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    Read on and enjoy our new conference blogs - scroll through the pages and add your comments.  With over 600 delegates across the two days, this event was buzzing, action packed and stacked with great ideas and loads of enthusiasm for making things happen.  This year we wanted to let you hear about this through the voice of our members - roving reporters who shared the insights they picked up as they went along.  These conference blogs are part of our strategy of involving members and friends of the Planning Forum in creating best practice materials that enables members to learn and innovate. Thank you to everyone who has taken part in this 2013 initiative.  
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Feedback and news about the Annual Conference: Customer Contact Planning & Strategy 2013

Karl Fletcher - My Conference Diary

The conference

29th April:

05:30 – alarm goes off, which is always a fun time on a Monday morning.  Sneaking round house quietly so not to wake anyone before setting off to Chesford Grange

06:00 – failed!!  Woke partner, not a good start.  Right off I go….

07:15 – at Woodhall services, first traffic slow down of the morning…oh, Starbucks! Time for a caffeine stop

08:45 – Journey of stop start traffic, ARGH! Going to be late….

09:20 – phew, arrived at conference.  But sneaked in at the back of the hall and have missed Steve’s opening remarks.  Not a good start!

10:20 – bumping into some old friends, good to catch up and have a natter.

10:57 – late to first workshop to do some facilitation (supposed to be there 10 mins before start!!)  Bit nervous but looking forward to it

11.00 to 12:45 – great workshop, very lucky that I had some great individuals on my table who came up with some great ideas and thoughts.  Nice of Colin to get me to talk first just cos I was late!!!  But interesting to see round the room who was there and the thoughts they had. 

12:45 – bump into another friend over lunch and have a good catch up

14:00 to 15:30 – into quality workshop, which was a little disappointing.  Just as things got talking on the table, we had to move onto next point!  Met Aaron Gourlay for first time – led a discussion on 3rd party suppliers and quality.  God, does that guy know his stuff.  Just wish we had more time to discuss quality as it is such an important subject.  Better quality of service for our customers should lead to a better service, increased revenue and less service contacts.  Shame it felt a bit rushed

15:50 – 20 mins later than booked, finally meet with Nexidia – even though told that I have no purchasing authority (as all sits with outsourcer).  Meant that I missed the speech from Martin Wilson Hill – not happy!!

16:30 – back in hotel room (Ramada) – not the best hotel have stayed in but to be fair they are doing refurbishments.  Time to crack on with some work.  This is the bit of planning we don’t look at ourselves for.  We spend all day at a conference and then have to do our days work before enjoying ourselves – but I wouldn’t change it for any other job!

19:00 – text received from friends, they are in bar at Chesford Grange and about to go for dinner if I am coming across – dinner here I come..

22:30 – back to hotel, a good evening catching up and meeting new people.  Not the best dinner, buffet but choice was limited.  No option for a la carte, which was sad.  Telf still showing off about how well he did on the golf when I left.  Am sure he will be still telling the story in the bar at 2am!!!

Day 2
06:00 – comfy nights sleep and not too bad.  Get a walk in before breakfast – lovely start to day

08:30 – arrive at conference to book in for day 2

09:00 – first session was led by Paul.  Colin spoke first on Customer focus, managed to get Everton into his talk!!  I bet he was glad to go first, particularly when Sophie Patrikios from Lego started to speak!  She was funny, engaging and it was brilliant!  I liked how she said what they did wrong, what they learned from it and how they have taking the learnings.  This is the real world, it is not about getting everything right and Sophie’s speech did that!  She showed a lot of cohunas as well, laying self open like that.  So great in the conference to hear about what goes wrong rather than just focusing on what is good all the time.

11:00 – Customer focus session with Colin – a small session (disappointing based on the subject) but Colin was great.  He let the conversation run and changed the agenda round to give those in attendance a proper chance to discuss something important.  Covered the 4 reoccuring barriers to all questions.  Interesting to hear of the challenges being faced by others round the table (finance and water regulators), none of which I have, phew!!!  Great session to be in and got lots more from it

12:45 – that session went quick, another fave bit of the day, lunch!!!

14:00 – into the Lebara and BT sessions

15:20 – just come out of the sessions – good sessions, thought the BT was interesting showing the information on why move to customer effort.  Need to think how that would work in FGH (but how do we measure success is going to be key).  Lebara was interesting (on a personal note) to see how their culture works but don’t see them in the mix for the awards tonight despite a great presentation and clearly a fun place to work.  Cant see how that would work everywhere and I think a lot of people struggled to understand how it would work across their environment.

15:30 – meeting with Douglas Jackson – good to catch up with Lorraine after meeting her at the seminar in November.  A good chat about a number of things, clearly a person to keep in touch with

16:00 – bit late, get told to sit at the table at the front for the end of conference speeches.  OMG, there are some strong individuals around this table.  Three judges, the two end note speaker, the planning forum founder and chief exec.  Hope I can keep my own in the conversation round the table!!

17:15 – just leaving the conference – wow oh wow.  Such a great bunch of people, very friendly and shared some great knowledge.  So lucky to get to sit on a table with those individuals around it.  Great end speeches, Nick remains as inspirational as ever.  He is right about focusing on people, his passion really comes through.  I hadn’t heard Simon speak before but he was excellent and showed that customers really should be the centre point of any business (as well as the planning teams!).  Now, was his mentioning of rock and customer right through the middle a subtle hint of Brighton next year!!  Got a chance to speak to Simon and what a guy, he give some good thoughts and guidance to what could be done, a true champion of the customer and our industry.  Right, back to hotel to get ready for evening
Evening do…

19:20 – arrive at hotel, not in dicky bow and dj as would look a right bouncer but just in suit and tie.  But feel under dressed!!!  Oh, see a bar is open so go there for drink

19:21 – Oops, that was the finalist free bar to celebrate their success – how embarrassing for me!! Right off to the bar, need a drink to hide my glowing redness….

19:30 – so where am I sitting – nothing like make it difficult to find name by putting it in table order!!!!  Is it a test of our analysis skills!!  Right found me, table 25 here I come.

19:32 – Now, not being the smallest guy in the world, great to be put in the corner against the wall with not a lot of room around me.  Jessie, Darrel and Andy from RAC, Miriam (from Austria but didn’t catch where) and the wonderful lady from Therapy solutions (god, I cant believe I have forgotten her name!!).  They were all so friendly and very relaxed.  We all agreed to take in turn to move our arms to eat as not any space – note to PPF – a bit more space please for when we are eating, might help more for the chatting too…. 

19:40 – in coming the award winners, its like a wedding when clapping them in.  Hope they all made good use of the finalists bar!!!  Then on with the first game of the evening..  Thank god, Darrel and Paul Smedley knew what they were doing!!  So close though, just ran out of time to make it secure enough

20:00 – dinner starts to get served and games carry on most of evening. Disappointing dinner, to be honest, no flavour in the soup, Yorkshire pud was cold on main course (know from those around me that vegetarian option wasn’t great) but the desert was to die for!  Shame the whole meal couldnt be equal to the desert.  Know mass catering is hard but it was a small let down on the evening.  Great to have Paul on our table, watching him work the table and the people around him was really insightful

22:00 – Paul Smedley – the man is a legend and a great host, wine flowed very well on the table.  But getting accused of trying to get him drunk, I think he can do a great job on his own!  Now time to be quiet for the awards…

23:30 – time to call it a night as I have to leave at 6 in the morning.  Well done to BT but for me the most impressive awards were the hero awards.   Congrats to everyone though, those Planning Hereos were great and to see the surprise on their faces!!  We need more people like that in planning, those who really step up and lead by example…

Final thoughts
What a great event, very professionally organised and great meeting so many different people and companies.  I picked a couple of misses in my sessions but I expected that.  But I got so much out of the event, it was GREAT FUN.  But it was also hard work – this is not a jolly listening to those speak, you only get out what you put in.  To all planners, go to the conference.  This is the event to meet talent, debate with talent, learn so much to improve yourself (trust me, even if you think you cant be improved when you go to this event, you realise the gap between yourself and excellence).  And you get a chance to be a roving reporter!!!

On a serious note, I want to say thank you to all the planning forum team, I hope your hangovers have all gone by now.  You are the true heroes of planning, the ones that have made and continue to make a difference to our profession.  Thank you.

This article is written by the author, who takes full responsibility for the content. These are not the opinion of the Professional Planning Forum and we take no responsibility for accuracy, appropriateness or any other aspect of the content.  Please contact us direct if you feel any blog should be amended or removed and we will discuss this with the author. These conference blogs are part of our strategy of involving members and friends of the Planning Forum in creating best practice materials that enables members to learn and innovate. Thank you to everyone who has taken part in this 2013 initiative. 

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