on. Dara Breen has been a huge supporter from from very early on. And so once we started getting photos from the hospitals of them enjoying the meals, and also some of the stories that they’re telling about us about how impactful the meals have been on them. It was there was just lots to talk about online and that has continued and, and that’s definitely that, you know, huge channel for us.
Simon – Absolutely. Well, I mean, we can, it’s just such an extraordinary story. The amount you have achieved in such a small timeframe is just absolutely staggering. You know, as we get into the the wrap up of the podcasts, I’ll give out all of the information of how to go and check out the story and and donate. But Andrew, so grateful for you coming on and telling this story. And as you know Andrew, we what we try and do with the podcast because it is specifically you know, aimed for customer experience people and people from all sorts of backgrounds that have a kind of focus on the CX market. What we try and do is leave them with two or three ideas or thoughts or concepts, things that they could maybe could take back to their offices to think about. Have you got some things that you’d suggest that you learnt about, you know, your background, your experiences that might be useful for that kind of audience?
(#1 – Things that you learnt along the way that people might find useful)
Andrew – Yeah, I’ve got a couple of ideas that I think that could be good for the audience. I think the first one for me is this idea of creating these, what I call concierge prototypes. You know, more than more now than ever before, there are these low code tools like web flow, you know, like Airtable that I mentioned before, even WhatsApp that will allow you to deliver the outcome of a service in a very, very manual way. And that allows you to get the true learnings and also deliver you know, the best benefit from the very beginning of your organisation and that’s been really powerful for us and the speed with which we were able to get the meals out, it massively increased the speed with which we could begin fundraising and you know, start scaling the operation.
(#2 – Things that you learnt along the way that people might find useful)
The next one is about what you know, as we were adding team members, sometimes four or five people a day to get up to the team of 70. A lot of these very talented, very smart people who, you know, we’re going very fast, and we realised that they needed an operating manual that would allow them to move quickly, but and in the same direction. And so we created operating principles at the very, very beginning of the organisation. We were all aligned on these, we all agreed on them. And whenever there was a big decision to make, we were able to go back to the operating principles and say what do thesed principles tell us? You know, how should we, should we do this? Which types of organisations should we work with? Which hospital should we go after? These kinds of questions, we go back to the principles and use them to guide us. And if the principles didn’t guide us, then it would probably mean that we needed a new principle. And then, if everyone was aligned with those principles, then we could be confident that they would, you know, they would have our best interests at heart and, and as a result, everyone who’s joined has really seems to share, you know, I’m very possessive about the NHS staff members that we’re sending food to. Really want them to be treated very carefully. And everyone who’s joined it has, you know, has the same kind of ethic, which is great.
(#3 – Things that you learnt along the way that people might find useful)
And then the final piece is just about me. This is more of a kind of startup thing. I started the first whatsapp group, I managed the first deliveries, and so it was very hard to price once once I was up to 15 hospitals. I had to let go of these things and there was some really great people who came in from FinTech, from companies like Curve and Monzo who very gently prized my hands away from those operations and just, you know, they were scaling people, they were operational scaling people who can add people and processes you know, to make things scale and that’s that’s less my background and I really need to let go of it and trust someone else to who knew a lot more about it to do it properly.
Simon – Such a common problem though, isn’t it? No, you know, letting go of the baby and letting it flourish. It’s something we see so often I can imagine that must have been extraordinarily difficult when you have so much passion and investment riding in something like this.
Andrew – Yeah, definitely. I still have about 25 WhatsApp groups with the hospitals being you know, receiving their meals each night and you know, keeping tabs on things.
Simon – Well, brilliant take homes really, really valuable take homes. Thank you, Andrew, and once again, thank you so much for coming on the pod and sharing. It’s just an extraordinary story. And it ties so, so much into, you know, what you’ve learned and you and the extraordinary colleagues that you’ve got, how you’ve built something so quickly and effectively. And then it’s fundamentally doing so much good and so much value. So thank you mate for for sharing that. And we are obviously going to put some details on the social media or on our web pages. And I know that, you know, you don’t want to stop here do you. I mean, as much as you know, there is an easing going on, in terms of lock down the COVID, there’s still plenty of work to be done isn’t there Andrew?
Andrew – Yeah, so at the start of the crisis, all of the routine operations, elective procedures that were meant to be happening went on hold and so for the hospitals around the country are going to be working through that backlog now, and so the workload is going to be as just as intense as during the crisis. And that’s assuming there isn’t a second wave and so it’s just going to be continuously a difficult time for NHS workers and we want to continue to send meals in to support them during that time. So more donations, you know, will allow us to, you know, to prolong that support for as long as we can.
Simon – Well, the website is mealsforthenhs.com. That’s right, isn’t it Andrew? We’re going to have all of the details as I say on the website and check it out. You know, I really would urge our listeners to check it out. Watch the video, see the extraordinary and you’ve got a dashboard on there that tracks the progress and where all this good works going to so you know, it really take the time to have a look and if you can donate even better. And we’ll also put your details on the web page as well. So if anyone wants to talk to Andrew about his work, his background and you know some of his company capabilities as well, I’m sure you’d be happy to hear from people. I think we’re going to put your LinkedIn page on there, Andrew, and the other things like that, but big thanks again for joining us. Have you enjoyed it? This was your second podcast I think you told me Andrew?
Andrew – Second in about 10 years. (Laughs)
Simon – Well, you’re a natural mate an absolute natural. So thank you for joining us. What a cracking story. Matty what a belter this week.
Matt – Yeah, great story. My brother’s an NHS nurse actually in Aberdeen. I don’t think it covers the Aberdeen region so far. So I will be promoting heavily to see if we can bring it to my region.
Andrew – We are actually sending meals to one of the hospitals in Aberdeen. I’m not sure if it’s all of them. But yeah.
Simon – Ah, there you go.
Matt – I’ll be having a word after this podcast with my brother so that’s brilliant.
Simon – A connection to be made. Fantastic. Chaps, thank you ever so much. To our listeners, again, thank you for joining us, something a little different this week but totally uplifting and brilliant. Thanks for joining us. Hope you enjoyed it and until next time, goodbye.