Are you listening?

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re not being heard? It happened to me last week in a meeting with a potential supplier. I was discussing my needs but only being heard on a very superficial level, if at all. As a result what I was being offered was not what I needed and at times I felt talked down to. The problem was that my contact was not really listening.

Last night Ruth Whiteley was fired from The Apprentice largely because she talked too much. She didn’t sell because she was too busy talking and didn’t give her prospects chance to think or act. There’s a pattern here. The sad thing is that Ruth Whiteley is a sales trainer and my conversation was with a coach. Both should know that listening effectively is the most vital skill.

Listening is a vital component of selling

We learn when we listen

These days we’re all too busy trying to get our message out there. All too often we’re broadcasting rather than communicating. Be different. Stop and listen. Listen to the words as well as the music. Listen to what is being said, what is being withheld and what the speaker can’t find the words for. Ask questions to help the speaker to communicate with clarity, use encouraging body language and above all stop talking!

Effective listening leads to understanding, helps us to spot opportunities and creates empathy. Next time you’re having a conversation or in a meeting just be mindful of how much information you are really taking in. Are you fully engaged in listening or too busy thinking what to have for dinner, how to respond or making a judgment? I could go on but I want to hear what you think. Do you ever find yourself speaking because silence is uncomfortable? Have you been frustrated at not being heard?


Are your policies customer friendly?

Two small businesses have hit the national news this week for the wrong reasons. A hotel in Blackpool charged customers £100 for leaving a negative review on Trip Advisor and a cafe in Gomshall, Surrey put a sign up which nursing mothers interpreted as an instruction to feed their babies in the toilet.

The hotel has now changed its policy which is just as well as what they were doing was almost certainly illegal. However this story has brought far more negative publicity than the review on Trip Advisor ever would. The story has been widely shared on social media and the hotel owners have been forced to admit that there is much scope for improvement. They have not managed this story well and it will cost them business if not the business.

The cafe has managed the story rather better and has let it be known that they are working with mothers’ groups to try to find a solution that suits everyone. However wouldn’t it have been better if they had done that in the beginning?

Consult your customers

Customer service and PR.

Is this going to be customer friendly?

There are times when we develop a policy as a reaction to a situation or an event. Sometimes we design a policy to suit one group of customers and in the process inadvertently alienate another group; so how do we avoid this?

  • Look at every policy from the customer’s point of view, who will be affected? How will this affect them?
  • Seek advice. Consult Trading Standards to ensure your policy is legal. Discuss with groups representing different types of customer e.g. a mothers’ group or a disability association.
  • Have other people look at the wording of your signs or policies. We can all get too close to our own issues or ideas to see all the pitfalls.
  • Take your time. Policies developed on the hoof often come back to bite us!

And if you get your policies wrong and get some negative publicity…

Manage negative publicity

I’ve written about this before but it’s essential that we manage any negative publicity before it impacts our business. This includes responding to bad reviews left by customers. We need to hold our hands up when we’ve got things wrong and tell anyone who wants to hear what we’re doing to put things right.

We need to apologise when a customer is disappointed but we don’t have to admit liability if we think they are being unreasonable or are not genuine. Some people will leave negative reviews in the hope of getting a concession from you. Some review sites don’t even check that the person leaving the review is a genuine customer! Don’t be tempted to get into long explanations or justifications and never, ever vent your anger on a review site.

Be open to negative reviews, they could be telling you something you need to hear. Do you need to make changes? If so tell the reviewer what you’re doing and invite them to give you another try once the changes have been made. An unhappy customer whose problem has been solved usually turns into a business’ best advocate and when they do share the positive publicity as widely as you can.

Are you open to opportunities?

I’ve just spent a fabulous 10 days on the Canal du Midi in the South of France, I was not alone! Given that the schools were back after the summer holidays we were surprised at how busy the canal was. We shouldn’t have been! Early September is a great time for those without responsibility for school age children to take their holidays and the canal was full of people from all over the globe doing just that.

The Canal du Midi provides business owners with a captive market should they choose to access it.

The Canal du Midi provides business owners with a captive market should they choose to access it.

There must have been at least 10 boats starting their holidays at the same time and from the same place as us, probably more. We had a crew of 6, many of the boats had more, that’s a lot of people looking for food and drink. Pass any boat from about lunchtime onwards and the beer and wine were much in evidence, however restocking wasn’t easy.

One of the things we commented upon was how the shops and restaurants were closed just when we needed them. What a lost opportunity. Holidaymakers are often willing to spend much more money than locals and their needs are fairly easy to anticipate.

Are you open when your services are most needed?

Now I know that every business owner needs a break and few want, or need, to trade 24/7 but when we are considering our opening hours we should think about when our services will be most needed. In this case the bulk of boats will be hired out from Saturday afternoon until the following Saturday morning, they have few choices about where they go and their speed is controlled by the limits of the canal so their daily destinations are fairly easy to anticipate and the majority of boats will be looking for restaurants and shops at a given time or day. When restaurants, bakers and convenience stores are not open at those times they are losing potential trade.

It is not just traders along the Canal du Midi who may be losing out, I see the same problems locally as retailers open traditional hours from early morning until 5.30p.m. when their commuting prospects are not back home until 6.30 or 7.00p.m. Are they losing out too?

Have you re-visited your trading hours recently? Have you considered the opportunities that other businesses might be creating for you? Are you sure that you’re maximising your selling opportunities?

Why is customer service so bad at mobile phone companies?

I have just wasted two hours of my precious Sunday off trying to do a straightforward transaction with O2. I ploughed my way through the automated answering system five times and spent an excessive amount of time in a queue and was cut off three times, once whilst speaking to an adviser. Why didn’t that adviser ring me back? Their system had asked me to input the number I wanted to speak to them about but that was the first question she asked me. We were cut off before I’d completed giving the number and the line was diabolical (I was calling from an 02 phone!)

I tried following instructions to join a text chat. The system fell over at the third question! So I got on live chat on the computer. They couldn’t help me because I needed to speak to someone! A not so virtuous circle.

Why can’t companies look at their service from the customer’s perspective?

This all started when we bought a new phone contract in one of their stores yesterday. No problems there. Helpful assistant, good choice of deals, our choice in stock. However now my daughter is no longer a student the time has come for her to take out her own contract. Quite reasonably she wants to keep her number which is currently in my name. In order to do this we have to call customer service a day after we set up the new contract which is where this saga began.

O2 customer service failure

My O2 phone should be able to have a secure connection to their call centre, shouldn’t it?

Why do I have to spend hours on my phone, probably to India, in order for them to give me a password to give to my daughter to change ownership? I understand the need to have the permission of the number’s owner which is why I went to the shop with her. Why can’t they design a system which the shop can use to help their customers right away?

If companies really looked at their service from their customers’ perspective I am convinced that both they and their customers would win. I can’t have been the only person calling 02 today to resolve something they would have preferred to do in store. If O2 designed their procedures so that their stores didn’t have to tell customers to call customer service that would automatically cut the queues so that callers would be dealt with more quickly.

Let’s be a bit more radical!

I can’t be the only parent who has taken out a phone contract for their child. Why can’t mobile phone companies design a contract in such a way that the number belongs to the child whilst responsibility for the bill is with the parent? Then when the child wants to take out their own contract they just take their number and the parent cancels their part of the contract. Simple! My business bank account is in my name but ‘Trading As The Training Pack’, it’s the same sort of idea here. So come on your lawyers and marketeers design a mobile phone contract for parents where the number and responsibility can be transferred to the child at a point of their choosing.

Here’s a challenge!

This isn’t the first time I’ve bemoaned customer service at a mobile phone company and sadly it probably won’t be the last. Between my immediate family we have tried them all and found them all wanting. If one company could really sort out their customer service they would probably clean up and the rest would have to follow suite or go out of business. So come on you mobile phone companies which of you will it be?

Glenda Shawley of The Training Pack helps small businesses to grow by selling more to new and existing customers. To find out how we can help you email

A lesson in selling from the USA

I’ve just returned from a fabulous week in New York and one thing I really noticed was how good Americans are at parting us from our money. I say this in admiration, not to moan. the upsell is a really natural behaviour to any American in the service industry and is something we Brits could do well to copy.

Looking for additional sales

The assistant gave powerful reasons why buying a pallet four eye shadows made more sense than buying two individual shadows.

The assistant gave powerful reasons why buying a pallet four eye shadows made more sense than buying two individual shadows.

I’m not talking about the McDonald’s ‘You want fries with that?’ automatic response to any order but an approach which feels more personalised. for example, I went to buy a couple of eye shadows and was immediately offered a pallet of four which reduced the price per shadow by $5 but meant I spent $10 more than I had originally intended. When the assistant had closed me on that sale she offered me a set of brushes which would have cost me an additional $49, if she’d had a set of just eye shadow brushes she might have made that sale too.

In bars and restaurants servers were quick to notice our empty glasses and to offer a refill. When we booked tickets for the theatre and the ice hockey the sale was followed up with, ‘is there anything else I can help you with?’

It wasn’t just at the point of sale where we were offered the upsell. On a couple of visits to tourist attractions further opportunities to spend money were offered at key points of the trip. The Empire State offered us the chance to purchase a photo and then a location guide; at the NBC studios our photos were taken and a video of a news bulletin and weather forecast made by our group was offered sale. Then of course the exit is through the shop just as it is at home.

The best time for an additional sale is when a customer has just made a purchase

At no time did I feel under pressure to buy more and a refusal was always treated courteously but I’m sure this approach makes a considerable difference to the bottom line. Americans understand that the customer is at their most receptive when they have just made a purchase and they build this into their follow up. I think we Brits could be rather less reticent about asking people if they would like to make an additional purchase. We could all think about natural follow ons.

The brushes were an obvious follow on to the eye shadows and a refill is an obvious response to an empty glass but what would be good add ons for your business? A manicurist might offer a bottle of the polish they have just applied. A restaurant or hairdresser might offer to take a further booking. A training course might be followed up with the offer of one to one coaching or a video recording of the course.

How can you make your customer’s experience even better?

What we need to think is how can we be even more helpful to our customers. What would make their purchase even more effective or more enjoyable? What would give them an even better experience or memory? I think we Brits tend to feel that selling up or selling on is not a nice thing to do, it’s a bit too ‘in your face’ or aggressive for us. Where the Americans differ is that they see the additional sale as helping the customer and that is what it is.

So what will you do to help your customer have an even better experience from their purchase with you? What additional offer will you make? How will you encourage them to spend more or visit again?

If you would like some help to work out how you can increase your customers’ average spend why not book a free, no obligation, 30 minute consultation with me? I’ll help you find the things that would make your customer’s experience even better whilst improving your bottom line. Book your slot here.

Four customer service questions every business owner needs to answer.

I’ve been on a conference this week where one of the topics was customer service. The discussion got me thinking about some of the key questions every business needs to address.

What obstacles do we put in the way of customers?

One of the key messages that came from the conference was the need to see our businesses from the customer’s perspective. How easy is it for them to do business with us? What is their experience at every touch point?

We see the bosses of large companies go ‘Back to the floor’ and become the ‘Undercover Boss’ for TV programmes. The idea is that they get to see what is really happening in their business. Those of us running small businesses may think we know, but do we really? How many calls do we miss? How long do prospects have to wait for a quotation or a follow up? How long does the website take to load? Do all the links work?

When did you last review the touch points in your business? Is it time for you to step into your customers shoes and see your business from their perspective?

Do we know more than our customers?

We live in the Information Age when the majority of our customers research their alternatives thoroughly before reaching a purchasing decision. Typically they will search the web, they might take a look at comparison sites if there are any and they look at rating sites such as Trip Adviser. They may then talk to a number of competing firms before they reach their decision.

By the time the prospect gets to talk to us they are very well informed and if we’re not careful they may be better informed than we are. That’s why it is really important to know our products and services inside out, to seek feedback from existing customers and to understand how we compare to the competition. If we can’t add value to the conversation then why should anyone buy from us?

What do you do to ensure that you and your staff know more than your customers so that you can add value?

Does our customer care extend beyond the sale?

I’m sure we all appreciate the importance of looking after the customer on their way to making a purchase but what happens once they have paid the bill? I know I have been delighted in the past to receive a thank you letter from a director of a company where I have made a purchase. That gives a great impression but does it really go far enough? How might I have felt if the company contacted me six months later to check that all was well with my purchase?

Nikki King Managing Director Isuzu

Nikki King Managing Director Isuzu

One of the speakers this week was Nikki King, MD of Isuzu trucks in the UK. Nikki writes a personal letter to the customer following their purchase thanking them for buying and giving her home phone number should there be any problems. Her customer advisers then ring each customer every three months to check that all is well. These calls feed into a ‘problem’ report and the top six items on the list become priorities for fixing. This focus on customer care ensures that 78% of Isuzu customers buy again against an industry average of 18%.

How many of your customers buy again? Would more follow up increase your repeat business?

What happens with customer complaints?

How do your customers complain? Do they complain? If they have a complaint do they make it in person or do they post comments on a feedback page or on social media? Do you have a system for dealing with those? Apparently 70% of complaints made on social media go unanswered, this hardly enhances a business’ reputation.

Figures often quoted suggest that a complaining customer will tell 12 others and those 12 will each tell 5. I wonder if those figures are still true. If customers are using social media to complain then the reach of that complaint becomes even greater and failure to deal with those complaints will really be costing business.

I would like to see if these figures are still accurate. Could you help by taking a couple of minutes to complete my quick survey? Thank you.