Wednesday 24 October 2012

The Nice Guy With the Tandem?

I was once told that I was "too nice" to go into business. Well, I did it anyway - just to test the theory, and here I am three years later - still testing the theory.

Once more, today I was told that I am "too nice to be in that kind of business". Hmm, is there a pattern here? Am I missing the point? Should I be a cold, grasping, nose to the grindstone kinda guy like Scrooge instead of the "nice guy with the tandem"?

I think not. Indeed, I make every effort to be "nice" to my clients and potential clients. In fact I try to be nice to everyone, an approach that my clients endorse here.

Has the World Changed?
In my opinion, the world has changed over the last few years, including the world of business and commerce. People no longer want to be sold to (did they ever?). They no longer want to be preached to, controlled, told what to think or do. They like to feel "safe" in the knowledge that their input is appreciated, that they can rely on you (yes you) to do what you promise and that they will not be taken for granted.

So many large companies still seem to have a culture which is grasping and predatory, where the customer or client is made to feel like an unwelcome necessity rather than a partner in a transaction for mutual benefit. I used to work for a company where the MD insisted that attack was the best line of defence when dealing with customer enquiries. Sadly, some small companies also seem to think that this is the way to do business. It really isn't.

Oops! I think I'm preaching to you! I'd better back off, but what I will say is that engaging politely with your market place really can be a very positive and effective way of going about your business.

Do Something Nice Today!
At the risk of being patronising, here are a few simple ways of being nice that some of those big and small companies might like to consider:
  • Smile, it costs nothing
  • Be a go-to person, the one who helps others solve problems
  • Be genuine when you enquire as to their well-being
  • Listen actively
  • Ask how you can HELP them
  • Ask for THEIR advice
  • ** Leave your problems out of the conversation **

Have a smashing day!

PS, the guy who told me I was too nice today was actually being very positive and the conversation was a truly enlightening one. I will continue to be someone who holds his clients' hands, or puts an arm around their shoulder!

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Customer Dis-service

Something many corporates do when they are "improving the customer experience" is lose sight of the customer's needs and desires.

Let me explain

Today I went into a branch of one of our largest Building Societies to pay in a cheque. A simple enough task, I went to the self service cash machine, put my card in the slot and fed the cheque into the machine as requested. After 30 or so seconds of whirring noises, I was informed that the cheque was the wrong way round, and requested to put it in the right way. I re-presented the cheque and waited while the machine whirred for another 30 seconds before being informed that "sorry, we are unable to process cheques at this time". It then took another minute or so of whirring before my cheque and card were returned. Undeterred, I turned to the other machine and paid in the cheque without fuss.

Thirty minutes later

I paid a visit to a local supermarket to purchase a single item (porridge, if you must know!) and proceeded to the "ten items or less" checkout. There were several people in the queue, and the other checkouts were all fairly busy.

Prepared for a short wait, I stood patiently before being approached by a handsome young lass who asked if I would care to use the self serve checkouts. I really didn't, but her manner was so sweet - how could I possibly refuse?

"Do you know what to do" she enquired, and, of course, I didn't! After a minute or two of explanation, scanning, looking for the reward card and feeding cash into the machine, I came away with my purchase - thanks to the very helpful young lady who returned to her position watching the queue for the 10 items or less checkout.

What's your point? I hear you ask

Well, I understand how self-service technology can aid us in our busy lives, particularly in these simple transactional activities, and I understand queueing theory, and how it is used to get us through the tills and cashier positions quickly, but what about the human element?

I like to interact with the cashier/checkout staff sometimes. Just the simple, everyday "passing the time of day" interaction adds to my day and makes me feel good!

In the supermarket, I was fortunate to get the best of both worlds - I used the self service till and managed a brief conversation with a fellow human being. But, in the building society I was held to ransom by technology, and would have felt better served by a cashier. Just as an aside, they too often have staff standing waiting to help customers to use the cash machines.

Just stop and think:
Have you been guilty of taking away the human element of connecting with your clients? Automatic emails and call answering have their place (arguably!) but what is wrong with engaging with your clients? We all like to be made to feel good, and how better than by being dealt with in a personal manner? A simple call, or maybe a visit is no hardship surely?

One place where I believe we have to be careful is Social Media (the clue is in the word Social). Having someone write a blog is one thing, but Tweeting for you can be counter-productive. I recently engaged with someone I knew on Twitter, passing comment on something that we had discussed, only to be informed that it wasn't my friend who was tweeting, but his Social Media company. End of discussion, disengagement, thanks very much!

By all means, use technology and external resource to add value and  improve your "customer experience" but not at the cost of their humanity.

You can email Graham if you'd like to know more about Customer Service.

PS  If you're going to pay someone stand and wait for customers to ambush, in order to get them to use the automated checkout/cash machine, wouldn't it be better to have them serving people in the queue?

Controversial? Maybe but life is already inhuman enough. Just my opinion, of course!

Monday 20 February 2012

Vision? I see no vision!

The use of vision in your business....

A picture paints a thousand words, or so it is said. Great if you are someone who is "visual", but not everyone is. Some of us are kinaesthetic, others auditory or maybe a mixture. If you are not a visual person, stay with me, it's not all about pictures.

In business, we all need a vision, whether it be a small specific goal, a long term strategy or the "ideal" customer. The vision, in this sense, doesn't have to be pictures, it might be words or maybe even a "feeling" but without it , there is no way of knowing whether you have achieved your goal, or found that elusive ideal customer!

Indeed, if we don't have a vision, how can we convey it to those we want to help us? It's no use blundering along, hoping that something will turn up and everything will be ok, you need to take action

Having a vision puts you in a very strong position - many of your competitors won't be working on their business like you. Get the jump on them now!

Find that vision
It can be hard to establish a vision, especially after you have been in business for a while and difficult trading conditions are taking up your all of your time. But you may just find that taking a bit of time-out to think about your vision opens up a whole new world of possibilities and revive your flagging enthusiasm!

Here are a few simple steps to building a vision:
  • Decide what the vision is for - long term strategy, short term goals, finding a new customer
  • Find a quiet place and time
  • Imagine what success might look like
  • Start recording your ideas - writing words, doodling, search for pictures, use the voice recorder on your mobile. Whatever works for you
  • Take as long as you like, but give your thoughts free reign
  • When you're ready, gather the ideas together and you will find that a theme may well have started to form.
  • Take this theme and refine it further by writing it on a large piece of paper, or gather pictures that represent it. Stick it on a vision board, whatever works for you
  • Keep it somewhere where you can see it, add to it and be inspired by it
  • Take action!
It can be extremely beneficial to do this exercise with a friend/colleague, or better still, someone who is not emotionally involved with you or your business and can help you stand back and take the helicopter view as opposed to the microscope view we all seem to be so fond of!

I hope this has inspired you to think about your vision, maybe even start working on it.

PS. if you need a bit of help finding your vision give Graham a call on 07814 125053 or contact him via the website

Happy envisioning!