Persistence in strategy can pay off

 

You know that old cliché “If you keep doing what youve always done, youll keep getting what you’ve always gotten”? Albert Einstein and Tony Robbins are credited with it, as well as “Anon”. It is certainly true that if your business is not going well and you never change anything, you will never see an improvement and the business may fail

English: Albert Einstein, official 1921 Nobel ...

Albert Einstein – don’t blame him!

However, it is important to give certain strategies time to work. When I started my first business more than a decade ago, I was told that my local advertising would not work. That was partly true. The directories such as Yellow Pages and Thomson did not work. I dropped them after a while, and they were an expensive mistake. A local pamphlet going out monthly certainly did work, and I gained a lot of business, but I had to persist with it to get that success.

It is the same with social media. A short term strategy certainly will not work. Persistence may work and you have to give each plan time. You have to acknowledge that after a while, if little or no business is gained, you should try something else, but allowing time is important.

After ten years, my advertising in the pamphlet is less successful. I will have to change either the copy in the ad, or I will drop the pamphlet marketing and concentrate on what works better, which are content marketing and Twitter currently. Next year it might be different, and I may again have to allow time to change and test something else. Whatever it is, I will give it time.

What about you?

 

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Just trying to keep my customers satisfied

Jetty & lifeboat ramp, St. Catherine's Bay, Jersey

Jetty & lifeboat ramp, St. Catherine’s Bay, Jersey

Paul Simon wrote a song with the title of this post. You and I know that if our customers are not satisfied they will take their business elsewhere, so it is important that we keep them happy.

Do our employees, and all those who work for us follow that ethos? One bad experience of a rude and unpleasant worker can send away future buyers of our products and services, and they will never return.

Recently my wife and I were accompanying my elderly parents on a short flight from our local airport to Jersey, which up to now I had thought was excellent. My father is ninety-one, and a sharp cookie, still very on the ball and knowledgeable, but he is not able to walk far without assistance, and he is rather deaf. While going through security on our outbound flight, my Dad rang the bell, which turned out to be because he had some keys in his back pocket. That is an easy mistake to make. I once turned up at an airport with a pair of kitchen scissors in my pocket I had used to open a bag of cat litter for our cat sitter on the way out of the door.

Anyway, I had passed security by the time my Dad rang the bell, and I could see he was left standing and rather confused, because he could not heat what the male security person had said to him. Dad looked very uncomfortable because his walking stick had been taken from him to be X-rayed. After a minute I could see he was unsteady and frankly bewildered and lost, so I walked back to him and asked if he was OK, and whether I could help.

At this point the security person drew himself up to his full height and puffed himself up, and barked to me in his best nightclub-bouncer-bully mode “Move away”, and when I said that Dad needed help, “Move away now”. I did because I feared we would have a major incident, but I was very worried about my Dad. After a couple more minutes he was cleared to join us.

I appreciate that security people have a job to do, but even the most dyed-in-the-wool “jobs-worth”should treat people correctly according to the circumstances and in this case:

  • Treat an elderly man with respect.
  • Take account of evident frailties.
  • Treat his well-meaning son with respect (and indeed any customer with good intentions).

An out-of-control employee can potentially drive away a large number of customers; both those who are witnesses to any incident and those who hear about it later.

I have written to Southend Airport to suggest they consider sending their employee for some suitable training.

Of course security personnel have to deal with all sorts of bad attitudes, and must adapt their behaviour accordingly. There is no excuse for treating without sympathy, compassion and understanding elderly people who have served and fought for their country

Have you seen a more effective way of damaging your market than this?

Note:

I have received a response to my complaint, the gist of which is that they apologise for having upset my family and me. There is no indication that they acknowledge that mistakes were made or that they will address their problem. It is not a response that helps customer relations as far as I am concerned.

Have you received unsatisfactory feedback when complaining to a service supplier? What did you do?

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Are you really giving your customers what they want?

26 Feb 12 upload 024 (2)If you have had clients or customers for a long time, do you still know what they expect of you? Have you asked asked them recently?

The trouble is that it is easy to assume we know what they want. It is rather like those relatives who give you those ghastly socks or that awful tie at Christmas, or that CD by a band you really cannot stand which someone thinks is “your era”.

You really wish Auntie had asked you what you would like.

It is similar in business. Just because we think we are familiar with our customers we may forget to ask them what they need right now. Their requirements might have changed, just as you might have liked those silly slippers twenty years ago, but would never wear them now.

Call all your loyal customers. Ask them how they are, how they feel about your service, and what they want right now. Then deliver. Otherwise they may go away.

Customer service, flexibility and common sense

dishwasher disassembly for repair/replacement ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Flexibility

Customer service is a hobby-horse of mine, but in a small business or any business, it should have top priority. We can only meet the customer’s needs by being flexible and adopting an understanding approach to give them what they need.

My office is normally “closed” at weekends. Yes, I do run my businesses from home, but I do think that my wife and I need some privacy and personal time. However, I do appreciate that my clients are busy, so by pre-arrangement I will visit clients on a Saturday or have them come to me. It is only fair and makes sure that I am properly accessible.

Normal businesses who see customers or clients other than in retail premises make appointments in advance. Having an appointment means meeting at a certain time, doesn’t it? Well, I always thought so.

Uncaring large business

This brings me to the tale of our dishwasher breaking down, although unfortunately it is a typical story of a business being run for the convenience of its management and employees rather than its customers.

Our dishwasher repair man came on a Tuesday and we had a two hour slot at home which suited us. This was arranged through one of those domestic insurance companies where you pay for an extended guarantee. This arrangement may well be where we went wrong.

Unfortunately when he came the first time the guy did not have the parts to do the repair so said that another appointment would be made. I was sent a text to say when the new appointment would be, but unfortunately it was at a time when neither my wife nor I could be at home. There was a number to telephone on our guarantee documentation. We called, but every time we pressed the first button after getting through we got cut off. We had to give up.

Repair man put a card though the door when he called and we were out. Eventually the switchboard did work and we were give another appointment, again on the basis that was when he would call, and if we were not there again that was our hard luck. Fortunately, over two weeks without a working dishwasher, it did get repaired.

I had tried during the two weeks this nonsense went on to engage the company on Twitter. All I got was an apology but no action speeding up the repair process.

Suit yourselves!

The dishwasher company is not interested in customer service. All they are doing is running their business to suit themselves. It is a sure-fire way to get rid of their customers anyway as we will probably vote with our feet and find some other way of securing our dishwasher’s good state of repair.

Many of the very large companies are examples of how not to do business, but even small businesses sometimes forget how to treat people well, like the plumber who has been promising my parents for weeks that he will repair their hot water cylinder, but has yet to get around to doing it.

Running our businesses is for our financial benefit, but we only get that benefit if we help our customers get what they want, and at a time when they want it.

What do you think?

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More haste, less speed, less money?

DSC01839-2It is a cliché to say that people are always in a rush these days, but unfortunately it is true. In business, generally, it does not pay to be in a rush. We may make poor decisions without considering all our options, or may miss them even if put in front of us.

I have noticed a couple of problems recently in dealing with clients and friends where they are replying “on the hoof” to emails from me, and using their smartphones. In making a business decision it is important to embrace the whole conversation with your supplier or adviser. However, I have found that some overlook earlier advice because they are in haste to reply, or they do not scroll down or they do not review previous messages before answering.

I try not to let my clients derail themselves by not considering all the options, but these emails from their iPhone or HTC etc. often waste time on all sides because I need to follow up and make sure we all understand what decision we are making, and that we are making it for the right reason.

It pays to slow down and think before making any business decision. A simple brief message telling our loved ones what time we will be home is all very well. A major purchase or a key decision require proper consideration and more than a brief email in a reflex response..

Do you know anyone who runs too fast?

The ignorant blunderbuss approach to sales and marketing

26 Feb 12 upload 024 (2)Knowing our abilities and our limits

My business is helping people with their tax issues, and finding help to support their businesses. I know a lot about how to do that, and that is down to hard work, training and experience. I am not an expert in health and safety or financial advice or insurance or carpet-laying. I would not dream of trying to advice on the first two or get on my knees on the floor to trim a carpet to size. There are people who are much better at doing that.

I am not an expert in social media (no such person) though I know a bit, read what I can about on-line engagement, and learn from people who know more. I pay those people who know more for their advice and for their knowledge. I am their client.

Blundering

So why is it that people blunder into an area, and think they can succeed without studying how it all works, and looking at what the more successful people do. Accountants make that mistake with social media, but so do web-designers and SEO specialists, and, heck, they must spend quite a lot of their lives on-line.

What do you make of a business which says in its Twitter profile: “We are one of the Most Reputed Online & Local Business Branding SEO  SMO Company” and then just tweets from a tech news feed it doesn’t own, with no personal interaction?

What about “Welcome to Prince and Draper’s Twitter page, we are Hertfordshire-based accountants and advisors”? (I changed the name and County). They hardly ever tweet, there is no actual person or photo of the very occasional poster / profile owner

How about a Twitter account in the name of a firm of solicitors “Proud to offer competitive fixed fees across our company / commercial and private client departments” again with no personal interaction.? As an aside, I hate to see “proud” to do anything in a website or marketing page. Why not say how they can help; ease the pain? I despair.

Blunderbuss or scatter-gun?

I was at a business exhibition the other day. I spoke to many people on the various stands and gave my business card to some. Both at the exhibition and since, over the telephone, I have been subjected to sales talk re various products. No one has asked how their product might suit my business. All have been eager to state what discount I would be getting and giving me the whole script. I appreciate they have to make a living, but they won’t if they do not think about the customer.

Why not study the potential customer and think how they might meet the customer’s requirements?

You and I know that we need to give our customers what they want, and that involves listening, not broadcasting a message. It is no good setting up a Twitter page and misusing it, or not using it. It is no good spouting a sales pitch to a business owner you don’t know and have not bothered to find out about.

These poor people are wasting their time. The trouble is they waste ours too, don’t they?

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“Experts” versus specialists

26 Feb 12 upload 024 (2)

The other day I tweeted in exasperation: “Hate the word “expert”. None of us knows everything. We specialists do know how to find out what we don’t know when asked to.”

I don’t know about you but many people who try to sell me their stuff try to impress me by telling me how good they are at what they do. That may be true, but I want to know how they are going to solve my problem and make me happy. I am not going to be swayed by how pleased they say another customer of theirs has been. If I knew that other customer and he or she had made a recommendation without pressure from the seller, I might take this person more seriously.

Of course the self-proclaimed “expert” does not know everything there is to know about a subject either. However if he believes his own hype he may not think too much about my problem and come up with the wrong answer or solution.

I had a difficult technical issue to do with my business recently. I “phoned a friend”, and she gave me an answer instantly, but actually I had less confidence in her answer than if she had paused and audibly thought the problem through. Sometimes we all need to think about a problem rather than assume straight away that we know the answer.

I specialise in a certain field, but I do not have an instant answer to every question posed. In my area of business I know how to find out the answer for my client, and when asked I might think I do have an instant solution. However, unless it is an issue with which I am totally familiar I would rather take a deep breath and think before responding, and my response might be “I will consider this and get back to you”.

Describing someone as an expert is misleading. Most of us know quite a lot about our area of business, but not everything. I think we specialists should stick together honestly against all those “experts”. Don’t you?

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What the BBC can teach us about management and team work

BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place at the ...

BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place at the head of Regent Street, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Head Man (Director General) at the BBC, George Entwhistle, resigned not because he made an error of judgement but because his management or his employees did not keep him informed about a major mistake they had made. He then looked foolish because he had not seen what was reported through other media including both the press and Twitter. A man who seems not in control has to go. He might very well be able to take control, but he has lost the confidence of the customers and his staff.

These sorts of disasters can happen in small businesses too. It is so important if you are the person at the top that you are approachable. For that to be so, your employees have to feel part of a team and to belong. They have to know you and to like you. Then it will be easier for them to tell you what you need to know, which will include the bad things as well as the good things. They need to be able to tell you anything, without fear that you will be angry.

As long as there is communication between you and your workers, and as long as you keep them informed as well as they keep you informed, there should be no disasters and no problems that can’t be managed. Of course that requires mutual respect, and from your side that requires you to be fair and to listen to their feedback, critical and general.

Do you manage a successful team?

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Never assume

Happy customers

Once upon a time, my first job was with an international and mainly Far-Eastern bank. I wrote a nice letter of application in my best handwriting and was placed in the “Income Tax Department”. We only dealt with personal tax. Most of the bank customers we looked after had share portfolios, which were a lot more popular then than they are now.

I was taught the basics of dividend listing for tax returns. I remember with one of the early cases I was given I had compiled my dividend list in part from a book called Moody’s Dividends because some of the customer’s dividend vouchers were missing. I was quite proud of my initiative in looking up these dividends, having been shown how by another junior; the one next up the pecking order from me. I had replaced her as the tea-maker.

When I thought I had finished my dividend list I took my work to be checked by one of the more experienced clerks (remember we worked for a bank). I had to sit next to him while he went through my work.

His first question was “Why have you put in the list dividends for which you haven’t got vouchers?”

I said “I assumed they must have been paid” to which he responded “Never assume!”

Of course he was right. The shares might have been sold. Perhaps they were and there was a possible capital gain to declare. I should have asked questions. Of course that was my inexperience showing, but “Never assume” really should be our motto in business and maybe in our personal lives too.

  • Never assume our prospect knows what she wants
  • Never assume our prospect knows what we do and how we can help.
  • When we are working for our client, never assume any fact if there is any possibility we are wrong, for the job can then go wrong.
  • Never assume our client has told us everything. Ask those questions as I should gave done as a teenage junior.
  • Never assume our customer is happy with what we have done. Ask her if she is happy. Ask her if we could have done anything better.
  • Never assume our customer will keep coming back. Stay in touch with him. Make a telephone call if we have not heard from him for a while. Customer relationships are so important.
  • In fact, never assume.

That more experienced clerk who taught me a great lesson has been retired quite a while. I saw him at one of those staff reunions a few months back. Of course he doesn’t remember giving that lesson but I have never forgotten it. Facts are what we know. Everything else needs to be checked to ensure business runs smoothly, we make money, and customers keep coming back.

I try never to assume. Have you ever made an assumption which got you into trouble?

Showing us the way with enthusiasms

 

English: Radio Caroline bus

English: Radio Caroline bus (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Courtesy of Sarah Darling

The long and winding road

Do you sometimes look over your shoulder and wonder how you got where you are? In terms of learning our personal and working lives become inter-twined. Always along the way there are people whose enthusiasms permeate our souls and set us in certain directions. We carry the knowledge and excitement and interest which they instil in us and even if we don’t do things their way, their influence is what sets us in the direction we have gone.

Of course the adults around us as children build the foundation of our morality and beliefs before we start to think for ourselves, but our interests are rubbed off from people we come across, whether they are famous, or colleagues, or acquaintances.

Reaching for the stars

I have always had an interest in astronomy; at least since I saw Patrick Moore in a black-and-white Sky at Night. His infectious enthusiasm rubbed off on me and turned on my awareness of the Universe out there. I started to read science fiction at a young age starting with Angus McVicar.  I read Fred Hoyle‘s book about the “steady state” theory of the Universe, now superseded by a very different model.

Then there was pirate radio. My hero disc jockey on Radio Caroline was Johnny Walker. I thought he was really cool, and yes, we did say “cool” even in those days. It inspired an interest in pirate radio to the extent I was a pirate myself. Later I became a legal radio “ham” because I acquired an interest in the science of radio.

Possibilities

Then when I started working in tax, there was a guy whose first name was Tom. He had a very comprehensive knowledge of tax and was seen as the oracle. He showed me what was possible. Sadly our relationship somehow soured. I never really knew what put him off me. It was that way round. Yes, he became a block to my career, but the ball was in my court to move on. It wasn’t his problem and I was sad that I could not stay in touch. I am still grateful for my time with him.

After I left that firm, my career took off,which is what I had intended.

I went a few years without another major influence. I made some dear friends with the national firm I joined who are still my friends today.

The new dawn

Later, after my career in employment ceased in a rather unplanned fashion, I tried to reorientate myself for the self-employed world. I went on sales courses, but they always made me rather uncomfortable. Then someone said I should read Zig Ziglar. I saw how easy selling could be. I saw that selling was about giving comfort to the prospect at the same time as giving comfort to me. Previously I had always worried that the prospect would end up not wanting my services and would hold this against me. Zig’s way is to make sure your prospect has what she wants, and that is what you want. Later, I read Dale Carnegie and saw where so much of these ideas might have come from. Everyone should read Zig and Dale Carnegie if they want to get on in business.

Marketing was hard at the beginning. In 2003 I joined Ecademy. Within a couple of weeks I met Thomas Power. I am very glad I did. He may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but tea is a matter of taste. I met Penny Power too very soon, but Thomas’s knowledge of and enthusiasm about everything we should be doing on-line to market our businesses was hugely influential for me. I learned so much so quickly. 2003 was 1BF (Before Facebook). So thank you, Thomas and Penny, for the last nine years, and thank you Andrew Widgery for bringing us together.

Of course I met my wife in August 2000 and she is a lovely influence at home and keeps me calm and focussed and on the rails. I am very lucky.

Thank you Patrick and Johnny and Tom and Zig. Anyone would think I had won an Oscar with all this thanking. I would not have what I have without all those people though. I might have had something else, but I like what I have. Of course I have missed a few “thank yous”. I will catch up one day.

Who has influenced you to achieve, and excited you with their ideas?

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