Archives for January 2010

Why we need to take an outside view in business

I am in a reflective mood. I am coming to the end of an engagement helping a client; an engagement which should not be ending. This is not just because obviously an income stream will stop; I have other clients. It is that there is so much more I could do for them which they just cannot see, being such an introspective inward-looking business.

I started with this client when their firm was experiencing extreme pain due to loss of (mainly) staff but also internal disputes. My few months there have alleviated the pain and now they feel much better. However, they do not seem to realise that so far we have just dealt with the symptom and we need to cure the illness so that we do not have another bout of sickness in six or nine months time. Treatment would not be difficult if they allowed me to help. I could cut my time with them by 50 to 75%. It would not be a costly experience for the client and my work would pay for itself many times over.

I have the advantage of being an outsider able to look at the whole business rather than being an inside navel-gazer, not able to look very far, and certainly not able to look even at what competitors are doing. I can see a lot more; I have the perspective of distance and height to see the whole picture, and I wish I could persuade them as to what they need to do. I do not need to do it for them; they need a corporate exercise regime, which is why I would only need to see them occasionally in the role of a “personal trainer”; just a visit to keep them on track.

All this has made me think that I too need an outside perspective on my own business. Maybe I cannot see my wood for the trees. In the next month or so I will be having a check up from a outsider on all my marketing and probably on the whole way I approach my business.

What will you be doing that is different to help your business be better, and do you agree that asking a suitable outsider to look at your business may be what you need?

© Jon Stow 2010

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More imagination in customer service

Having been frustrated with the lack of interest in new business exhibited by local event venues and hotels, I have to be fair and mention that one of them telephoned back after a week to say that they could meet my proposal for the amount per head for each of my breakfast group, but they would need to charge an extra amount (actually quite a lot) for our use of a room at their establishment. Quite why they thought this would be satisfactory when clearly I was looking for a particular budget, which they disregarded in adding the room cost, I just don’t know. It is not as though their room would normally be in use between seven and nine in the morning, and since my business group is not in the habit of trashing every room in which we have a meeting, I doubt whether there would be a significant cost even for cleaning beyond a brief run round with the vacuum cleaner.

Presumably they wanted the business; why come back with this when basically I had given them a take-it-or-leave-it proposal with a known outcome and no real downside when they would have had staff in anyway to prepare breakfast for hotel residents? There is a distinct lack of business nous frankly. Obviously I declined their offer.

I was feeling a bit disappointed, but driving back from a meeting on Thursday I heard an ad on the local radio station for a restaurant I had not considered; I had not been aware they were open except in the evenings; apparently they are under new management. The commercial said they served breakfast, lunch and dinner, and hosted events. Naturally when I got back to the office I gave them a call. The duty manager seemed very business-like, she thought they could accommodate the group and was happy on my price proposal, subject to the approval of the owner, which she got. As they do not normally open for breakfast until nine, they are going to get their chef in early or the owner might be in the kitchen, but we are giving it a trial on both sides.

It is refreshing to get a great attitude from someone prepared to give a try to something new in the way of business. Maybe they will decide breakfast events are not for them, but they have an open mind. That is how we in business should approach 2010 and in particular business in a downturn: with an open mind. Otherwise we will assume doors are closed which many just be open a little and only need a push from us. At least, that’s what I think. How about you?

© Jon Stow 2010

Why customer service is important even to those who are not customers yet

I am feeling a bit let down by the local commercial hospitality providers. I run a breakfast group which meets weekly at a hotel. Before our Christmas break I was careful to make sure we would have our normal booking on the first Tuesday morning in January. It was all carefully written down in the book. Imagine my surprise when we turned up before 7AM on a very cold morning this last week to find the hotel shut up and completely locked up. Not only was it an extreme inconvenience for the group having got up so early on a very chilly morning to no avail, but I felt very embarrassed. Despite the fact I had a booking and had confirmed it, it would only be natural for one or two to think that it was all my fault for not checking. Actually, I like to think that the members would be more understanding than that, but as the group director and organiser I felt responsible.

Eventually and getting on for lunchtime, someone finally answered the hotel telephone and told me they were closed for the week for refurbishment. It is a pity no one told me when I made what I thought was a booking, and it is a pity too that no one realised the error and telephoned me. I had assumed on the morning of the big lock-out and freeze-out that the hotel had gone out of business, which they will if they carry on treating their customers like this. All-in-all it was pretty poor customer service.

Being rather fed up and indeed before I had found out the truth about the hotel’s failure to welcome us last week, I telephoned two other local venues to see whether they could accommodate our weekly meetings and to quote a price for breakfast and use of one of their meeting rooms. I stressed this would be regular income every week. Both said that their manager / event organiser would be in touch. Guess what? Neither has.

I can understand that in both cases the venues might have thought it would not be profitable to accommodate us, or that they simply did not have the room or the staff available or whatever. That would be fair enough. However, not to return the calls and respond to my enquiries was very short-sighted. Since I do from their point of view organise local networking, I might still have considered them in the future if this time they had politely declined the business for a reason. Why would they want to give the wrong impression by being so rude as to not call me to explain? Do they not want to attract new business? Suppose I wanted to organise an event at some other time of the day, or for a much larger gathering than the breakfast club, which by the way has a healthy membership for groups of its type?

Our current provider failed badly on the issue of customer service. The two venues given the opportunity to quote also treated their potential customers very badly and pretty much ensured they would not be given the chance to bid for my business in the future.

Have you had similar experiences? How did you feel about it?

© Jon Stow 2010

Why quality is important – lessons from BMW and Waitrose

I had a strange dream last night. I had been asked to work at a trade exhibition selling BMW cars. Quite why I am not sure as I am no salesman, but I was asked how I would approach this task, to which I responded that all cars have a wheel more or less at each corner and for the most part were a simple mode of transport. So I said I would concentrate on the enjoyment and wonderful experience of driving a BMW, and of course their reliability, making them better cars and better performers than the rest. That of course is the BMW approach to marketing, and whilst I do not have one of their cars, clearly my subconscious as been imbued with their philosophy.

Some people I know, both clients and family, have been let down recently by people they trusted, and in all cases this has been because they were engaging amateurs and people not up to the task. I have mentioned previously that it is no good employing anyone to provide services to your business who is not a full time professional in their area. Part-timers and co-opted amateurs will not be up to the job and indeed it is not fair to ask them to do it in the first place, because it will all end in tears; ours and those who have failed us, and there will be bad blood.

What I have been thinking about is that we need to engage trusted and recommended people to support our businesses, and we need to be the best in our field at what we do. We need to be different from the rest, to have something special as far as our prospects are concerned so that they want to be our clients. We need to be the Waitrose experience, top quality products and services for which we can charge a decent amount and have our clients or customers and clients come back to us again and again. Jim Connolly would explain it better actually, so why not ask him?

In this difficult market it has been hard to avoid grabbing at every piece of business even where the reward is not great. I have done my best in the last couple of years because it is no good working hard without proper profit. I already provide a quality service. I am going to try even harder to live up to the philosophy of providing perceived quality in the coming years. What about you? What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2009

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