What do Ebay fraud, Sherlock Holmes and Rupert’s Fancy Fowls have in common? It’s elementary my dear

By Jim James,
Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

eBay is a multi-billion dollar business. It has 33 countries with operations, 14,000 employees, and the market cap is $31 billion, although for some people, the customer experience is not the best. The profile photos and email accounts of many buyers seem to be suspect, and it’s slightly difficult to upload a display photo. Another issue could be that they take the money and hold it before releasing it to the seller. The yield on their shares is only 1.45%, which means that they’re pretty much just surviving on scale. From an observational perspective, here’s a company that doesn’t look as though it’s being led by anyone that really cares about the consumer experience, and these observations are important, because they form a great deal of the profile or impression of a company, and this is, in essence, public relations. How a company treats its consumers at every touch point is public relations. 

Lessons from Albert Bandura

The psychologist Albert Bandura is the researcher most commonly identified with learning through observation and the other is in learning through doing. According to Bandura’s research, there are a number of factors that will increase the likelihood that a behavior will be imitated. He famously did a survey where he had some children in a room and they watched adults beating a large inflatable Bobo toy. The parents then left, and there were no repercussions from that violence. The children were allowed to play with the Bobo toy, and they beat it as well. This proved that people are likely to imitate behavior as they see it and are also more likely to imitate good behavior. People like to imitate those they perceive as warm, maturing, and nurturing, and they want to follow people that they see are receiving rewards for their behavior. 

As leaders of organisations undertaking PR, what sort of questions and behaviors are you creating for people to watch and to imitate? If you have a negative customer experience online and you share that with others, what’s happening is it’s becoming reinforced. You’re imitating your complaints and then get into a spiral of complaints where you share with other people your experience. So, as a leader of a company, one must always keep in mind the customers’ observations of a brand and their perception of it. People often think PR is simply about media relations, but it’s much more than that, because even if a company releases a great article, a spokesperson gets interviewed, or posted a video that went viral, but the user experience when actually getting the product or availing of the service is not the same, it creates this dissonance. 

He wasn’t just a courier, according to Sir Arther Conan Doyle

The first person that popularized these ideas was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes and previously a medical student at the University of Edinburgh. While he’d been there, he had a lecturer called Joseph Bell, who was a Scottish surgeon at Electra. One day, Doyle was in the classroom when a young man knocked on the door. Nothing happened until Joseph Bell said, “Enter.” This young man walked in, came to the front of the class, and waited. Bell asked, “Yes? What can I do for you?” to which the man said, “I have a letter for you.” “Okay, present it for me,” said Bell. After the man gave the letter, Bell said, “Thank you. That will be all,” and the man turned and left, shutting the door on his way out. The class thought nothing of it until Bell said, “What can we learn about this man? What do we know about this man?” They said, “Nothing. He’s just the courier.” Bell then replied, “We can tell, first of all, that he knocked and he waited before coming into the room. And when he did come into the room, he went to the front but didn’t hand me the letter until I asked for it, until I gave the authority. His shoes were polished, but not expensive. He didn’t have a wedding ring. The collar of his shirt had a ring of dirt around it. His suit was tidy, but not especially clean. He had some cuffed fray, and he didn’t wear a watch, so we can see that he was probably in the armed forces at some stage, but not in an officer rank. He is not well-educated, used to taking instructions, and probably lives at home alone or in a boarding house. Because if he lived with a wife or his parents, they would ensure that his clothes were fully clean. He hasn’t had work or good fortune recently, because his clothes are not new.” 

Bell went on to create the person for this messenger. This analysis was the inspiration for Conan Doyle, later on in life, to write the Sherlock Holmes stories. As anyone who has read or seen Sherlock Holmes will know, they’re all about the power of intuition by observation and that there’s no such thing as black magic. There is observation, and consumers, customers, and entrepreneurs have the ability to create all of the wherewithal that if somebody is observant about you and the company, you can send them messages they may not even be aware or receiving but are integral to their understanding of what the business is doing. 

Rupert’s Fancy Fowls and the ‘COVID’ mindset

Rupert’s Fancy Fowls sells eggs, and they are 37% more expensive than the standard egg. For six eggs, instead of paying £1.79, it is £2.46 for six eggs. Next to the eggs, there is a typewritten sign where Rupert talks about how, after 72 weeks, all hens are sent to the chopping yard and are made into KFC. But his fowls, his “girls” as he calls them, are all found homes. He said that he had spoken to the Wildlife Association and in partnership with local charities and schools and, “We find homes for all my girls, and so when you’re buying the eggs from my girls, you’re providing a pension for them when they’re old and out on the grassy fields providing joy and comfort to a family somewhere.” What a wonderful narrative. This is a fantastic example of how a local entrepreneur has created a narrative around something as simple as a commodity like eggs. On the packaging, it’s called Rupert’s Fancy Fowls with “Handpicked” written on the label. In an era when people are thinking of battery hens in large volume and cruelty to animals, here is an entrepreneur who’s realised that the story and the observation that consumers have in that store are going to make them not price-sensitive. It is the embodiment of having the “COVID” mindset, which EASTWEST PR defines as being Compassionate, Optimistic, Values-based, Informative, and Digital.

Consumers now are hyperaware, moreso online, of how they’re being treated and, quite possibly, being cheated. When one feels vulnerable and insecure, someone reaching out like Rupert who espouses homegrown values and care for his “girls,” really resonates, increasing the chances of gaining loyal customers. Interestingly enough, his pile of eggs was much smaller than the ones next to it. This created the impression of scarcity, that it was believable. He was saying that there were not so many hens and that they’re handpicked. 

If you think about your own business, what cues are you giving your staff by the clothes you’re wearing, the car you’re driving, the phone you’re using, or the way you’re treating each other? Are you modelling and creating behavior for your staff that, when consumers, customers, or business partners do business with you, they will like it or not? The lecturer Joseph Bell did, and so can you with all of the nuances around you and your company. It’s not necessarily PR in the context of media relations, but when doing press conferences or presentations, all of these clues and signals are picked up by people subconsciously, since over 80% of all communication is nonverbal. Observation is a human intuition. Joseph Bell spelt that out for Conan Doyle and the class at the time. That translated, in the case of Conan Doyle, when he went on to make a fabulous franchise, which has been amazingly successful throughout the decades because it’s predicated on a very basic common human instinct: to want to find answers and to want to trust. And so, hopefully, there were lessons learned from that classroom at the turn of last century from a Scottish surgeon and lecturer on observation. Bringing it back to the present, how can you make sure that your customers are observing the very best about the company and that the company is being the very best for all to see?
This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

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