Unreliability, sickies and trust

Rayleigh Market Photo credit: Jon Stow

Rayleigh Market – Photo credit: Jon Stow

A long time ago, when I worked in London, I had a female colleague who called in sick on a Thursday every four weeks. No one thought too much of it and if we are honest, we supposed there might be a biological reason for her absence and she had our sympathy. At least she had our sympathy until one day one of my work-mates who lived in the same town saw her on a “sickie Thursday” selling on a market stall. Obviously she was rostered by the family to work the stall every four weeks on market day.

I am not sure who actually “grassed up” my fellow worker, but she was called in by the boss and her monthly absences on a Thursday stopped. She had been rather dishonest since she was paid when on sick leave as well as presumably being paid for working on the stall. She definitely suffered a loss of trust.

Strangely, some self-employed people seem to have the habit of taking dishonest sickies even though they won’t be paid. Having had to put up with this, I find it harder to trust people who do not turn up and email or text at the last moment to say they are cancelling. Once upon a time they would have had to telephone and tell the lie, but now electronic media mean they only have to type their apology with their thumbs. That makes it all the easier.

I am sure we have all had days when we did not feel like working. However, really it is no excuse not to get out of bed if someone is relying on us, and a hangover is not an excuse in my book. Take the painkiller pills and turn up.

Being unreliable as some of the no-shows are means they are seen as untrustworthy by their customers. They are damaging themselves by losing earnings when they do not turn up, and more money when they are dropped by the customers they let down.

Why do they do it and ruin their reputations, when we all know that being there for our customers is the most important part of maintaining a relationship?

Gym crackers

Young adults doing exercises at the fitness clubOur local leisure centre has had a change of provider. One well-known company has taken over the running of it from another. However, they do seem to have management problems under the new regime.

In recent weeks, my wife and her friends have been messed around with their exercise class in the swimming pool. One week they were telephoned at home to be advised that the class had been cancelled because there was no instructor to run it. Later, it transpired that the instructor was actually unavailable for the following week. She had turned up to find there was no one there for her class, so it was cancelled anyway, and also obviously for the following week when she really wasn’t there. That seems like poor management and a lack of communication.

Now I hear that several ladies who have a studio class found their latest instructor poor, and apparently she is not qualified. They asked to see the manager, who had recently been promoted from swimming pool duties as a number of staff had left with the old management company.

The ladies expressed their concern about the quality of their exercise class. I do not know how strongly they made their point, but apparently this manager said “I am not talking to a lynch mob” and walked away. The problem was not resolved.

Of course this guy has possibly been promoted beyond his ability (the Peter Principle), and certainly lacks training which he should have been given. What has resulted is a very poor example of customer relations, and of customer service since he should have been offering compensation, even if it had been vouchers for free coffee in the café.

Word gets around. Reputations are damaged. If you asked me privately which leisure centre we are talking about, I would probably tell you.

Of course we can have difficult customers. Sometimes, if things have gone wrong, we must take responsibility. What we must not do is alienate those who provide our livelihoods.

How simple it is to ask “how can I make it up to you?”

If you are not special, you are not trying

Guarding the beach hut, Thorpe Bay

Be different (Photo credit: Jon Stow)

I have had my run-ins with telecoms companies in the past, and very frustrating it has been.

For the third month in a row, my business broadband provider, which is one of the smaller ones, failed to process my monthly payment and for the third month in a row I had a somewhat threatening email from their Credit Control Department. On each occasion I have logged into their website and paid on-line from the same account using the same method as they would had they succeeded in collecting my money. It is quite clear that the problem must be with them, so it is especially galling when all they can do is send me rude emails.

Following the last rude note from them and having paid the bill again, I telephoned to speak to the Credit Control people, and told them what I thought, but in very polite terms. I was advised that they could not check individual accounts. But, I said, one of the benefits of dealing with a smaller company was that I had in previous years received what seemed like a personal service. They had no response to that.

So it seems I am no longer getting the value out of dealing with a smaller, more caring company, in which case why should I pay more than I would dealing with cheaper but larger competitors? I will pay for value, but not if I don’t get it.

I asked to be transferred to Customer Services with a view to discussing my account. I expressed my unhappiness with the treatment over payment and asked why, with no better service than from a telecoms giant, I was paying more each month and with a lower download limit than I could have elsewhere. The response was “we cannot compete on price with the others”.

I have “voted with my feet”. I have taken my account to a cheaper provider. Value of service is important to me, but I am not paying for what I don’t get.

My soon-to-be-former telecoms provider is going to struggle. If they cannot compete on price and they no longer compete on value they will go out of business.

Our small businesses need to be special and different and offer that extra attention to our clients and customers, otherwise we cannot compete with the Big Girls and Boys. We need to offer value and if our customers feel special, then we have established great relationships with them leading to ongoing business.

Don’t you like to feel special? I do.

Rushing around achieving nothing

Make some family time

Make some family time

We all want to make money and have a better life. What we really need is one good business.

Now I know the old adage about not putting all our eggs in one basket, but it is very difficult to run two or three businesses efficiently on our own, or with just one or two other people. We would end up time-poor. That means that not only would we not have time for family life, we would not have time to plan how to run our businesses efficiently. We would probably make less money out of the two or three businesses than the one, unless we recognise our inadequacies in time and invest in good managers.

Life can be very chaotic if we have to be in several places working on separate businesses on the same day. We would need to keep one central diary (easy these days with on-line technology) so as not to miss appointments, as I know some of these over-busy people do. In any business that is one of the worst crimes. Of course we can organise our time, but there are only so many hours in a day.

Then again, if we make ourselves time-poor we will neglect our family and our relationships. We will be unhappy as well as permanently exhausted.

Do not over-stretch yourself. Don’t run too fast.

Admitting our mistakes

Sheepish?

Sheepish? (Photo credit: Jon Stow)

We all make mistakes in our businesses. Usually they are not serious, and should normally mean an apology to our customers or clients. Recently I forgot a client had given me a document and I asked for it again. When she put me right, I apologised, and I am sure that our business relationship has not been harmed. It is best to own up straight away.

The other day, I went to collect an order from a local shop. The business owner, who is someone I like and respect, denied he had received the order, even though it had been ordered in person. I suppose he simply forgot to write it down, or mislaid his note.

He has fulfilled the order now, but has been a little “off” with both my wife and me when we have seen him since the incident. As there was no real harm done, I am not sure why he would not have apologised, even if he genuinely thought we were mistaken rather than him. It would have smoothed the waters after all.

It is a terrible cliché to say that the customer is always right, and sometimes customers are wrong even if we don’t say so. However, if we want to continue doing business together, quiet diplomacy is the way forward even if our feathers are ruffled.

What do you think?

Encouraging the shrinking violets

Violets

Violets (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we are managing a team in business, we will have one or two people who shine more brightly. They will show their talent and volunteer for difficult work. They are great to have working with us.

There may also be some in the team who are more shy and self-effacing. They may have great potential ability, but lack confidence. They may feel intimidated by the unintentionally more forward colleagues.

We need to encourage our quieter colleagues by allowing them more demanding tasks and giving them support to see them through. We may well find that they will flourish, produce great work and push for more, having gained confidence from their achievements.

I was once a shrinking violet. I was fortunate to be given my head in difficult demanding work, which helped me realise I was really very good. I also learned that false modesty gets you nowhere. :)

Were you one of the shrinking violets? Do you nurture them? It can be very rewarding.

Telling your clients they are wasting their money

Aug 16 2011 028A lot of my work with clients is helping them get out of a mess. Usually that is because they have made mistakes in dealing with their taxes or have “forgotten” to declare certain income or gains.

Sometimes there is a question of the law and whether we can debate with HMRC, with a prospect of getting a good result for the client; in other words, proving that they have a lower liability to tax, or perhaps none.

At other times it is a question of negotiating lower penalties for the client, and making the case that a client’s guilt is less than HMRC contends. Perhaps the client has been involved in a tax “scheme”, and it is my job to decide whether it is worth resisting HMRC’s attack. Frankly it is often not worth resisting, especially if HMRC is not pressing for serious penalties or claiming negligence or carelessness on behalf of my client.

Sometimes clients feel very strongly that they are being targeted unfairly. They will want me to resist at all costs whatever attack is launched by the tax man or woman.

“At all costs” is all very well, but sometimes it is my duty to advise my clients that they really have nowhere to go, and that they have no chance of success, or very little, however much they spend on my fees or those of someone else. Quite apart from raising false hopes, I think it is quite wrong to take people’s money while believing that they are wasting it. That would be quite dishonest.

We all have our particular areas of expertise. We should all know when our customers or clients are wasting their time. If we “sell” our services knowing that they will be of little use, it is no different from the DIY store selling you a lawnmower they know will not do the job for you. It would be mis-selling.

Don’t you agree that to preserve our integrity, sometimes we have to advise our clients to save their money because they are “on a loser”?

 

Verbal understandings are not contracts

 

coppersIn my business I think it is important to have agreements in writing with my clients so that they know exactly what I will be doing for them in conducting their affairs (and what I will not be doing). I have always said that verbal agreements are no use especially when the parties fall out or one side has a perceived issue.

Many of us look after family members or agree financial arrangements with them, and somehow it seems less comfortable to ask them to enter into a written agreement. Yet why should they be any different? They are people who may have ideas you have not fathomed.

So I confess. My wife and I entered into a financial and verbal understanding with a family member ten years ago, and when it came to the crunch last year, he reneged on the agreement. That has cost us a lot of money. That is the point: where money is involved, people may have an eye for the main chance when greed, and other motives unknown us, kick in.

If you are relying on a family member to repay you or at some stage meet certain financial obligations, have it all in writing no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel. That is an insurance we all need.

As for us, we have again learned from experience. Trust no one where money is concerned, and get it in writing when you need to. Onwards and upwards!

 

Stress and the small business owner

origin_544510865 (2) head scratchStress is a major threat to the health of a small business, quite apart from being a threat to the owner suffering the stress. It affects productivity, it affects creativity, and it can affect the way we interact with our customers and our staff. It is generally bad news.

We have all had those times. I have had a very difficult few months myself, being involved in some litigation unrelated to my business. That is all over now, and although we have (very unjustly) lost our claim against the other parties, we can try to put it behind us.

How did I get through? I worked as hard as I could with my clients, but due partly to the stress itself but also the work involved in putting our case together, my creativity and the amount of my writing and blogging took a bit of a knock.

I coped by talking to sympathetic ears and both my wife and I are grateful for our friends and the support we have had. I have also used my walks and time off to relax a little, although being under pressure my normal “bright ideas” that I have when out in the fresh air have been somewhat eclipsed by the darkness of the court case.

It is all over now, and although we have lost and there are costs, at least we can move forward, and I can again enjoy the business game as I always have.

How do you cope with stress when it strikes your business and you?

Running your own business down

So often I meet earnest business people who work hard and are not making money. So often it is because they undervalue themselves and what they do. They offer a great service, and if you asked their customers they would say that the businesses really stand out in terms of service quality.

This is one of my favourite themes. You need to value yourself and your own business, and know that your extras and special care for your customers and clients warrant higher charges, and your clientele will not complain. You must not join the race to the bottom.

And if you don’t believe me, see that that Master of Marketing, Jim Connolly, thinks. Do you believe me now?