• Good Customer Service - neglect it at your peril!

    Good Customer Service - neglect it at your peril!

    Once upon a time there was a land, a place where the interaction between staff and customer, that fleeting few seconds of inter communication between staff and client, was believed to be the most important thing in the success of any business.

    Long before any new member of staff was allowed to practice their newly acquired skills on any member of the public or client, they had to undergo a rigorous and sometimes intensively demanding set of ‘customer code of practice’ training sessions. Not until they could demonstrate a minimum level of ‘customer service etiquette’ could they be allowed to deal direct with a customer or client. This code of conduct was rigorously enforced and regularly reviewed, with dire consequences if one did not fall back into line.

    This ‘customer code of practice’ ethic, all started when you were growing up. If you were like me, the first education I ever received from my parents was I was only permitted to say just three words, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’. Once I had mastered the art of keeping my mouth shut, I was allowed to move onto the next phase of my human communication schooling. This involved the grand step of adding a few more words to these two phrases so that we then had, “Yes Please” and “No Thank You”!

    In these few and brief early exchanges with other members of my species, I learned quite early this was all I ever needed to initiate a sound platform for human communication and mature discussion. However, this could only be done by adhering to a strict code of conduct and rules, which we also learnt at our peril:

    You could only ever talk to someone, when you have been spoken too!

    You never, ever talked out of turn

    Whatever you were asked, your answer could ever only have two possible outcomes; “Yes please” or “No Thank You”

    And you never talked with your mouth full.

    That was it. For the first few years of my life, it seemed that’s all I was ever allowed to say. If you broke or attempted to break any of these early communicating rules, punishment was usually dealt out to you like you had committed some terrible crime.

    I am now in my fifties and my first automatic response, when someone asks me for something or tells me something, is to say “Yes please” or “No Thank You”. I must point out, I have moved on since those early days and my fifty-odd years on this planet has allowed me to acquired a much more varied and in-depth vocabulary these days.

    Being taught how, when and why to say, “Yes please” or “No Thank You” was my and probably most of us, first lesson in the lost disciplines of manners and social etiquette.

    These lessons of social interaction and manners gradually increased in their complexity and effectiveness, throughout my childhood and teenage years, yet those four basic core rules, still form the heart of all my communication today. I call these rules the ‘art of effective, social, interactive communication’.

    However, if like me, you go to a restaurant, retail outlet, hotel, entertainment theatre or virtually any place that involves, ‘effective, social, interactive, communication’, you will experience a void in this vital human skills department.

    The phrase ‘effective, social, interactive, communication’ when used and applied in the world of business has a different name – it’s known as ‘Customer Service’.

    Lets look at those two words briefly:

    ‘Customer’ - that’s anyone, you, me, and them. A prospective client, a current client or a former client, they are all customers.

    ‘Service’ – to provide something, for someone. To help, to inform, to address, to show, etc. When was the last time you experienced that? Phrases such as; “Thank You”, “Your Welcome”, “How Can I Help You”, “Please”, “What can we do for you today”, “How can I be of service”.

    It has somehow become almost un-fashionable to be nice, to be courteous, to visibly show you want to help someone. Instead, it is taken for granted today that being helpful, having good and effective customer service etiquette is somehow not needed or cheesy. There is an old saying in the USA that is used almost like saying hello or goodbye; it has its variations but usually goes along the lines of “Have a nice day now youall!!!”. Now people complain it is false and not meant, but at the very least it oils the day along. Besides, I would rather someone wishing me to have a nice day, and being false, than wishing me a horrible day, and meaning it!!

    In an era when companies and organisations are under intense pressure and scrutiny to yield ever greater profit margins, against increasing odds, one of the most fundamental, basic elements of any business success has been ignored and left to wither.

    Businesses today will spend hundreds of hours poring over facts, data sheets, surveys, tables, trends and forecasts in order to ascertain some information or shed new light on how to achieve greater profits. They will invest large sums of money, employ the finest marketing teams and promotions experts, launch expensive advertising campaigns and if all else fails, try to baffle us at the point of sale with weird and complex discounts schemes.

    Yet, one of the oldest, simplest and relatively cheapest methods of ensuring that your most important assets, your ‘customers’, are pleased with their purchasing experience, pleased with their product or service, (the ones you have so expensively marketed), that the experience of dealing with your business was easy and pleasurable, that they go and tell others (they spread the word) and will be returning time after time, is not being practiced.

    If one analyses any sector of the business world and takes a closer look, comparing successful businesses with those who are struggling, you will find a strong ‘customer service’ ethic at the core of those companies that have done well or weathered the financial storm of the last ten years. You’ll find that their ‘mission statement’ is strictly adhered to, forming an integral part of their past, current and future success story.

    Customer Service training for you and your staff - neglect it at your peril!

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  • Networking Gripes

    Networking Gripes

    I am not sure about you, but does the sentence, “it’s your turn to attend a networking meeting on behalf of the company this month” send shivers of disarray through my body, motivating me to reach for my diary to juggle into place that long over-due dental check-up I have been putting off, which, as it will happen, will fall right on that date!

    If you are like me, someone who has attended my fair share of business network meetings, and see the whole experience as a waste of valuable time, then you will recognise some of the following networking gripes that I have regularly had to endure over the years:

    Networking Gripes - One

    Arriving at the meeting nice and early in order to get a parking space and prepare for the meeting, only to find that your version of early is not the version the super-achievers, high flyers and go-getters operate to. You are then left trying to find somewhere to park, either down some local side street, or as I had to do recently, park in a local garden centre resulting in a £100 fine for overstaying my welcome by 5 minutes!

    Networking Gripes -Two

    You finally get through the venue door only to find there is a large queue on the other side where all those people who did not pre-book their place on the meeting are now paying their entrance charge and receiving their badge or sticker with their name and company on it.

    Networking Gripes -Three

    OK, so you are in; you’ve negotiated the car parking issues, successfully made it passed the people on the door, your armed ready with your business cards and spiel about what you do and how you can help the rest of the world do it. But you’re getting ahead of yourself; there is still the issue of the breakfast/lunch to be dealt with and the formality of finding a table on which to eat it on.

    Networking Gripes - Four

    It could be anywhere between early morning, mid-day to late evening. You have either got a hard day’s work in front of you, or behind you, your meeting and interacting with people you have probably never met before, and trying to find appropriate things to say and yet still look and act professional. How can one ever look or even sound professional if you are chewing on a full English breakfast, a croissant, lunch time dinner or evening meal!

    Secondly, the food is delivered to different tables at different times over a ten minute period. If you are one of the lucky ones, then you will get yours first, sadly this is rarely the case, leaving you to belt down a piping hot meal in order to stay in touch with the meetings tight schedule and programme.

    Lastly, there is very often a guest speaker talking at this point, perhaps about a topic you have a valid interest in or believe passionately about. One is very often left struggling to hear what they are saying or even see them through the din of people eating and the constant visual disturbance of waiters moving back and forth across your field of vision delivering the food to the other delegates.

    Networking Gripes - Five

    At last, with the breakfast time banquet over, the guest speakers in-audible talk over, it’s time to get down to some serious networking. Now there are two popular formats from here on in; the ‘all around the table’ format or the ‘two opposing lines’ style.

    The ‘all-around the table’ style has some nice features, it allows for a set number of people to interact with everyone else on that table in an even and formally structured way. However, it all falls apart when after the first round has been completed, everyone hast to get up and move to another table according to their number, which corresponds to some mathematical coding that only the organisers vaguely understand. This results in large numbers of people wandering about with that helpless look on their face looking for their tables, whilst the organisers or hosts desperately try to get you to your desired seat and prevent the meeting falling further behind schedule.

    OK, by some sheer luck, you arrived at what you hope is your correct seat and table, to go through the whole process again. Sadly this time, you have to negotiate your way around a sea of dinner plates covered with half eaten breakfasts and cups of tea and coffee teetering on the edge about to spill all over your business cards or worst still, you!

    There must be an alternative way of doing this you ask yourself, yes there is, it’s the ‘two opposing lines’ format of networking. I am sure most of you are familiar with this format, where everyone is invited to form two long lines opposite each other, before the sounding of a whistle or bell signals the start of a 30 – 60 second session, whereby one participant talks to a recipient about their company and what they do. This process is then repeated in reverse. Once both sides have had their time, another whistle of bell sounds, which is the trigger for everyone to get up and move one seat to your left, or right, by this point I have lost the plot and not sure which way to move along with everyone else, and the whole process starts over again.

    It is at this point that I insert a pair of ear plugs into my ears, put a throat lozenge into my mouth, don my plastic mac and have my alcohol wipes at the ready. Why you may ask? Well simply this; when 50 – 100 people are all trying to get their point across at the same time, in a relatively enclosed area, it is noisy, so noisy that people have to shout at one another. This loud vocally charged interaction is done with passion and very often desperation, at such close proximities, that the ensuing result can be anything from a projection of saliva, to a sore throat and ringing in your ears, all of which are disturbing and extremely unpleasant.

    In addition, not everyone sticks to the rules; someone inevitably thinks they can get away with trying to sell their product or service for another few seconds more than their allotted time. Trouble is all those seconds add up and before you know it there is a seat blockage!

    Surely there hast to be a more constructive and convenient way for business folk to come together to interact, to network, to promote their company and do what the meeting was set up to do, namely improved your client, customer base?

    Do you have pet networking gripes, stories and tales regarding the networking events you have attended that you would like to share?

    Do the points I have raised in this blog ring a bell with you, and do you have other gripes and issues that you could add to our list?

    What ideas and suggestions do you have that could contribute to this discussion in order to make these punishing events in our life less taxing, interesting and truly meaningful to your business?

    Some areas for consideration might be:

    • Time of day?

    • Day of the week?

    • Numbers of attendees

    • Length of meeting

    • Venues

    • Styles and format

    • Relevant guest speaker topics

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  • Completing the ‘To-Do List’

    Completing the ‘To-Do List’

    I do not know about you, but I am always writing things down such as contact details, websites, notes, memos and things that I need to do for the following day. These reminders eventually grow into a list - a list that I well know which probably stands no chance of being completed. But I do it anyway, almost religiously, every day.

    When I first started to write ‘to-do’ lists, I thought it was because my memory was starting to become impaired. However, on balance, since I have been writing down lists of things that I needed to remember, I do find that on balance I am far more efficient with my use of time.

    The writing down of the ‘to-do’ list became an almost cathartic exercise, an evening ritual, that would find me scribbling down my running order, a chronological itemised time schedule for the following day’s business. Each evening I would go to bed safe in the knowledge that I would not miss an appointment or fail to contact a client, even worse, forget the shopping order my wife had diligently written down on a ‘list’!

    I found that contrary to my worries, the writing down of ‘to-do’ lists, allowed me to free up some space in my brain to think of other things I had previously not had time for, safe in the knowledge that I would be reminded of them tomorrow. An analogy would be the hard drive in your PC: once it is full, your PC starts to run inefficiently until it cannot function any longer. The only way to rectify the situation is to clear some space on the hard drive so that the PC can operate correctly once again. Writing your thoughts or itinerary down on a piece of paper serves to clear a space in your memory, allowing that free space to be utilised for something else instead.

    The problem is that the list can grow and grow into an unmanageable set of things that have no chance of realistically being completed the following day. The act of making the list has now become a monster that needs to be fed on a daily basis. The list itself now needs a set of sub-lists in order to control the functionality of the prime lists, lists that support super lists.

    These super lists can grow to become a source of stress in themselves and just keep getting bigger. Why? Because there are always things to add to the list, and remember, we like adding to the lists, because we firmly believe it is our saving grace and by now we cannot live or operate without it.

    So how does one go back to using a greatly reduced, practicable and realistic list of doable items?

    If one realistically scans over your average ‘to-do’ list and considers the number of items on that list, one will discover that there are way too many items on the list to be realistically achieved in the time scale you have allowed for its completion. One therefore needs to quantify each item on the list with regards to its importance against time to complete each item, ranking each one in order of preference. If one then aims to complete at least 50% of these items on any one day, then one has at least accomplished a realistically achievable goal.

    The other items that did not make the cut will have to be added to any future list and ranked accordingly. In other words, if you have ten things to accomplish on your to-do list for tomorrow, yet your experience is telling you that probably only 3-5 will actually get done, then they are the ones that will surface to the top of the ranking order. It is better to do 3-5 jobs really well, than to rush and be unprofessional trying to achieve all 10. In addition, it is far less stressful, hugely satisfying and rewarding when one completes the to-do list within the time allotted - success!

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  • ‘No’ is not just a word, it is a sentence!

    Say “no” to make your “yeses” mean more.

    How do you feel when you have to say ‘no’ to someone?

    Do you experience any of the following feelings or emotions:

    • You feel an immediate sense of awkwardness?

    • You stomach tightens?

    • You heart rate picks up?

    • You feel a huge wave of anxiety sweep over you?

    • You feel guilty?

    • You feel you have acted too forcefully or aggressively?

    Or, do you capitulate, bow to the self-imposed pressure that you or others have placed upon you because you believe that saying ‘NO’ will be detrimental to you in some way? Do you end up saying to yourself:

    “Oh, I couldn’t possibly refuse”

    “I don’t really want to do this, but I had better say yes”

    “I want to say ‘NO’ but feel that if I do I will insult, annoy or disappoint someone”

    Trouble is, you resent having to say ‘YES’ all of the time. Every time you say ‘YES’, when you really wanted to say ‘NO’, means that you have to compromise at best your own beliefs and sometimes rights.

    Even when you do pluck up the courage to say ‘NO’, you manage to say it with pangs of guilt, stress or worry. The ‘NO’ that you actually issue is probably weak, full of tonal apologies and sends a vocal message that you could be persuaded to a ‘YES’.

    Because you do not whole heartedly issue a confident ‘NO’, you allow your questioner to think that your ability to stand by your convictions, your own reasoning and requirements could be compromised, eroding further your self-esteem. Therefore - “If you can’t say ‘NO’ then your ‘YES’ doesn’t mean much.”

    Saying ‘NO’ with confidence and deliverance allows one to keep one’s self respect, self-esteem and personal respect intact. It can ensure you make more realistic commitments, stand up for your values and earn others’ respect.

    Saying “No” does not help just you; it can also improve the health of your team, organisation, family or community.

    So the question becomes how to bring your negative “NO” to a positive “YES” without undermining your position or theirs, in a way that is appropriate and agreeable to both parties.

    There are some methods to help one practise the art of achieving a successful ‘NO’:

    1. Examine your own history with saying “No” and the internal beliefs you carry as a result. If you are like many people, you may have difficulty in saying ‘NO’ out of fear about your own position, power and authority.

    • Try to look at your inheritance, taking stock of your history and its impact on your stance toward boundary-setting.

    • Try to articulate your own present-day views and values about saying “NO,” so that you are operating from a perspective that feels current and supportive.

    2. Think of all the ways one can deliver a ‘NO’:

    Sweetly, acerbically, forcefully, passively, fearfully, bitchily, authoritatively, quietly, unshakably, tentatively, etc.:

    • Taking a little time each day to experiment with using different versions of “NO”. See how each one makes you feel. See if you can identify ways of saying it that feel comfortably powerful to you.

    • Try saying ‘NO’ in places where doing it unskilfully will not have big negative consequences.

    • Practise and get oneself acquainted and familiar with saying ‘NO’ where necessary.

    3. Examine the environment and the colleagues you work with:

    • Ask yourself, what separates those individuals who earn respect from others, yet regularly say ‘NO’ at least 40% of the time, from those individuals who can be aggressive, passive or submissive and yet rarely say ‘NO’.

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  • Presenting - the keynote speaker’s adage

    So you have been invited or asked to give a speech or presentation to your department, your staff, the board of directors, or to a prospective customer or client. What is the first thing that comes into your mind?

    “Why me”

    “By when…..!”

    “To how many?”

    Well they have asked you for a reason and the reason could be any of or a combination of the following:

    • Because you are the only person with the knowledge to do it

    • You are an expert in the subject matter

    • You have presented this topic several times before

    • You are an experienced presenter

    • You have a way of explaining things

    • Your style and demeanor inspires and motivates

    • You are the only person brave enough to face the music

    Many capable people end up falling flat on their face by giving a lack lustered, boring and uninformative presentation simply because they did not follow three basic rules:

    1. They failed to put themselves in the position of those requesting the presentation

    2. They did not implement the ‘Who, What, Why, When, Where, With, How’ template

    3. They did not practice, hone and practice again and again their presentation to perfection, until they were bored senseless with it

    1. You should put yourself into the shoes of the company, organisation or person who is asking you to give the presentation. Ask yourself some questions such as:

    If it was you requesting the presentation, what would you want to see, hear and experience, from the presentation?

    • How do you take on-board new facts and information?

    • What are the various learning styles of your colleagues or those that will be attending?

    • Will the presentation be motivating and perhaps inspiring?

    • Perhaps you would like new ideas or methods that excite and fire the passion of your existing or newly formed team

    • A presenter that shows mastery and command and in-depth knowledge of their subject

    • You need a degree of understanding and flexibility in the timing and perhaps time of the presentation due to the logistics of organising staff

    • You have a limited budget

    2. The ‘Who, What, Why, When, Where, With, How’ template:

    • Who will you be presenting to?

    • What will you be presenting about?

    • Why are you presenting it?

    • When will you be required to present it?

    • Where will the presentation take place?

    • With what apparatus and equipment will I use to give the presentation?

    • How will you present it, what will be your strategy and style?

    • Getting agreement on the exact criteria you need to meet from the group you will be addressing

    • What do you need to know about the group or the client?

    • What will you want or expect the client to take or learn from the presentation?

    • How will you know you have succeeded in achieving your objectives?

    3. Rehearse, practice, and fine tune your presentation again and again and again until you are bored with it. Only when you get to this stage, will you be both competent and confident at giving a presentation that is interesting and informative.

    Presentations that evoke change in either perception, understanding or learning, need to be delivered with professionalism, passion and an inner desire to create enough interest, in order to provoke questioning and in turn inspire debate.

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