Respect – being what our clients look for.

I don’t know what other people do, but I do try to match my manner and behaviour according to the client I am seeing, especially when visiting them in their own environment. My clients come from a lot of different backgrounds and vary in age from their early twenties to late eighties.

So how I deal with them depends on their expectations, and I try to keep them comfortable with me. Of course, if I am seeing a prospect for the first time I have to make a judgement based on experience, but if I know a client I already know what suits him or her.

What am I going on about? Well, I do not wish anyone to feel uncomfortable with me, so I think about my general demeanour, the manner in which I speak and the way I dress. I expect others do the same, whether consciously or otherwise.

Twenty-five years ago (it scarcely seems possible) I worked with a guy who provided bookkeeping services to a rock group and often worked in the office run by the band. My friend always wore his suit and tie when in our accountants’ office, but when he was at the band’s establishment he dressed down to very casual attire, because the staff were very laid back and living in the rock life environment. They would have been uncomfortable with a stuffed shirt and my colleague would have felt uncomfortable too.

It is all about managing expectations. My rule is (and you may laugh if you wish) that if I visit a business office I wear a suit and a tie, and of course a shirt as well. If I see a client who is younger who does not work in an office, so anyone from a drama teacher to a brickie, then maybe a jacket but definitely no tie. You get the picture. Then again these are the people with whom I am on first name terms; I have known them for a while.

There is then the older group, the over-seventies. They expect a tax practitioner not only to where a suit, shirt and tie, but to stay away from familiarity because that is the way they were taught to deal with their elders; they feel entitled to the same treatment and etiquette and that is what they get. I stick to “Mr. Smith” and “Mrs. Brown” etc. unless given permission to use their first names, though I do not get out of my own comfort zone by addressing anyone as Sir or Madam. I am a professional, not a servant!

I have cringed when visiting older people in hospital or seeing on television the elderly spoken to by medical staff using first names. People are stripped of a great deal of dignity by being in hospital or in having difficulty looking after themselves. They deserve to be treated with proper respect as it is better for their morale.

I guess the way I deal with each client is to make me feel more comfortable too; there is a selfish element. I learned from my rock band colleague how to make clients feel at ease with dress code and manner, but he also left a lesson not to get too much into character. I heard he died a sad rock star death at an early age and never had the fame to go with it. That was a hard lesson.

© Jon Stow 2009

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“Show me the money” and Giver’s Gain

I alluded a month or so back to my early steps in referral networking and my experience with BNI.

I wonder if I am going soft though. What always made me happiest in BNI was the concept of Giver’s Gain. In other words, if you help others they will help you; the logic of that is one will prosper from referred business which stems from the referrals one hands out. So why is it that at an open meeting put on by BNI the other day (which was otherwise very enjoyable – thank you BNI) I cringed when someone yelled out the slogan “show me the money” and went on to explain how rich he was getting?

I have been around the networking circuit for over six years now, since not long after starting working for myself. We would all like more income, especially in these difficult trading conditions, but I have become more circumspect in talking about my financial needs, especially in the environment of the wider world of social and business networking, online and offline. The funny thing is I have no problem in asking for a sale in getting a new prospect’s business, but boasting about how much money I am making as the BNI guy did would make me uncomfortable as did my hearing it from someone else. That is not to say I am a great salesman, or at least not with the hard sell.

I suppose hard selling was what the BNI stooge, for that is what he was, had been put up to do for the event. Maybe it worked for the newbie start-up businesses, but I am more into soft selling and referral by recommendation rather than because I belong to a certain group. Talking about money sounds like greed or avarice, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Yes, I know “show me the money” is popular in demonstrating the success of a Chapter but it gives me the shivers. If we realise that the more we have, the more we can give there is value in the statement as well as the money. Charity is what we should all have at heart when doing business; that is why I always loved the philanthropy of Zig Ziglar as well as his wonderful books about sales and motivation.

Despite all this, I am considering returning to the BNI fold, though not giving up any of my present local networking including my current breakfast meeting. I enjoyed the old camaraderie and togetherness of BNI, and whilst I think some BNI members including Assistant Directors don’t quite understand what Giver’s Gain really means, the lure of the old tribe may be hard to resist.

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Taking responsibility

I wrote back in January about owning our mistakes and there seems to be considerable avoidance of blame in our culture. We know where the buck stops if we are running a business, and it is on our desks and no one else’s. Also, if we have customers or clients and employees, we have responsibility to both groups, the first to provide a good quality of product or service, and to the second to pay properly, treat with respect and not risk their futures, though of course accidents happen.

I find The Apprentice difficult to watch, because the participants are constantly blaming each other for team failures. I would respect those who say “I am sorry, Sir Alan, it is my fault” (a rarity) but blaming others is no way to go about life. Some people do not have the need to be liked and will tread roughshod over all others in their path, and Sir Alan Sugar probably pays hardball most of the time, but he knows the value of his workforce and of his brand name, so he has to take into account what other people think to command any respect.

Amongst business people we often hear the lament that modern politicians have no experience in business, many having started straight from university into political research work for some other politician. There are few who have graduated through business now, and also few who have come through the ranks of trade unions, so most have no idea what it is to be responsible for others or to others. It is all about ego and climbing the ladder.

This brings me to the political situation in Britain, though I am not playing politics in this piece. The head of the service provider, the Prime Minister, is treating his customers with total disregard. HM Revenue & Customs refers to taxpayers as customers and we are all users of Government services so we must all be customers. In many ways we are shareholders. He does not seem to care that he does not have the support of the electorate and that they (we) have no confidence in sorting out the mess the economy is in. What is worse in some respects is that he is sacrificing his immediate staff such as Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears. I am no supporter of Ms Blears, but she has been a most loyal supporter of Gordon Brown and he hung her out to dry by describing her behavior in the MPs expenses row as unacceptable. She had done nothing illegal or fraudulent as some other MPs may have done, even if she pushed her luck a bit with her capital gains tax property-flipping.

Mr. Brown’s ego prevents him from seeing that his customers or shareholders have no confidence in him and he is not the right man for the job. He has failed, and even if he had not, if he had been in business and lost the confidence of all surrounding him, he would still have to go, even if his name was Sugar or Branson. It is purely ego that prevents Mr. Brown from going to see the Queen to hand in his resignation, and whilst he staggers on we are all suffering. We all know this, because we understand how business should be, and Government is big business.