In March I attended a day of IRM UK’s Innovation, business change and transformation conference on Portman Square in London. One of the presentations that piqued my interest was given by two women from Metro Bank. Clad in the bank’s trademark red and blue colours, they explained how Metro Bank was built on the premise of creating fans rather than simply having customers. They explained how the whole organisation is driven by its ‘no stupid bank rules’ mantra and all employees are encouraged to bring a personal touch to what they do. Slogans such as ‘dogs rule’ and ‘kids rock’ are as much a part of Metro Bank’s philosophy as its big store openings. The women running the session even went so far as referring to themselves as ‘customer obsessed’. Perhaps most revealing of all was that Metro Bank spends nothing at all on marketing as its customer focus does this job automatically.
This got me thinking about what the Open University could learn from this company. Certainly, there were things this start-up did which are executed less well here at the OU – initiatives like an internal social media for sharing ideas and information and dragons’ den sessions set up for staff to bring their ideas to. However, I ended up concluding that in terms of having fans, maybe we could teach Metro Bank a thing or two. The OU has plenty of fans, fanatics even. We are often seen by people who have little to do with the OU as a national treasure and anyone who was around in the seventies will have memories of switching to BBC2 at random times only to be confronted by bearded mathematicians courtesy of our great organisation. Our staff really wholeheartedly believe in the organisation (who here doesn’t cheer when an OU logo comes up the end of a BBC TV programme?) But, more than anything, our biggest fans are our students. We don’t just offer these people a product or a service – we radically change their lives for the better. What’s not to like about that?
Johanna Breen is a Senior Project Manager in the Learning and Teaching Innovation portfolio at the OU, working on STEM subjects. She is also an OU student, currently completing her last module of a degree in modern languages.