The Tour de France ended on Sunday in Paris with a stunning, bravura victory for Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky. As I saw the amiably tousled (well with his helmet off) figure of “Wiggo”, along with “Cav” and “Froomey, and the rest of the team riding side by side down the Champs Élysées, I was struck by how different this race was compared to previous races, or other sports stories. While the victory by a British team was both inspiring and very timely, it was the very nature of that victory that moved me. Having recently seen the latest pathetic, impotent performance, and the dreadful inevitability of tournament failure, by the overpaid, underachieving, brain dead muppets that pass for English professional footballers and the avalanche of negativity that followed the Euro Championship, I got thinking about the differences in the two performances and in particular how that might translate to “real life.”

I am both personally and professionally entangled with an engaging, and occasionally coquettish mistress, called customer service. As a result I thought that if we were looking for role-models, notwithstanding that is often a fruitless and demoralizing task, or lessons to be learned, that would help customer service teams, would we find any in within this sporting melange. Now I recognize that you could argue that there is a slight difference insomuch as the TDF has an individual winner, but I think that would be a relatively moot point in the overall picture of the hugely successful “team” effort.

As I pondered this, but without the depth of thought or research necessary to produce “War & Peace”, three words came to mind:

1. Preparation

2. Togetherness

3. Ethics

Let’s look at those in a bit more detail and their potential place in the world of customer service.

1. Preparation:

Most of the key riders from Team Sky, and, as importantly, team management and support crews, have been together for at least two years, and as much as anything, clearly learned from past failures of the team (Cav’s victories aside) in the TDF in 2010 and 2011. The work that goes into preparing the riders, physically and mentally, studying the strengths and weaknesses of their rivals, as well as an inch by inch understanding of the course, means that they are ready for almost anything, except perhaps tacks on the road (more about that later).

Compare that with England Manager Roy Hodgson (hired six weeks before the tournament) and his merry band of indolent and arrogant millionaires for whom preparation seems to comprise picking the right tunes for their always present iPhones, or getting the latest tattoo on their various appendages. They managed to get a hotel a country mile (literally) away from where they played their group stage and ended up physically and mentally exhausted even before the games. Roy and Stevie were careful not to be too optimistic, or had no choice, but the England football team of 2012 could very accurately be described as a team that aimed low and missed!

Preparation in the customer service world means ensuring that your team has strong personal characteristics, is well trained and is lead inspiringly and confidently, and can react quickly and with agility when things go wrong. While I yield to no man in my frustrations with O2 and the way they generally treat people, (I am a customer after all), even I would admit that their response and that of CEO Ronan Dunne in particular to their recent network outage, was light years ahead of the pathetic, tardy and hubristic outpourings from NatWest, following their computer crash and the on-going pain it caused their customers.

2. Togetherness

I used this word rather than teamwork as I felt that when I saw Team Sky, this word exemplified them and reflected the selfless, self-motivating attitude of the riders themselves, rather than it being management induced or directed. While the ink stained wretches have attempted to make a Mont Ventoux out of a relatively small Box Hill, concerning the Chris Froome – Bradley Wiggins rivalry, it looked to me that they both put it aside quite comfortably and without rancour.

Roy Hodgson had a major problem just picking the team, as the personal animosity and obvious disrespect that many of the players have for each other overrode any feeling of togetherness, or stopped any chance of it breaking out anytime soon in football. This was demonstrated only too clearly by the recent racially tinged, public bust-ups between players such as Anton Ferdinand, John Terry, Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra. I’m sure there are many more such incidents that take place every Saturday afternoon that go unpublicized.

If you ran a customer service team, who would you rather have on your side speaking to customers, working cooperatively with colleagues and delivering empathy and understanding; John Terry and Anton Ferdinand or Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome?
Yes, me too!

3. Ethics

I realize that using the word ethics in the same sentence as Tour de France may expose me to a little ridicule, especially due to the coalition of pharmaceutical chaos that has left the hotel rooms of previous tour riders dotted with used needles. However, I believe this year we saw a positive change and while it may be a while before we know for sure if the Sky boys were only guilty of having taken a beguiling cocktail of enthusiasm, responsibility & proficiency, I feel this one will turn out OK. In this year’s Tour the ethics bar was set very high when, following the potentially catastrophic incident of tacks on the road, Wiggo, gallantly and selflessly, convinced the main group of riders to slow down and let those caught up in the melee, to catch up. I know a couple of guys took advantage, but it was Bradley’s leadership example that I find inspiring and reflected a spirit of fairness and generosity rarely seen in sport or life.

Contrast that with the recent football goal-line incidents, and in particular one that involved a guy with previous – John Terry – against Ukraine. Can you imagine John, or for that matter any “professional” footballer, rushing up to the referee to let them know that the ball did actually cross the line? No, I didn’t think so. Then think about the number of tough, manly (OK, maybe not those with “Alice” bands) footballers that go down faster than Barclay’s stock price, holding their head, when hit a very slight, glancing blow on the head. These are bad actors at best and despicable liars and cheats at worst.

Organizations can’t guarantee that everyone behaves well and does the “right” thing for the customer every time. But if you are an organization such as Zappos or John Lewis and build a strong and ethical culture and the supporting characteristics into your core values and company DNA(Barclay’s management look away now), then it’s likely that when your customers find tacks on the road, you’ll have your own Bradley Wiggins to steer them clear and help them if they do puncture.

I know that the sports world in general is not always the place to look for empathy, leadership and responsibility, despite the vacuous outpourings of football players, managers and other team sports personalities. The term role-model and the concept of celebrities filling that vacuum are contentious. But if I was a Customer Service Director hosting an education day for my team and wanted to bring in a sports figure who could bring inspiration, innovation, regeneration and a strong sense of ethics, I know who I’d choose.