What counts is what we can do

We had a very interesting speaker at a meeting I went to the other week. He was very knowledgeable in his subject and sounded as though he could really help his clients through tough times and to achieve their best.

After the talk, there was a general discussion during which it emerged that he had a doctorate in his subject. He was asked why he did not mention this in his talk or in his promotional material. He said he did not think it mattered. I suggested that potential clients and customers were not interested in qualifications, but only in what the person or business could do for them. That is my experience.

One way of showing what our business can do to help is to present case studies. I have several on my website. One client who came to me a couple of weeks ago first read my case studies last year. He was obviously a slow burner, but seeing what I had achieved for other clients ultimately persuaded him to come to me, and of course I can and am helping him to solve his problem.

People think of me mainly as a tax practitioner. What I really do is take away the worry and stress people go through when they have tax problems. That sort of pain relief allows my clients to get on with their lives rather than live a life of anxiety. Do you do that too?

 

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

Bad professional vibes

We all pick up work we do not like. Usually we do not know we don’t like it until after we are committed to doing it, otherwise we might have declined it politely in the first place.

The other day, I accompanied someone to see a professional person. I was there to provide moral support in an unpaid capacity. My companion was obviously uncomfortable during the meeting. She said afterwards “He doesn’t like me”. I told her that I thought he did not like her case because it had become messy and was rather a lot of trouble.

Of course, it was very unprofessional for this guy to let his attitude show. Also, he annoyed me rather by asking unnecessary questions about my qualifications (as I said, I was only the unpaid moral support) and as we were visiting his office he might at least have offered us a coffee. Anyway, he had an attitude problem and succeeded in antagonising me as well as the lady I was with.

Working rules for us should include:

  • If possible, don’t take work we don’t fancy.
  • If we are stuck with a messy job, grin and bear it, and do not unsettle the client by showing our discomfort. After all, poor professional relationships lead to less work and word-of-mouth comment can damage our reputations.

Staying in touch

Human beings are social animals. We like to hear from people. We like to know that we are in the thoughts of others. We like to belong.

Our clients and customers are human beings. They like to hear from us not just at the time we do work for them. They like to know we are thinking about them.

It is important to stay in touch, not just with the occasional generic email or newsletter. Check how your customers are. Make it personal. Ask them if there is anything they need. Make them feel wanted. You like to feel wanted, don’t you?

Schedules? Boring but important

26 Feb 12 upload 024 (2)“I don’t want to be hemmed in by my diary”

I am not a business coach, and have no ambition to be one. I do know a lot of business people and one who is in complementary therapy claims she has not enough work. Now I know she is good, because she has laid hands on a lot of people including me. Why does she not have enough work?

In her case, it is because she is not available consistently. She has been unlucky with premises issues, but she could get around these if she had fixed days for her therapy.

The trouble is she is too easily distracted. Therapy clients like to come once a week or once a fortnight, perhaps. They think of, say, Tuesday morning as their chill-out hour or so with their therapist. They don’t like to be messed around.  They do not like to come on different days of the week at different times. They have schedules too. They have people and events in their own diaries.

All of us who provide a service need to be there for our clients when needed. If it is a hands-on service, we need to be there at appointed hours, not Wednesday afternoon one week, and Thursday morning the next week, and Monday evening the week after. Our lives should have a pattern our clients can fit around.

Being there is what matters, and that means being there when needed.

Treating customers as doormats?

DSC02467I have had a problem with a company that was hosting four of my websites. The business makes a point of promoting that it provides for its customers to use WordPress. That encourages those who believe they can manage the WordPress interface to sign up. I was one of those people, though my “main” sites were already managed professionally elsewhere by a WordPress specialist.

I receive a message from the hosting company stating that my sites had been suspended because of a script which was not finishing, thereby overloading the server. The problem was a particular file. However, I could not remove it because my access was blocked. Eventually I was allowed to remove the file. I did not understand why it was a problem, but “Support” told me it would cure the problem.

A week or so later, the same thing happened again. I was very puzzled, and annoyed at the loss of my sites. After a few exchanges “Support” removed the file for me and reinstated the websites.

Guess what? Another repeat performance, but this time I was to be fined £80 before my sites could be released to me. I was being held to ransom. It was blackmail. I thought they must really hate me.

Of course I protested, and was given a lecture about security being my responsibility to prevent hacking. This was the first time anyone had suggested the sites had been hacked.

I sent a very angry email (but with moderate language) to “Support”. I then had a reply from a more senior person who said that they would release the sites without a fine and had removed the offending file.

“I have reviewed your previous suspensions which you’ve had for your WordPress backup scripts not finishing and causing high load on our shared servers, and it looks like you were also warned about the suspension fee last time if there were any future suspensions for this same issue.

The files and scripts contained in your account are entirely your responsibility, and it is also your responsibility to comply with our terms of use. The only reason that we charge a fee is for continued negligence with regards to this, such as this case where there have been multiple suspensions on your account for the same reason. (NB “multiple” meant three.)

Normally however, we do have our 2nd line technicians review the account after the second suspension to help you in making sure that this doesn’t happen a third time, but it looks like that wasn’t done in this case.

So for this instance we will unsuspend your account without collecting the fee, and our 2nd line technician will help you make sure this gets taken care of.”

I was also informed that the issue was related to a WordPress backup plugin. They had not mentioned this before. The site had not been hacked. I deactivated the plugin immediately. If “Support” had told me what the actual problem was at the time of the first incident the whole saga could have been avoided.

The Company has two problems. The first is that their junior staff (“2nd line technicians”) are too inexperienced to deal with some technical problems because they do not understand the issues themselves. The second is an inflexible policy designed as a deterrent to supposedly errant users, and not one intended to help those customers who had run into trouble.

Can you imagine having a business which tries to impose punishments on its customers? Very large service providers are able to do that because they are able to distance themselves from their customers and because they are hard to contact other than by email.

We try to help our customers; not abuse and fine them.

I have moved my websites to the care of a professional manager whom I trust. That makes it more personal. I believe that as small business owners our own purchases of goods and services should be from people we know and whom we can contact when we have questions or (Heaven forbid) when things go wrong. And sometimes we just need to be able to ask for help and know that we will get it.

Freebie folly

I had an email from an accountancy firm asking if I would give free tax advice in half-hour sessions over the telephone. I thought the guy must mean free to the client, but his firm would be paying my business.

It turned out he really did mean “free” and that I would be giving this free advice in the hope of picking up start-up businesses as clients as a result of their gratitude.

Things I have learned about free advice:

  • If you give it, you will never be asked for more advice for which you get paid.
  • Your insurance position is questionable if someone thinks they had the wrong advice.
  • Someone who wants it has no respect for all the experience, study and learning you have put in.
  • You could be being paid for the work you would be doing instead, rather than giving time away free.

Yes, I sometimes do give free advice, but that is on behalf of a registered charity. Never, never, never sell your work short, and never, never, never, never work for nothing except for a cause you hold dear.

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

Cancelling your goodwill credit

A while back we had the builders in and they threw away some fixings which they should have kept and put back up. I went into a local shop to enquire if they could sell me any replacements. They went further than that and gave me the fixings, which were a type of bracket, entirely free of charge.

What nice people, we thought. A year later, we gave them some business; actually quite a lot. The guys were working in our house, being a father and son, so it is a good family business.

I made the tea, and the father started complaining partly to me and partly to his son about another customer, whom he thought was a nuisance. It sounded to me as though she just wanted everything to be right.

Then another customer telephoned the son and was apparently complaining about a failure to deliver and fit the product up to now. Our man this end was giving reasons why they had not yet delivered, while the father, in asides to me, was saying “that’s not true”, “that’s a lie” and so on.

I hope we do not have any trouble with what we have been sold, but even if the products are perfect I would be less likely to refer these people because of their attitude to other customers.

We all gripe about customers sometimes after a difficult day, but surely only in the comfort of our own homes, with no one eavesdropping who could cause us damage?

Loose lips sink ships.

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

All our yesterdays today

As customers we all appreciate good service. Yet technology makes our interaction with many businesses so impersonal.

Bank branches are closing all around us. Yes, internet banking is very convenient and enables us to swap money around and pay bills at any time of the day and night. However, try speaking to a bank call centre and the agent may be polite but will not know you. Next time you telephone you will speak to one of a thousand others. All that assumes you will not have to speak to a robot or speech recognition software as some banks require.

I always liked to be addressed by name and recognised in my local bank branch when we had one. It was the bank where everyone (or the staff anyway) knew my name, so it was as comforting as that famous fictional bar in Boston.

Call centres are the bane of our lives. Many of us hark back to a time we remember when we could deal directly with a person on a consistent basis. Of course nostalgia can make us remember things as better when they were, particularly when we get frustrated by speaking to an anonymous agent. Those memories of supposedly better times can work to our advantage in our small businesses.

What our customers or clients still do remember is that quality personal service. They like a “go-to” person to whom they can always speak and with whom they can always deal. Depending on the size of your business, that will not always be you, the business owner, but if not, then make sure that every customer has a name as a point of contact in your office, who is a trusted employee. Give that employee the specific responsibility of managing each of their allocated customers. Not only will your customers really appreciate being able to speak to a person they know each time they need to, but the responsibility will help give your workers empowerment and satisfaction too.

The customers will recommend our services, and will stick with us for the long term. That is what we want, isn’t it?

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

Making a meal of it

And so to last Sunday’s lunch… Booked for 1:30 we had ordered within ten minutes. So far so good. From there we waited half an hour for our “starters”. Three fine. Mine not so good.

An hour later our main course had not shown up. We were told our food was just being plated up. Another ten minutes and it arrived. Mine had actually been plated within the last couple of minutes, because my fish was just out of the pan, perfectly cooked and absolutely lovely. But it was so late.

We never had dessert because the two hours we had allowed for lunch were up and one of our party needed to be home.

I really enjoyed my fish, but clearly the kitchen cannot cope. I do not like to rush when eating out but we cannot risk having lunch at this restaurant again unless we are prepared to spend pretty much the rest of the day there.

The lesson? It is no good having a great product if you cannot deliver on time. People remember.

Value, price and knocks

I lost a client recently. I wondered why. She said to me that my service had been great over the last eight years, and she could not have been happier. It was just that someone else was cheaper.

I had always had good feedback from this client. I visited her at her home at least once a year and spoke to her often. It is not as though she could have felt neglected. In effect she praised the value of what she had without ultimately appreciating it enough to stay with me.

There is no lesson to be learned here other than that we will get knocked now and again. We just have to move forward with confidence.