Professional arrogance

Good customer experience

Having recently been on the wrong end of a less-than-helpful experience dealing with a professional in another field, it made me think about the traps we can all fall into when dealing with our clients and customers.

Keeping our eyes on the ball

We all have our particular areas of expertise. We have worked hard to know what we do and to be in able to provide the service our customers look for. Sometimes it may be that their expectation is not met, even though we think we have done what we were asked. There is sometimes a difference between giving people what we understood they asked for and what they were expecting in terms of a customer experience. There may be a danger that they will pay us what we asked because they cannot deny we delivered something. That something may not quite be what they were expecting and they will not come to us again when they have a need. Did we play the ball they bowled or some other ball we saw in our mind’s eye?

I may have been guilty in my long-gone corporate days. Did we deliver what the client wanted of our team or was I too eager to sell what we had which appeared to fit their need?. Did I ask if they were happy? Was I so arrogant as to assume that they were without asking?

Listen before, and listen afterwards

More than ever, and even if we are running a successful business in this difficult market, we need to listen to our customer. Do we understand what they want? Can we deliver it? After we have done what we thought they asked for, have we asked them if they are happy. Do they need an extra tweak to what they have bought from us? Is it what they wanted?

Many Happy Returns

It is only by listening to our customers from start to finish that we can be sure they are happy and will come back to us. With any luck they will give us an unsolicited testimonial, and they are the best sort. What do you think?


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Referral networking and Dunbar’s number

Six degrees of separation.
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I have been thinking more about the networking butterflies and why I believe there is a need to concentrate on just a couple or so referral groups. We know that it is important to see our network contacts, who are of course people, on a regular basis. It is only because we see them often enough that we can be comfortable with them and trust them with our reputation when we refer them.

I think we can only have so many people in our trusted social networking community and beyond that we may have contacts we could suggest and but probably not have the certainty to recommend. Our close referral group is probably restricted to Dunbar’s number. Robin Dunbar, who came up with this number is a British Anthropologist and Wikipedia explains “Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person”. It is best you read the Wiki article, but many of you will have come across this theory before. The number is 148, rounded up to 150 and I can buy into that.

I don’t think we need to get confused with having large numbers of contacts on-line. Thomas Power, chairman of Ecademy, believes we should have as many as we can. That does of course give rise to the “you never know” factor based on the theory that we all have only six degrees of separation from anyone else on the planet. I don’t really buy that one, but we can get lucky, and it allows the random possibility which recently found me a client in Australia via Twitter, from where I am certainly separated by a considerable distance. Thomas has an exceptional memory for people, has met more than nearly all of us, and the random process gives rise to great connections. However, my more modest but large number of network connections would not allow me to recommend without checking the provenance of any offer and ability of any person or company to deliver.

So, back to off-line referral networking, and into my special area which is breakfast networking. I am not comfortable in trusting and recommending huge numbers of people because I am still rooted in the tribe or village size of about 150. Furthermore, in any village there are going to be a few villagers we are not so keen on and don’t like to be with. Of course, some people leave our network village, and some join, but if I go to too many networking communities I feel I will get confused as to who to refer to whom.

What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

Related post: Networking, hunting and butterflies

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Being there – the secret of referral networking

I am back to one of my favourite subjects, but I make no apology. If you belong to referral networking group you have to turn up almost all the time. That’s how it works. You have to be seen, you have to communicate, you have to be trusted, and then your peers in the group will feel able to trust you as a reliable person to whom they can refer work from their clients and friends. Absentee members will not get work referred to them because they will not be seen as reliable. Indeed not honouring your fellow members with your presence on a regular basis is quite disrespectful.

BNI has a strict attendance policy and members can be removed for more than a couple of absences in six months. Not everyone can be comfortable with that formula, but founder Ivan Misner said recently “there is a direct correlation between the quantity of referrals generated in a networking group and the absenteeism of a group. The higher the absenteeism, the lower the referrals. The lower the absenteeism, the higher the referrals.” My experience in referral networking leads me to agree with that wholeheartedly.

Success in networking is about trust and reputation. I can refer another person only if I think they have a good reputation for reliability and therefore I need to know them well. If I refer them then my own reputation is on the line. It’s simple really. Be there!

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Networking and Chinese Walls

Aerial view of the Broadgate Tower, London
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When I worked in the City of London in the heady eighties there was always some big financial deal going on. Perhaps a takeover bid or an IPO could be on the cards. One of the ethical problems was that different parts of the same company could be working on a project in conflicting ways because they acted for different parties to a particular deal, or even opponents in a takeover battle. For that reason, confidentiality had to be preserved even within the firm one worked for, so one couldn’t afford a careless word over lunch in the canteen or on the park bench. These special arrangements where we could not talk about our work with members of staff on another team were and are called Chinese Walls.

A similar situation might arise at a personal level. Cousin Bill might not get on with Aunt Agatha. We would like to maintain good relations with both so we just don’t mention one to the other when talking. Much better to keep quiet and keep both happy. It is not dishonest; just diplomatic and in that way we could help either if need be without any acrimony.

In our on-line and off-line networking we can find ourselves in similar situations where we find that one good friend or business acquaintance has some animosity towards another. We can stumble unwittingly into a problematic situation if we are unaware, but once we do know then we have to treat them like Cousin Bill and Aunt Agatha and just avoid referring to one in the other’s company.

I have found myself in an embarrassing position not being aware of a problem between a couple of acquaintances, but once I realised, brought down the Chinese Wall between them. Have you found yourself caught between two adversaries? What did you do?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Networking and raining on my parade


We have to accept that some networkers are very insecure. That would be because some people in general are insecure.

There can be a problem at some events which allow more than one of the same type of business to be represented. I do not feel threatened by other people in my general area of business. Actually I like to get to know them. I regard them as colleagues. I may be able to refer them if they and their businesses have strengths in areas which I and my business do not find profitable and interesting. At the same time we have the opportunity to share ideas and experiences. I have a rule never to try to tempt away a client from another business I know (known as tapping up). Actually I never ever criticise the work of someone else in my field. It would be very rude and unprofessional.

I was an an event a few weeks ago. I had the opportunity to mention my business briefly and in passing while giving a talk about something else. Later, an attendee representing a business in a similar field spoke at length about what their company could provide. It simply seemed that this person was trying to out-sell me and rather stridently too, even though I wasn’t there to sell and indeed had made no effort to do so.

My advice is that if you meet someone in a similar field, make sure you have a good chat with her or him to see if you might work together or co-operate. There is much more benefit from walking the same road in partnership than in trying to push the other person off.

Just don’t rain on someone else’s parade. That other person could be your key to more success.

© Jon Stow 2010

Trust, networking and the black hole

Simulated gravitational lensing (black hole go...
Image via Wikipedia

When we refer someone to a friend or colleague or fellow-networker, we do need to be able to trust the person we have recommended. That is obvious and should go without saying. Part of the way we can feel comfortable to refer someone is simply by being acquainted with them for a length of time.

Taking this further, that means we have to see the person we may refer regularly. We may have had a one-to-one (I hope we would have), but at least we need to see the person often at networking events. Turning up is very important because being there establishes reliability. Not being there indicates quite the opposite.

I like to refer the best person for the job. The best person is usually the one who turns up; not always of course because working with someone is a matter of comfort too for the person who needs the service or product. Mostly though we need to refer the person whom we know better than the others.

I cannot refer someone whom I don’t see very often even if we both belong to the same club or group. If I simply haven’t see a business owner for a year or several years, he hasn’t got a hope of getting business through my suggestion. If I haven’t seen the person in the last three years since she would have been the obvious choice, she might as well have fallen into a black hole as far as I am concerned. Of course I care about her well-being but I cannot stake my own reputation on her work even if I can find out how to track her down.

Did you know someone who had disappeared just when you thought of him or her?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Networking, hunting and butterflies

As someone who runs a breakfast referral group, I follow-up visitors who have attended the occasional meeting in the past but who have not become regulars and signed on the dotted line as members. It is fascinating to hear the different responses, such as the person who obviously didn’t get networking because he was worried about just meeting the same people every week when he joined us for breakfast.

I caught up with another guy this week, and asked him why he hadn’t been to see us. He said “I already go to two networking groups and I don’t want to dilute my referrals too much”.

While I was disappointed as I had hoped he could be a valuable member of the group, I thought this was a great answer from someone who really understands networking and the importance of building trust in his inner circle of business friends. He has earned my respect.

The problem with the networking butterflies, those who flit from group to group and probably cover quite a few miles, is that they are in reality hunters. They have to be because they spread themselves too thinly to be capable of giving referrals to many people they meet.

What they hope for is a great and fortunate referral or at least a good lead in a conversation they may have with someone they hardly know. Of course it happens and it has its place in the business world in that such people are salesmen or saleswomen; let us settle for sales people. However they are not good networkers and are not expecting to be able to give anything back. Networking success usually involves giving first and receiving later.

Our hunting butterflies may protest that their larger business network may benefit from referrals. They may suggest that they can maintain relationships with one or two hundred people in a referral networking environment. They may refer to Dunbar’s number but the reality is that if they know ten printers and eight graphic designers, only one of those is up for each referral in those categories and that is the one they know best.

Do you agree? Have you seen these people fluttering around?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Networking butterflies

I am a keen networker. I do believe in getting out often to meet people in business and to build relationships. To me and to most of us the important part is about the building of relationships, because with that comes trust and the referrals we can give without embarrassment, and we hope the referrals we receive.

I usually go to two or three meetings a week, although sometimes it is only one. It depends on my work schedule and my clients of course. Some meetings are weekly, some fortnightly and some monthly. Pretty much all my networking is done in the same groups, though with an occasional sample of a new one. I expect that is pretty normal.

What I do not do is travel to lots of different meetings, hardly going to the same one twice. I also do not generally travel more than around twenty miles (overseas friends please remember how our dense population makes motoring slow at times) because in practice I know I will not be able to make time to visit regularly. As networkers we need to be seen as reliable and that means being at the meetings almost every time and not drifting in and out.

Yet I know there are networking butterflies who drift in and out of groups, flitting from flower to flower, never concentrating on a few. Maybe they find the odd serendipitous piece of business on their way, but what may seem the best serendipity is often the result of hard and careful networking and relationship building over a long time. Our butterflies are easily forgotten if we see them but once in a blue moon

I believe we should choose our networking groups carefully, and give them time to work What is your experience?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Saying “Thank you”

I guess I would not like to work in a large chain store. I imagine that at busy times, especially at the check-out it can be a pretty relentless slog, and at other times rather boring. I expect that any little gesture of appreciation gives a lift in mood to a bored or overworked shop assistant.

This morning I went into a well-known motor accessories chain to buy a packet of “dust caps” for the tyre valves on my car as some person who had lost theirs has helped themselves to mine. These dust caps were difficult to find, but luckily the place was quiet and asking for directions twice from helpful assistants (but it is a big store) I found what I wanted. Obviously I thanked both people and had a nice chat with the lady on the check-out, and I thanked her for the helpful service.

This seems a trivial matter to relate, but I do always make a point of showing my gratitude even to the bored and busy in shops. Why? I like to be thanked too. I also thank the suppliers of goods and services I receive, whether it is the owner of a business or the delivery driver; whoever is the person I am dealing with. It never does any harm, there is no downside, and I might get even better service.

There is another way of thanking our suppliers and contractors and that is by making sure they are paid promptly. It is insulting to make people wait for their money after they have delivered their service or product. Late payment makes people feel less valued or respected. Actually, quite apart from getting ourselves a bad reputation by paying late, our suppliers may decide not to refer us and refer another customer instead for that juicy contract. We do ourselves damage by not showing our gratitude with thanks and with prompt payment.

How do you feel when someone takes ages to pay you or your business for a product or service you have delivered? Do you feel, as I do, that the client or customer is disrespectful and doesn’t value you? Do you also like to be thanked properly? I know I do. What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Networking and leading a horse to water

I had occasion this past week to contact a visitor to our breakfast networking group we have not seen for a month or so to find out why we had not seen him recently. His business would have fitted in very well with our current strong team of businesses.

In response I had an email which in part the visitor said “I am not sure if or when I will be coming back, I enjoyed the people there and meeting up, but if I am honest (and this is meant in a positive way) I could not see the benefit of talking about what I did every week to the same people; I know there are sometimes some new faces but in the main I knew what everyone did and they knew what I did.”

Well, yes, my friend. We know what you do. However, we don’t really know you. You seem to be a good guy, but if we refer our clients and friends to you, can you be trusted to do a good job? Are you reliable? Do we know you will not embarrass us? Of course, we have to admit that we as a networking group may have failed if we did not convey through education what makes a good networker, but on the other hand, you rushed to judgment and didn’t give us a chance in your couple of visits.

As serious networkers, we do not wish to teach our grandmothers etc. and be patronizing but should we talk about the essence of networking every week for the benefit of the visitors? Maybe we should, and perhaps I have made assumptions that people know why they are there. I know why I do it, and that is because I have built a trusted team of advocates whom I can advocate myself when I see an opportunity for their businesses to make a sale. Maybe stridency is needed in networking evangelism at the risk of causing some discomfort.

What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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