Who will get to the phone first?!

Communication today is easier than it’s ever been and yet it is still the biggest area where all too many businesses fail; big time. And it is costing those businesses a great deal of future business and, more importantly, profit!

If you are dealing with a customer and they are waiting on something, and it doesn’t matter what that something is, you must contact them before they contact you. If your customer makes contact first you risk damaging your relationship with them and the amount of future business you get from them and the people they know. And don’t think that providing a great service or product makes up for bad communication because it doesn’t. Great service or product is a given.

This week I’ve come across two examples of bad communication from businesses that will affect their future business.

First is a case of a business returning to put right a small problem with some work they had done. Nothing major at all; maybe thirty minutes work and no real cost. But despite promising to return do the work it took a great deal of chasing by phone and email to actually get the company to turn up. The customer was just left not knowing if the work would be done or not and started to look elsewhere to get it done.

The second case was just a matter of being kept up-to-date with a situation. Again nothing major in itself, but the customer was asking for updates and not getting any. A simple “there’s no new information at the moment” would have been so much better than having a customer think that they had been forgotten.

As I say, both of these cases will cost the businesses concerned future business. In one case all possible future work, as the job had a problem and it took a great deal of effort to get it put right. The person concerned not only won’t be using them again, but, worse still, they won’t refer them to anybody else.

In the other example the person concerned now has a doubt in their mind. They will use the business again but they will be more cautious next time and, until they are completely happy again with the service, they won’t refer them.

Both these businesses have lost potential business through poor communication. And, in today’s world of phone, text and email that is just crazy!

So, who should you have got in touch with? Make that call before whoever it is can call you. Do you have a procedure in place for customer communication? What are your rules for ‘Follow Up’?

Better communication will improve your sales in the long term; all you need to do is make that call!

Smile please!

I’ve recently started to mentor a business owner who needs more sales, not just to make a profit, but just to stand a chance of staying in business. Now there are a number of things that we need to work on urgently, and one of the most important is the marketing of the business.

The simple truth is that the business is a good one; it just needs more sales. The trouble is, however good a business you may have, without sales it’s dead. So, the marketing of any business is the key to its success.

The market, message and media are critical. You need to know your exact market, craft a message to that market, and know which media to use to access that market. But that’s all for another day.

What I want to talk about here is one of the major problems that this business has. It only has one route to market and that route isn’t working. A significant problem!

The first thing we did was to consider every route to market that we could think of; in just a few minutes we had upwards of forty. Why not stop here for a moment and write down how many you can think of in a minute? We then worked through our list and picked twelve that would work the best. Having twelve or more routes to market is a good guide. Not the most obvious, cheapest or easiest, but the ones that would work the best and that could be achieved. No good a small company thinking of advertising on prime-time television, for example.

On the list was networking. Why? Because it could be started the next day, can work well and is low in cost. However, after a few weeks, it became apparent that networking really wasn’t working and I suggested that at the next networking event I go along with him. I would watch and listen and see if I could spot anything that he could do differently. Well, it wasn’t long before I came up with one major problem. He looked miserable! He was my client and even I wouldn’t want to go over and say “Hello”.

Think about it, unless you are a life coach, when was the last time that you were out networking and you went and looked for the most depressed person in the room? I can only imagine never!

So, if you find that networking is a pretty lonely place, that nobody wants to talk to you, just ask yourself: What do I look like? And then smile. It makes such a difference.

You could even try an experiment. Smile at the next person you meet and see what happens. Bet you they smile back!

Pretty Woman

One of my favourite films is the 1990s film Pretty Woman starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. I like the film for all sorts of reasons, but it was something that happened to me this week, and a similar event that happened to Vivian (Julia Roberts) in the film, which got me thinking: namely, the short-sightedness of some businesses.

In the film Vivian has been given some money to buy a dress, but because of the way she looks she can’t get served and so can’t spend her money; needless to say, another shop gets the cash.

Well, what happened to me was nothing like that, but it was the same short-sighted view on business.

I was co-directing a stage show a while ago, HMS Pinafore. We had given the show a modern twist and the ladies’ chorus first appear on stage having returned from a shopping spree (see the connection?!). One of my jobs was to source props, so I went in to my local town (Kingston) to see if I could get a few. We needed around twenty bags – classy paper carriers from the top shops there. All the shops were really helpful and interested in what we were doing: Crabtree & Evelyn, T.M. Lewin, Tommy Hilfiger, Fat Face, L.K. Bennett.

All bar one that is: French Connection. “We don’t give carriers away”, I was told in a snooty tone.

Why do I think this is short-sighted? Well for three reasons at least. 1) All the other bags will be shown to an audience every show (free advertising), 2) I’m unlikely ever to shop at French Connection again, whereas the others I will, 3) some of you reading this will have negative thoughts about French Connection.

So, my point is this, are you doing anything in your business that might be hurting it without meaning to? Is your local PR as good as it should be? Little things can mean so much and often a business can’t tell when things started to go wrong for them.

You might be wondering which shop was the nicest to me. Just in case you are it was T.M. Lewin. I was asked if I wanted men’s or ladies bags by a member of staff, but before I could answer another member of staff said to give me some of each. What a difference in attitude!

The wheels come off!

A good friend of mine wanted a new head torch for her cycle helmet and so popped along to the local branch of Moore’s Cycles; she had shopped there before.

Unfortunately, they were just closing but the person on the door was really helpful, gave her a couple of ideas, and suggested that she call in the morning just to confirm that they had them in stock, so she didn’t waste her time coming to the store only to find they were out of stock.

The next day she called and asked the person who answered what head torches they had in the shop. It wasn’t the same person who had been so helpful the evening before – and what a difference.

This person had no interest in advising on head torches, let alone checking which ones they might have in stock. Instead they suggested checking on their website and then calling them back to see if they held the one she wanted.

Being somewhat taken aback she hung up and went online. It didn’t take long on the Moore’s website to pick the one that best suited her. But then the obvious thing happened. She checked the price from other suppliers. And guess what?! She could buy exactly the same head torch somewhere else but for 25% less. Moore’s Cycles had lost a sale and, more importantly, possibly a long-term customer.

This was all because of two very different members of staff and I wonder just how much other business this unhelpful member of staff is costing Moore’s.

If you have staff, any staff, that have customer contact, do you know how they portray, not only your company, but also themselves? If not, you could have staff, just like Moore’s, that are costing you a great deal of money.

A new Park Run top

Recently a friend wanted to buy a new running top; she had a particular style and colour in mind. In the first shop she tried, when asked if they had anything in stock to match, the sales assistant showed her everything but what was asked for. It came across as if it was her fault that she didn’t fit the styles that they had. Needless to say, she left empty handed.

The next shop she tried asked if she was looking for anything in particular, and when told, they showed her two things that matched exactly. The assistant then suggested another item that my friend might be interested in. Again it looked great.

In the end my friend spent over £200.00 on three, not one, pieces of running kit. Why? Because the assistant was interested in her, listened, and only offered items that would interest her. He wasn’t going to try and sell her just what he had in the shop.

What can we learn from this story? Well, the first shop didn’t make a sale, but, more importantly, has lost a customer for life. Whereas the second shop made a sale of over £200.00, and has gained a customer that will be going back.

So, in your business, is your service losing you both sales and long term business, or making extra sales and fans that will return again, and again, and recommend you to their friends?

If it’s the latter I’m sure your business will go from strength to strength, but if the former I would be rather worried.

A Tale of Two Dinners

Not so long ago I went out to dinner at a local restaurant; it was my first visit there. The waiting staff  were nice and friendly, there was a good feel to the restaurant, and the menu looked interesting. In the end I decided to try their fish stew – and what a fabulous choice it turned out to be.

It was beautiful. Real chunks of at least three types of fish, a nice big langoustine, half-a-dozen mussels or so, a lovely rich soup and lots of lovely toasted bread to soak up the juices. All together a real treat.

Recently, I was in the area again and having had such a good meal on my first visit decided to dine at the same restaurant. After having a long hard look at the menu, and not being able to decide on which of the tempting dishes to try, and, as it was so good the first time, I went for the fish stew again. How I wish I hadn’t.

It looked similar: large langoustine, lovely tomato coloured soup, but that was as far as it went. There were plenty of mussels, about three times as many as on the first occasion, but some weren’t very good, only one piece of fish (bony) and just two bits of toasted bread. Nowhere enough to soak up the lovely juices – only the juices weren’t quite as tasty – and so I ended up leaving most of the soup.

So what has this to do with your business?

Well, I will never have the fish stew again, as I can’t be sure if it will be good or bad, and I don’t want to be disappointed, but worse, I may not even visit the restaurant again.

And this is what it has to do with your business. Does your business provide a service, an experience, which is consistent? Put another way, do your customers know exactly where they stand? Because if not you could be losing business without even realising it. Let’s face it, I’m not going to go back to the restaurant and tell them I might not be back; I just won’t go again.

The thing about the consistency of your offering is that it doesn’t have to be just about the big things. It could be the way your telephone is answered, or not answered. It could be the way that your customers are met at reception. It could be whether your invoices arrive at the same time each month. It could be how quickly you return a phone call.

What’s important is that your customers have an expectation, and whatever that might be, they will be a happier customer if they can count on their expectation being fulfilled consistently.

After all, it’s why the Big Mac is such a success! You know exactly what you are getting every time you order one.

Did you tidy your office today?

Ask my staff and on 99 out of 100 hundred days they would tell you that my office needs a good sort out.  I admit that it could to with a tidy up from time to time, but strangely I know where everything is and can lay my hands on anything I need in seconds.  Oddly, this is something I can’t do if papers are neatly filed away.  But yes, I do admit, there are occasions when even I would accept that my office needs to be tidied.  You really can’t work effectively if things are in a real mess.

But enough about my office, I want to talk about yours.

My question is more by way of example than really wanting to know if you tidied up your office today.  You see all too many business people spend far too much time putting off what really would make a difference to their business in order to do, well almost anything else. Tidy the office, create a new filing system, design a new spreadsheet for the petty cash, make a long list of people to call. You know the type of thing I mean.  We’ve all done it.  We have all convinced ourselves that these things are really vital and will make a difference to our lives.  And, of course they will, but not in the way we actually want.

Why do we do it?  Well, the things that are going to have the biggest effect on our success are hard, and sometimes even unpleasant.  So we put these difficult things off and do other ‘important’ things like tidying the office instead.

So, if your business isn’t moving in the direction you want, as fast as you would like, be tough on yourself and list the ‘important’ jobs you have done in the past few days, against the really important jobs that need to be done to move your business forward.

Actually picking up the phone today and calling even a few people will have a much more dramatic effect on your business than having a long list of people you could call another day.