Customer service – where did it all go wrong?

This post is about customer service, or rather the lack of it, why people serving customers get it so wrong, and what can be done about it.

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Get a room

A few weeks ago I hired a room to make it convenient for guests arriving from various territories to meet us and discuss plans, joint ventures and strategic partnerships. Our usual facilities were out of action, so we had to hire somewhere. A friend had previously told me about the rooms at the service office they used. Because it was convenient I asked them to make a reservation and we would pay for it on the day.

We turned up on the day, and were greeted by an immediate demand for payment. It was a little odd, but understandable. Perhaps people had absconded after using the room and not paid for it, and they were wise to it. After 15 minutes in our hired space it became evident that the Wi-fi was not working. So we approached the reception, where they said they would reset it.

Returning to reception 10 minutes later for an update, they advised that they were unaware that it hadn’t been fixed. They assured us that they would call the engineers and let us know when it was fixed. Meanwhile, we got on as best we could, without the all-important Wi-fi which were needed to allow us to access platforms, websites and applications in order to make progress.

Empathy Gets You Everything

Half an hour later, I popped out to reception to find out how long it was taking the engineers to fix the Wi-fi issue. I was told they had no idea, but it would be soon. With “soon” not actually being a time on my watch, I said I would pop back in half an hour, to which they said “it would surely be fixed by then!” 30 minutes later – no progress, so we decided to break for lunch, and asked them if it would definitely be fixed after lunch.

The receptionist was so positive that it would be, that we were totally comfortable that our break would be a productive one, and we could talk about everything we actually intended to do, and then put it into action in the afternoon. I said to the receptionist as we left to go and get our sandwiches “if it’s not working there’s no point in us being here, we need Wi-fi. We booked and paid for a room with Wi-fi.”

I think this is where I made my mistake. When the receptionists looked at me blankly when I said I need Wi-fi, I’m not sure that they fully understood that what I was saying.I don’t know what they thought I meant, but perhaps I should have been clearer at the time, perhaps I should have said “Wi-fi is the only thing we need, you can take the tables, the chairs, the tea, the coffee, the water and the lighting, and we would be happy. But without Wi-fi we are stuffed.” The fact that they didn’t seem that bothered that we were so badly affected is an interesting thing to think about. I’m not sure they know why people actually hire their rooms.

Not Bloody Likely!

By the end of the day we had visited reception 8 times and each time we were told that it would be fixed “soon” and refused to be drawn on an actual time. We didn’t have the option of other rooms, and it was too late to order something else for a half day. On the other hand, their staff had popped into our room once, to see if everything had been switched on, and told us with a very big smile on her face, that the hard wired internet was working. I think that 5 people sat around their laptops without “ethernet” cables was lost on this lady.

Upon leaving the building for the day I approached the reception desk to ask who I should speak to about a refund. The gentleman was polite but said I would need to speak to a manager. I asked if a manager had collected my money in the morning, and he informed me that was an assistant, so I said it was a little odd that one person could collect money for a service that was supposed to be provided, yet the same rank of employee couldn’t refund the money for a service that wasn’t provided. The gentleman shrugged and suggested that someone would give me a call back.

However, it would not be until 4 days later, when a manager authorised to make returns would be back at the office. I received an email, rather than the promised phone call, from a lady who offered me a 25% refund. I asked if there was anybody else I could speak to about this. After being put on hold, I was given the name of someone who would actually be able to discuss with me. So I made the call, and explained the situation, and the lady said she would speak to the the director of operations, and would give me a call back.

A few hours later, I received another email, again not the call that was promised, stating that they would give me a 50% refund. I contacted the sender and asked on what basis the refund was being provided, because the room had been of little use to us. It was as much use as a chocloate fireguard. The lady said the refund was offered as a gesture of goodwill, and that they would also offer me a 10% reduction in any room bookings that I made in the future, and that she really hoped that this episode would not prevent me from booking a room with them in the future.

I’m not often speechless, but I decided to remain so in this instance. I was silently incandescent. Not only had they failed to provide the service that was actually detailed on the invoice, they refused to acknowledge that they hadn’t provided the service; they then offered us a reduction that meant the most important part of their provision is only worth 25% of what they charge.

The only picture these people have painted for me is one of exploitation, where they are happy to take bookings for a particular service, but not able to provide refunds when the service is not provided. There were also a number of training issues which meant that I think their whole organisation lacks trust in their staff and credibility. They are exactly the sort of money grabbing people who are running the banks. They are happy to take your hard earned from you, not provide what they said they would, not accept responsibility for that fact, and are so lacking in empathy that they believe offering you a discount off a service that they are incapable of providing is enough to keep you onside.

This sorry scenario does annoy me, yet I’m not going to name and shame. Yet if you do want to a hire a room in a studio with a Garden between Holborn & Leicester Square, ask me first.

Wrap up: One of the beautiful things about “Word of Mouth” is the fact that those that provide great services rise to the top of their chosen networks.

Top Tip: When something goes wrong, take responsibility. With so few people doing it, it will differentiate you from the competition. If you don’t believe me, call and I’ll provide you with myriad examples.

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Networking at Exhibitions – Will Speed or stamina prevail?

Exhibitions are great places to network whether you’re exhibiting or visiting. A lot of exhibition organisers arrange “extra curricular” activities. This article focuses on speed networking, it’s certainly not for everyone, yet what makes it work and how is it measureable?

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Measurable networking

You can measure the results of speed networking by making a note of the contacts you made that asked you to follow up with them. Revisit that note in 2 months to see who you are working with. Not just new clientele, others you met may have made your life easier.

You probably haven’t heard about our draw at the recent exhibition when we were able to raffle away a Discovery Briefing, a Networking Business Plan and an Individual Marketing Plan to one lucky visitor. I suspect Clare quickly grasped the benefit of entering the draw, gave me her card and moved on politely as the etiquette requires. To say Clare was shocked to win during the end of the day draw is an understatement and I’m really looking forward to helping grow her business.

What we say is one thing, yet what our clients say is far more important and helps us reach people we haven’t met. I’m not saying too much about Clare to save her blushes. I’m confident about the results she will get yet client confidentiality is really important to us. The results will be published in our newsletters over the coming weeks.  Look out for testimonials and recommendations from Clare soon.

Speed networking is not about quick wins, but it helps

So what on earth is this article about? Some people hate speed networking yet that’s where I met Clare. This alone could not dispel the myth that speed networking doesn’t work. Clare won a prize yet I also won by meeting many diverse & interesting people with unique services in just 30 minutes. They are the real prizes because they help me to help others.

Someone else I met in that very same room was relaxed enough to chat at length and provided one of the biggest tips I’ve ever received later the same day, pointing me in the direction of a company that has just the sort of problem that I’ve been helping others with recently. I’ve made a diary note to tell them how we got on. And I’m pleased we had both hung around to the bitter end.

You don’t have to network speedily to maximise opportunities, there are plenty of other moments when people ask, as part of natural conversations,”what is it that you do?”

Don’t forget to pay it back

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, a gentleman I haven’t met stated “Jason is a prince amongst networkers” because he regularly read, and actually liked, the articles I share or publish. I was slightly embarrassed, then flattered yet still resolved to set up a meeting because I would like to help him for taking the time and making the effort to share me with his network. The date is in the diary.

When it comes to “brands”, I still prefer the “Networking Economist” because it encapsulates my belief that networking is about people, as is economics, yet numbers always feature in sales & marketing results. Networking is actually marketing and sales, not the other way around and it should have measures to ensure that it isn’t a waste of time. If you want a 5 minute measure, take a peek at your diary over the last few months, it might highlight which places are generating you the highest return on time spent networking. And perhaps save you going speed networking again.

Wrap up: Clare had enough cards for her entire day’s networking. One of them went into the prize draw. A QR code would not have made the draw. There’s a time and a place for all forms of marketing material. Review what you’re taking networking and where it ends up.

Top tip: Work out which client loves you most by taking a peek at your list of clients and working out who is connected to who. You will soon see who has your Word of Mouth on the tip of their toungue.

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Introductions, affiliations & the networker’s dictionary

The key to effective networking is making every minute count.  This article is about how I didn’t, why it happened, and the lessons I’ve learned as a result.

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Drink coffee productively

Like you, I receive invitations to have coffee, chat, or connect, every week.  Coffee is sometimes code for “pick your brains”.  Just ask @BernieJMitchell.  A lot of those we helped recently have had endless coffees, yet nowt to show for it. Sometimes a chat goes nowhere, and connections are people. Some call them numbers because they are connections, but I just call them people.

To introduce, or to affiliate?… that is the question

Recently I’ve been surprised by seemingly intelligent brands mixing the word “introducer” with “affiliate”.  A company backed by serious investors recently asked me to become an “affiliate”, I was flattered.  So I asked about the benefits my contacts and I would receive.  They were compelling.  During the “next step” in their process it became clear that they were actually seeking “introducers”. I explained that I seemed to be there under false pretences. I was polite, as my brand is important to me.  Their brand is no longer trustworthy in my eyes, despite their attempts to explain the situation.  It appears they were confused about the definition of an “affiliate”.  Below is the dictionary definition for an “affiliate”, so that you can ask those requesting your assistance which of the two they are seeking:

1. To adopt or accept as a member, subordinate associate, or branch
2. To associate (oneself) as a subordinate, subsidiary, employee, or member
3. To assign the origin of
4. To become closely connected or associated

Contractually obliged to affiliate or introduce?

Another gent recently requested a chat to explore helping each other.  It seemed we had similar clientèle, so I asked what kind of process they followed when looking for people to help their clients.  The reply came “a meeting to chat about the work you and I do”… with a view to making introductions that benefit all parties.  Sounded great.

Towards the end of the meeting the gent produced an “Introducers Agreement”. It was 3 ages long, and the first 2 pages had terms that I found unacceptable. I learned a lesson that day.

FYI – an introducer is defined as follows:

1.a. To present (someone) by name to another in order to establish an acquaintance
1.b. To present (a performer, for example) to the public for the first time
2. To bring forward (a plan, for example) for consideration
3. To provide (someone) with a beginning knowledge or first experience of something: introduced me to weightlifting
4.a. To bring in and establish in a new place or environment: exotic plants that had been introduced from the jungle
4.b. To bring into currency, use, or practice; originate

When introductions are promised ask if there is any agreement to sign. You can save yourself the price of a coffee and the time spent at a meeting, if you are aware of onerous terms. Not everyone reveals their process at the beginning, even though we all have a process. No matter how loose it is, it is still a process. He could have told me, I should have asked… I will from now on.

Wrap Up: A meeting without an agenda is a chat. I now know to ask if introducers, or those seeking introductions, need a contractual agreement. It makes me wonder if there is anything else I should be seeking to clarify?

Top Tip: Not every introducers agreement is onerous. I have seen some fantastic, clear, concise documents that make all parties accountable, and comfortable. Read the agreement, and don’t be afraid of asking for clarification.

Who to Share this with: Fellow networkers, anyone who acts as an introducer or an affiliate, and those who work with introducers or affiliates.

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We are not connecting… and it’s staying that way!

This post is about how not to commence engagement on LinkedIn, an example of someone making connecting difficult, and how not to turn an online conversation into a real one.

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Engagement Commenced

I was recently engaged on LinkedIn by a gentleman I’d never heard of.  He wanted to speak to me, because he felt he had something of interest, that I should know about. I assumed he had read my profile, noted my interests and had something he didn’t want me to miss.  I was wondering what it was.

The messages had been sent via LinkedIn so I politely replied and asked what benefit he thought the information would provide me with.  I did this because it’s important to manage time effectively.  Benefits of services that are lower down my priority list than those I’m working on, can wait.

The next message I received was virtually a repeat of the first one, saying that I should be interested and when could I speak. I was already feeling that this may be a waste of time, so I sent a reworded version of my original message, asking what the benefit to me might actually be, or if there was any form of help they were looking for.

When Under Attack – Fall Back

I then received a message stating that my business costs would be reduced and it would be of huge benefit to me and everyone I knew. I replied that my clients who had wanted their costs reduced had already done so, and it was not something I needed to do, at this time, but I politely thanked the gentleman anyway. I then received a rather odd message stating that he could see absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t take his call or give him 10 minutes to help with his marketing – it would have taken longer than that. So I sent a link to an event to help him with his marketing.

He then pointed out that I must have seen him present his service at an event I attended recently, so I probably had dillusions of grandeur for not affording him the time he wanted.  Worse still, ultimately, I was being obtuse by not giving him 10 minutes of my time. Ouch. I have resolved to make minutes count by entering discussions with those who are recommended by my network. These recommendations can be personal, or present on a LinkedIn profile. I know both of these types of recommendation are very, very real, and I value them highly.

One thing the gentleman could have found out before he started the engagement was that I wasn’t present at his seminar, because another seminar that was on at the same time, was the reason that I signed up for the event.

Cease Firing

I could have started a lenghty explanation, yet experience dictates that when under attack you should fall back – when it makes sense for me. So I decided not to reply, because I cannot see a time when we will be able to help each other. If I had replied I think the gentleman would have kept going, hoping to wear me down.

I felt a chat about his marketing was a trojan horse. Either way, hostilities have ended, I have the same number of connections, and this article will now help others who are thinking about how to start engaging with people online.

Wrap Up: Its hard to say who insulted who first. We are not connected, and it is staying that way. We don’t have to connect to everyone that asks, so make it easy for people to understand why and don’t get hurt if someone politely declines. There really are more fish in the LinkedIn sea.

Top Tip: Take a quick peek at the blog we shared in our last newsletter. It highlights how people can get upset or threatened, leading to feelings of harassment or bullying.

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Online jokers miss opportunities

Having a sense of humour can land you in hot water, sometimes without even realising it. We think “That’s just not funny mate!” more often than we declare it to a would be comedy star. It’s a real boost when we find something funny and this post encourages it. This post explains that a decent percentage of people are offended by misplaced humour, it can damage a reputation and why it is so counter productive.

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What’s wrong with having a sense of humour?

Nothing. Just remember that it’s like an opinion. It’s yours and has developed because you are the only person to have your life experiences. You may have a thick skin. Others may not.

If you don’t want to offend people, then don’t try to be funny. Especially if you’re using social media to engage people. If there is a subject matter in the joke, then you are likely to offend someone. Don’t risk it. Stick to humour that doesn’t reference others – no matter how topical the reference may be.

This survey showed how 31% of people felt harassed by other people’s attempts at humour. Would you tell a joke to a group of clients if you’re at tisk of offending a good deal of them? No! So don’t offend your future clients and introducers who are keeping up to date with you online.

Why do people get it so wrong?

The main reason humour goes awry is down to a stunning lack of empathy. Another is that they sometimes don’t realise that they have an audience, and that people are reading stuff online and not commenting. For example, plenty people shout at their TV. Very few write to Points of View.

We all make mistakes, yet some are easier to forgive than others. Social Media is great, in that it enables you to engage directly with any negative feedback or complainants. They say that having a presence on the internet enables you to drown out negative vibes. While this may be true in most cases, it’s hardly an effective use of social media if you created the vibes yourself.

Why does it matter?

People spend a lot of time building their reputation online (I say “spend” because time wasted is an opportunity cost). So it makes no sense to alienate people that may be offended by something that they  do not consider to be exceptionally witty, but ultimately harmless. Not everyone will share an appreciation for the same humourous insights.

It’s difficult to recommend people who make massive errors of judgement online. There isn’t enough room here to list them all the reasons why. Suffice to say there are loads of “safer” people who you can introduce without any risk to your own reputation.

Wrap up: I’ve seen people spend years building an online reputation and then make one single comment which makes them very difficult to introduce. Those that see a misplaced joke online might not be around to see the apology.

Top tip: People like to be amused. We all have a sense of humour and having a barometer of taste before you publish would be ideal. Failing that, buy a joke book.

Who to share this with: People you want to engage with. Especially if they used to introduce you.

Further Reading: Attend our Partners Briefing or Directors Briefing.

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