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.

Are you in a hurry?

iStock_000007991360XSmall cross businesswomanIt is easy to spot when someone else is in a hurry. We notice the window cleaner misses a bit or leaves a smear, or a cleaner misses a cobweb or so, or the vegetables in the restaurant are not cooked, or are cooked too much. That all indicates a lack of attention.

It is easy for us to judge, but we have to keep an eye on ourselves too. Have we rushed that report? Is it up to our usual standard? Have we made sure our client understood it? Have we remembered to follow up and speak to our customer to make sure they are happy?

Sometimes a dissatisfied customer will find a new window cleaner and complain to their neighbours and friends about the one who left the smears. We could be replaced as easily. Perhaps we need to slow down and think what we are doing, otherwise we will be in the same boat as the window cleaner.

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.

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.

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Brands, value and me

Photo by Jon Stow

Photo by Jon Stow

I would normally avoid medical matters in this blog, but it is relevant that I am allergic to pollen floating about from early spring to mid-summer. You see, I buy anti-allergy pills which I find very helpful.

I needed some more, so went to one of the local supermarkets. They only had the famous brand variety, at £5.99 a packet. I am used to paying £2.00 for the generic version, which is exactly the same. Yet people must buy the well-known brand at that higher price otherwise the pharma company would not bother to maintain it. Brand power is worth a lot to big business, but I have to see value, and as far as my antihistamine requirement was concerned I did not see the value.

I crossed the road to another shop and paid my £2 for a generic version. What would you have done?

If you build it, will they come?

I have mentioned before that my local village has largely become a collection of cafes and fast-food outlets. Within a couple of hundred yards we have two Indian takeaways, a Chinese takeaway, two pizza places and three cafes. One of the cafes is more upmarket and has an alcohol license, but I suspect they are popular because of their good coffee.

With all this competition I was surprised when I heard that one of the famous coffee shop franchises was opening up in the village. This was on two fronts. Firstly I thought they would struggle against the established probably cheaper establishments, and secondly I supposed that our village was not the kind of place that the typical coffee franchise customer might live.

Of course I was wrong. I think people are prepared to travel and pay more for a guaranteed good quality standard, once word gets around. The new place is doing OK as far as I can tell.

What about the other places serving coffee, other beverages and food? Well, I think they have their regulars, although the one not on the main drag is never packed with customers.  What they have to do is give outstanding quality and service to succeed against a well-known tried-and-tested formula as exhibited by the franchise. That does not mean they have to spend more to do it. Service and quality is about attention to detail. Then word-of-mouth will do the trick in terms of getting customers in.

I would wish all the café owners luck, but it is not about luck. It is about getting things exactly right to succeed.

It’s worth the pain

iStock_000005618867XSmallMy aim for each client is to give them a valuable service, and I charge a fee to match that service; one that reflects that value and rewards me well for their use of my brain-power. As I normally charge a fixed fee agreed in advance I hope not to end up spending more time than budgeted for.

Sometimes life is not quite like that. A while back I had a client to whom I gave very detailed advice. I expected him to come back with questions. That is fair enough. I expanded on points where necessary. However, he seemed to want to pin me down in my opinions when I thought I had already been pretty clear and explicit. I was patient and polite but, to be honest, secretly irritated.

Although eventually the client declared himself satisfied and paid my bill after a few weeks, I thought he might be unhappy. I decided not to press him on this, although I felt disappointed that I had not come up to expectations, notwithstanding that actually I thought I had done really well. I put it out of my mind; onwards and upwards.

Just recently, I find that this client has given me a really great referral. I am delighted. Obviously my client was very happy after all and his gruff, questioning manner belied this.

My patience and effort has paid off. I shall remember that not all people express their satisfaction with our work in the same way, and that it is always worth going beyond expectations because our clients remember, and mention this to their friends.

Phew!

 

If you can’t say something nice…

There are a few people you come across in the flesh or in social media are like Marmite. You either love them or you can’t stand them. There is really nothing in between. Yet if you really don’t like someone, perhaps it is better to keep your own counsel.

In a private forum recently I saw some unpleasant comments about someone I know well. I rather took against the commenter and the people who “liked” her comments. We Marmite lovers really get put off those who say nasty things about it, or make snide comments about our friends. Do not the naysayers know that they damage their reputation?

As Thumper said “If you can’t say something nice… don’t say nothing at all.”

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“Thank you for your time”

That is something the TV news presenter says quite often to someone they have just interviewed. I think that phrase is a clue that they have not learned much from the interviewee; perhaps nothing at all which will help the viewers with an understanding of whatever subject was being discussed.

If the presenter had said “Thanks very much for your input, which was really interesting” then I think we can take it that the information gleaned was useful.

In the past I have to confess that a prospect might have said to me “Thank you for your time” after we had had a discussion about how I could help them. I now know it is a warning that I did not get my message across. Has anyone said it to you?

I always do my best to engage possible new clients in how their situation might be improved considerably if they went with me. If I hear that phrase, either I should ask before they go what they did not understand. Otherwise I think I should call back soon to clear up anything they did not understand.

“Thank you for your time” is the big brush-off, but we should not take it lying down. Follow up and clarify, and maybe not lose the business.

My Twitter for business rules

  • No politics
  • No following back of people using software to follow me
  • No following of people who just post quotes
  • No following of those who intend to be offensive whether with swear words or wind-up comments
  • Follow genuine likeable people
  • Follow people with quality postings
  • Follow people in my business unless they transgress another rule
  • Try to tweet valuable content but not news stories followers might have seen or can see for themselves.
  • Engage with those I follow and who follow me
  • Re-tweet posts of value

I have no compunction about unfollowing people who annoy me.

Oh, and keep the politics out of Facebook and other social media too. Thank you.

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