Priority for any business, no matter what it is providing, as Personal Services demonstrates.
Although it was made in the '80s, Personal Services clearly belongs to that thoroughly '90s genre, the docu-drama, in which historical fact is loosely reinterpreted with viewing figures in mind. This particular piece of 'infotainment' is based on the life and times of Cynthia Payne, 'Britain's most celebrated madam'. Superficially, it follows the career of 'Christine Painter' as she rises from waitress and sometime provider of handjobs through callow prostitute to full-time madam and 'party hostess'.
As the title suggests, however, it is as much about the challenges faced by the service sector in the turbulent '80s as anything else. The business viewer is reminded how companies and staff, which had grown slack, were forced almost overnight to develop a customer culture as the complacent, unionised 1970s gave way to the libertarian free-for-all of the Thatcher years. Ultimately, the film's message may be a little obvious but it is well-taken nonetheless. If you know your customers, understand your marketplace and provide 'service excellence', the rest will follow.
TARGETING KEY CUSTOMERS
Naturally, Christine knows that advertising in her sector is a difficult and exacting business: budgets are very limited and customer focus must be extremely tight. Market research reveals that deftly worded notices in local shop windows are the best medium. Thus, she develops a card-based campaign using slogans such as 'French polishing' and 'Large chest for sale'. This clever use of ambiguity works on two levels. Not only does it inject a welcome note of humour into the exercise, it also ensures that while potential customers will understand exactly what is on offer, other non-target groups - such as the police - will simply assume that there is a particularly buoyant localised market in second-hand furniture.
Having started her own business in the sexual services sector, Christine finds herself with a customer who requests oral pleasure, a prospect she finds (quite literally) unpalatable. Thinking quickly, she realises that she can use the client's submissive streak to her advantage and, much as Tango or Irn-Bru did in the early '90s, she quickly and cleverly repositions herself in the marketplace, by altering only the packaging. Rebranded as a kinky dominatrix, she offers the customer a 'popazogalu' - a form of value-added hand relief named after her erstwhile landlord. The result?
A win-win situation: Christine's client leaves a satisfied and fulfilled man and she enjoys a marked reduction in clean-up costs.
Like many owner-managed small businesses, Christine's company initially relies almost exclusively on a single, high-concept product, the 'popazogalu'.
Through customer focus groups and word of mouth, it soon becomes apparent that there is a large, untapped market for a wider range of services, however. Eager to exploit lucrative new opportunities, Christine & co diversify into untapped areas such as schoolboy discipline. Some might argue that this shows a lack of focus on the core business activities, on the contrary, it shows that chief executive, Christine, has a rock-solid grasp of the corporate 'vision'. Her actions expand the customer base, and reduce the company's exposure to the fickle popazogalu market.
As the business grows, Christine finds herself running regular, and well-attended, sex parties where a basket of diversified leisure services are on offer. As this was back in the early '80s, before smart cards were available, she knows that any form of 'pay per use' system would be near impossible to administer. Instead, customers buy a voucher, which entitles them to passive entertainment such as lesbian floor shows and porn films.
For active entertainment, with its higher outlay and commensurately greater profit margins, they give the voucher to the girl of their choice, who retains it. By streamlining a potentially unwieldy payment structure, this system allows Christine discretely to keep tabs on staff performance levels.
GETTING THE MEDIA 'ON MESSAGE'
After the police raid her flagship Christmas party, the inevitable media circus ensues. Christine is aware that, although she has broken the law, there is a well of public sympathy waiting to be tapped if she can manage to put the right spin on things. She appoints a former client - a decorated airforce man turned committed deviant - as her PR supremo. His attitude to the press is one of uncompromising candour, enlivened by a fine sense of the perverse and the ability to titillate with salubrious gossip. Comparing her strategy with that of Shell over Brent Spar, it is obvious that Christine's choice of spin doctor and policy of frankness are the right ones. Rather than vilify her, the media rally to her cause.