Cheapskate prospects

Photoxpress_10909891 calculatorWell, a cheapskate is not really a prospect, as why would you take on a client who was not prepared to pay you a proper fee or have any respect for what you can do for them?

The other day I had a call from a guy who asked if my business was something I ran “on the side”. He meant, “Do you have a “real” job working for someone else, and are you just making extra pennies on your evenings and weekends?” In other words, was I going to be cheap?

I told him my business provided my living and my fees reflected the benefit he would get from my services. I did not bother with the list of costs we have such as insurance, software and training, and the value my expertise would bring him, because clearly that would have been a waste of time.

I wished him luck finding someone who would do the job at a very low cost, and bid him good day.

What would you have done?

How to lose a customer in one easy lesson

Vostro 1000 with Windows 8A couple of weeks ago I needed to buy some software and found a company that seemed to offer what I wanted: a single license for a one-off project. I chose them because although I am very happy with my current supplier (this is for tax compliance) I needed a program for a back year which they could not supply to me.

I downloaded the program, found the license key, emailed for an activation key, and waited… several hours when I wanted to get the job done.

Eventually I had the email in reply, copied and pasted the key, and Hey Presto, the program worked.

I duly entered the required information, sent off to my client the work I had done, and everything was fine. When the client said he was happy, I went to start the program again, but was told my activation key had expired. I had paid my money. What was the matter?

I sent an email to the software company and asked for help, since they did not answer the telephone. Hours later I had an emailed reply, disbelieving my story. I sent a screenshot of my error message.

More hours passed. I was sent another email with a new activation key. I tried to copy and paste this, but a new error message said this was incorrect. I emailed back.

The next day (yes a whole day without resolving the problem) I had another reply suggesting I did not know how to copy and paste properly (yes, really). I tried to telephone again, but there was still no reply, only a recorded message stating their office was closed and their hours were 9 to 5 (but it was 11 in the morning).

I sent another email. I received another activation key after an hour or so. I copied and pasted, and worked this time it worked and the program ran. At least I had got the work finished!

At no time did I have any proper responsive or helpful contact with anyone in the company. The dialogue was from their side pre-programmed and unimaginative. I still do not know whether they ever answer the telephone, but it does not matter now because i will not be calling them.

Oh, and I will not be buying any more of their products.

The most important part of our relationships with our clients and customers is communication. We must keep them in the loop concerning the work we are doing for them, and we must be accessible at reasonable times if they need us or have questions. It is obvious.

I learned from this company how to lose a new customer, but I will not be putting it into practice.  Nor should anyone.

Where we are now

Canary Wharf from Excel Centre

Canary Wharf from Excel Centre (Photo credit: Jon Stow)

We can all look back and regret decisions we have made. I could if I felt like it.

Should I have been more serious about that girl? Should I have had ambitions to be a Lloyd’s broker when I was a lad? Should I have accepted a posting in the Far East? Should I have taken that job? Should I have left that job?

We did not know then what we know now. We started our businesses based on what we knew then. We have learned along the way, and with hindsight we can see our mistakes. That is called experience. As long as we learn from it, we will be stronger.

We should be happy with what we have achieved, but never complacent. There is so much more we can do and look forward to.

Don’t look over your shoulder with regret, but only to check the lessons you have learned. Me? Non, je ne regrette rien.

Are your prospects in harmony with your business?

I guess we can all make a splash once to get noticed, and a joke might be the way to do it. Will prospects really remember a business for the one joke, repeated over and over again, or will they get bored?

Here is eHarmony’s current ad in the UK:

 

 

 

 

I would rather that my potential clients felt they could relate to my business and feel comfortable that I could give them what they wanted.

Here is a confession. I have played the dating agency game, and did computer-dating back in the Seventies and Eighties (yes, they had computers then). I would far rather have thought that I did not need to have film-star looks, and did not need to be perfect. I was looking for a normal sort of girl, not some glamour model who would not give me a second look.

The old eHarmony ad featured real people who seemed normal to me; not ordinary, but with their own individual characteristics. Had I still been in the game, I know that this next ad would be much more attractive because I would be comfortable with it until I bought.

 

Don’t you prefer this to the joke ad? Well, I certainly do, but does the advertising agency know better?

Isn’t your prospect more likely to buy when they feel familiar and comfortable with your business and you?

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.