Thursday, February 03, 2011

What's Happened to Customer Care Part 2

Last week I blogged (ranted) about Customer Care and how we don't know what has happened to it. That was the Customer Care we receive when dealing face to face with small local businesses like the green grocers et al.

But what about Customer Care on the telephone? Mostly, we experience this through Big Business; your mobile phone service provider; your land line phone service provider (this one could be Big Trouble, if you get my drift); your utilities provider; your bank/building Society and any other financial institution like your car insurance company or your pensions firm. And of course government organisations like the people you pay your Council Tax to - not forgetting Revenue and Customs.
Dealing with complex  'Call Centres'
has  become a huge frustration
for  most customers these days

Have you ever tried getting through to your mobile phone service provider? The first thing you notice is that nobody but nobody wants to speak directly with you. There are recorded voices all over the Big Business industry to stop you speaking to real people. I ask you, is that Customer Care? "Welcome to blah, blah, blah company. If you're calling about blah, press 1; if you're calling about blah press 2. And so it goes on. You can spend 30 minutes or more just pressing buttons or listening to music to kill yourself by and nobody gives a monkey's. To add insult to injury, the system tells you that your call is being recorded for security and training purposes, which means that if you stuff up in any way they have a record of it to be used against you later. Is this Customer Care? Not likely.

Why is Customer Care so poor, these days? Well you will have your own ideas but I feel that a partial answer is the creation of Call Centres. They are the bane of our lives. At their inception, training companies were falling over themselves to write courses for Call Centre Training; most, if not all of those courses have ended up on the shelf because it doesn't take long to train people on which buttons and icons to click on and to say "I'm sorry, the system won't allow me to do that". Luckily for me, I decided early on that I would have nothing to do with these latter-day sweat shops.

Well Big Business require a BIG rant, so see you next time for some of the rest!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Happened to Customer Care

Do you remember terms like 'Customer Care?' Are you familiar with slogans like 'The Customer is King' along with 'The Customer is Always Right?' Where have all those fine sayings gone to? OK, the sayings might still be there somewhere, perhaps even on a dusty poster in the stock room, but the treatment and actions that these sayings should engender no longer exists, it seems.
A Timely Reminder of Service

I recently returned a faulty item to the local store and explained that it was not fit for the purpose for which it was bought. This scenario lent itself to some great Customer Care, don't you know. She could have apologised and offered me the choice of changing the product or taking a refund. You'd think. But no. She asked if I had selected the item myself, in which case it was my fault. My fault, you understand for walking into the shop to spend money.

The local fitness club was not much better when I approached the reception desk to make an enquiry. No fewer that 3 people stood talking among themselves while I waited. And when someone deigned to speak to me, there was not a word of apology - until I asked for one; and even then it was offered as if under duress. If you rely on customers for your survival you could do worse than to remind yourself of this important fact; you don't have a business without your customers so STOP taking them for granted and START respecting them and CARING for them.

All well and good; but why does Good Customer Care seem to be on the decline? Well obviously there is the lack of training but it is a bit more than that because your local high street shop owners don't usually go on customer care courses. No, it seems to me that we are incubating a culture of Fear and Loathing; no one seems to like anybody and we seem to fear everybody we don't know. Have you noticed that every single store has a security gate through which you must pass to spend your money? As if the gates weren't enough, there are guards as well. And security cameras.

Is this because we are a nation of thieves? No. In my experience most people are fine upstanding members of the public - and they don't steal. But if you came from a different planet you wouldn't want to let go of your ray gun whilst out shopping, would you?

Monday, January 24, 2011

So You Think That's a Presentation

I am utterly fed up to my back teeth with the so-called presentations I see these days. At best they are boring; at worst they miss the purpose of the presentation entirely. What is it that makes people think that just because they can create some PowerPoint slides they don't need training in this fine art anymore?

When will people learn that their slides are not the presentation? If I were to define 'presentation' I would say 'a presentation consists of the words you use to form sentences that convey ideas either to persuade or inform an audience'.
Even Bill Gates can't help Confuse and Over Do the PP

PowerPoint is great tool but it was never meant to be abused in this way. It was always meant to help the presenter convey information, which is difficult to present with words alone; but most people these days write almost every single word they want to say on their slides, thereby using them as speaker notes and the audience ends up looking at slide after slide after slide. Why they even bother to stand in front of people I don't know for they might just as well roll the slides and let the audience read them. Why not? In any case we are in for a 'presentation', which is dull, dull, dull; lifeless, witless and boring and insulting to the audience.

Before PowerPoint, the training company I worked for used to run 12 presentation skills courses per year in the London venue plus 4 per year in Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham - that's 28 courses each year with a maximum of 12 people per course and they were nearly always full. With the advent of PowerPoint, these courses have dwindled to around 2 per year in London only with at times only 4 people attending - even with sales people covering the UK.

Please listen business people; if you must give presentations as part of your work, you owe it to your company, your audience and yourself to be properly trained in this area. People are often too polite to tell you that your presentation is crap, so you walk away thinking you were OK - you were not, PowerPoint was.

I have promised myself that unless I am training people, I will never sit and waste my time watching a slide show masquerading as a presentation ever again. I am going to walk out because there is absolutely no excuse for a poor presentation.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Investing in People first and last

Small business owners are doing everything they can to avoid making people redundant as a strategy for surviving the recession, an independent study claims.

Cutting overheads, increasing sales, developing new products and refocusing on a core activity are all bigger priorities than cutting staff, according to the survey of 500 small business owners by Continental Research.

George Hadley, managing director of Direct Access Systems, a specialist consultancy employing 30 people, is among those who believe redundancy should only be tried when all other options have been exhausted.

His business, which has no debt and turns over £1.3m a year, has been hit by clients delaying project start dates and dragging their feet on settling bills.

Mr Hadley, who owns 85 per cent of the business, notes that recently he has been putting his own money into the company to ensure that he does not have to cut his workforce.

"I have done everything within my power to make sure we don't lose people," he said, adding that removing jobs would be a false economy given that he will need the manpower for contracts that have been won but are yet to start.

In spite of the aversion to job cuts, one in 10 of those asked by Continental Research said they were planning to make some staff redundant as a result of the economic downturn. The larger the company, the more likely it was to support job cuts. Companies employing fewer than 25 people tended to favour a reduction in working hours rather than cuts in staff numbers.

Small business groups have reported a sharp increase in calls to their legal advice lines about the rules governing redundancy. Such issues made up more than one in five calls received by the Forum of Private Business's member helpline in January.

Vince Caldicott recently cut four of the 43 jobs at his Hampshire-based business, Premier Contract Supplies, which provides bathrooms to builders and decorators.

However, he claims that he has felt unable to cut as many jobs as he would have liked because of the fear of breaking employment laws.

"I do need to make more people redundant, but I don't know how to do it," he said.

Stephen Alambritis, spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said his organisation had also seen a rise in inquiries about redundancy, but stressed that most companies were making sure they were aware of the rules rather than planning job cuts. "The last thing they would think about is redundancies," he said, adding that job losses from small businesses only tend to come when they file for bankruptcy.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has forecast that 600,000 people will lose their jobs in the UK this year. However, the FSB claims that only a quarter of these redundancies will come from businesses employing fewer than 250 people even though these companies account for 99.9 per cent of the UK's 4.7m businesses.

Customer Care means Just That

Why is a top-flight European business school devoting its considerable resources to teaching French railway staff how to improve customer service?

Thierry Grange, dean of Grenoble Ecole de Management, answers the question with passion. “It is about cultural change,” he says. “It’s about changing from being a public service to serving the public.”

Prof Grange and his colleagues are not just trying to give rail passengers a nice ride: they see their role as helping transform France from a producer-led economy to one that is customer-led.

Grenoble Ecole de ManagementIt is a project that many French citizens would argue has defeated their governments for decades. Yet, as Prof Grange points out, the evidence of successful cultural reform of state institutions is all around.

France Télécom, for example, another former state monopoly and Grenoble client, is now a privatised and competitive international phone operator.

For 20 years, Grenoble EM has been building an executive education practice specialising in helping the staff of state institutions embrace change – to the benefit of those they serve.

The five-year, €1m ($1.3m, £880,000) contract with SNCF, France’s biggest train operator, to run the Majélan training programme to equip customer-facing managers with the right skills is just the latest among many. For, in spite of the appearance of immobility, European Union directives and French state legislation have transformed the structure of French railways, along with those of other state institutions.

French rail tracks are now owned by a separate state company, Réseau Ferré de France; many SNCF trains are operated by private sub-contractors; and next year, SNCF will face competition from other European train operators.

As Prof Grange remarks, SNCF has become a travel brand. With increasing numbers of tickets bought online, the ticket inspector may be the only staff member customers meet. Dealing successfully with travellers’ problems and service delays is a tough job. Yet good service has become critical to SNCF’s success.

Teaching methods

The first one-year programme for SNCF “service management agents” of every kind, now running on the Grenoble campus and at SNCF’s in-house Université du Service in Paris, has therefore prompted much thinking about teaching methods as well as messages and education.

Among the first challenges, Prof Grange says, is the need to convince SNCF staff that change will benefit them and the institution they work for.

Some of the solutions have been developed in the school’s Académie du Service (a joint project with the hotels group Accor).

SNCF is boosting management skillsOne approach to build confidence and demolish barriers is the use of theatre. “Everyone can tell a story,” Prof Grange says. “Soon other participants will laugh in sympathy at your mistakes. It is a way of reducing stress and pressure.”

Once a learning atmosphere has been created, participants are taught skills ranging from practical tools, such as English and law, to marketing and strategic management. Candidates for the courses, which open the door to management grades for participants, were chosen through a competitive process within SNCF.

The 26 participants alternate between classes and the workplace, where they must complete a service-related project for assessment.

Valerie Cléry-Bernard, of the SNCF Académie du Service, says management schools were invited to tender to run a course designed as a management fast-track that would also equip participants for a more commercial business climate.

Innovative teaching methods, strength in service management and experience in developing comparable programmes were the criteria that led to the selection of Grenoble EM, she says.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Employees Come First?

This article which appeared in the FT this morning brings a refreshing insight to the way some employees are being treated in the workplace. Whilst at Inspirational Seminars our credo is to train in communication skills, this presupposes that the management want to invest in their staff in the first place.

So where are the priorities in today's cash sensitve environment? Stephan Stern of the FT Writes;

The talk is all of hard-headed realism. So when I received some news about a corporate programme called “Employees First”, I presumed that it must refer to some sort of harsh but honest cost-cutting measure.

I was wrong. HCL Technologies, the Indian IT services company, takes pride in rejecting the “customers first” principle, instead putting its faith in what it calls an “employee first” approach, which “places the needs of employees before the needs of customers,” the company explains.

HCL says it has won both greater customer loyalty and higher revenues acting in this way. “By treating employees as partners and participants in the company’s success, every individual within the company becomes responsible for transforming, thinking, and providing value to customers,” the company says.

Among an array of progressive HR practices, HCL offers its employees the chance to take part in a weekly online opinion poll on key management decisions – those that have been taken already and those that are still to come. (The votes are unlikely to halt or reverse any decisions, but people do get a chance to register their views.) HCL has received a seal of approval from the technology research firm Ovum, confirming its view that “strong customer relationships start with strong employees”.

Hogwash, you may be tempted to respond. Who has time to consider employees’ finer feelings when cash flow is tight? If the staff want reassurance then they should work harder and do better. A greater sense of job security can only be achieved through a healthier commercial performance.

The sort of idealism expressed by HCL or, in the UK, by the John Lewis Partnership will strike many business leaders as bizarre. These businesses will surely have to consider cutting jobs too. Yet the JLP constitution states that its primary purpose is “the happiness of all its members through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business”.

That is all very well for a non-listed, employee-owned business, but can a public company survive with this apparently inverted order of priorities? One that has – for more than 100 years – is the US pharmaceutical and healthcare company Johnson & Johnson.

Its company credo, which dates back to 1943 and was written just before J&J went public, makes for a challenging read.

J&J is a “customers first” company. “We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services,” it begins.

While “we must constantly strive to reduce our costs in order to maintain reasonable prices,” J&J also argues that “our suppliers and distributors must have an opportunity to make a fair profit”.

Employees come second. “They must have a sense of security in their jobs,” the credo states. “We must provide competent management, and their actions must be just and ethical.” The wider community comes next. “We must be good citizens – support good works and charities and bear our fair share of taxes ...We must maintain in good order the property we are privileged to use, protecting the environment...”.

And only now, fourth, do we get to the small matter of investors. “Our final responsibility is to our stockholders,” the credo says. “Business must make a sound profit...Reserves must be created to provide for adverse times.” And the punchline? “When we operate according to these [above] principles, the stockholders should realise a fair return.”

Customers, employees, community, shareholders – in that order. Not the usual run of things. Not the rather simpler and more direct model that puts “shareholder value” higher than any other concern. Does the J&J order of priorities work? Last month this paper’s Lex column described the company as “typically reliable”, and “balanced” across several sectors.

When banks stop lending and customers are struggling to pay invoices, cash is everything. If you have too many staff and not enough revenue, something has to give – and it is almost certainly headcount. That much is clear.

But it is also clear that, right now, some businesses are better placed than others to see out the next couple of years, and not simply because they have a bigger pile of cash. They have long-term strength and resilience because of their market position, which they have achieved thanks to that costly balance sheet item, their people.

Management’s responsibility is not simply to slash and burn to achieve short-term survival. It is to lay the foundations for future success. You will need to pull off both these tricks to get the cash flowing healthily again.

Thanks to Stephan for this bit of refreshing news. Investment in People is not just a slogan, it needs commitment from managment and input from training professionals to effect the sort of cultural change that this article is suggesting. Management and staff both need training to achieve these goals.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Expensive Business Training Needs to be Good, but Good Training Needn’t be Expensive

A new type of training seminar offers the high quality companies are used to but at a truly affordable price. Inspirational Seminars Ltd is using the medium of seminars, which they have branded ‘Quick & Dirty!’ Instead of asking companies to book their staff on a 2 or 3 day programme, they have encapsulated the ‘real meat’ of these programmes in seminars just 3 hours long.

Training staff and management in the ‘Soft-Skills’ is seen as an investment in people however when the economic outlook is bleak, what was previously thought of as an investment becomes seen as a cost. But how can a company be fit to weather the storm if for example they stop motivating their sales people and line managers with good training? Companies shouldn’t be as much concerned about the economic outlook, as much as they should be on the look-out for good training that will continue to build their business.

Inspirational Seminars is a training company that is offering companies a new way to continue development of their staff but at a very affordable price. The ‘Quick & Dirty!’ concept allows organisations to continue with the essence of vital training whist allowing them breathing space to recover. When the budget allows, more in depth face to face training can take place using the same world class trainers and course writers to maintain continuity.

In recent years, the training industry has seen quite a lot of seminars that are really only vehicles to sell companies and individuals longer and more expensive courses; they contain very little in the form of usable information. The ‘Quick & Dirty!’ seminars offer people a stream of ideas during the 3 hours that people can go away and use immediately. These seminars will be rolled out over the UK and Europe after a series of pilot schemes starting in Oxfordshire.

John Burke, a director of Inspirational Seminars Ltd says; ‘the benefits to companies who take advantage of this type of training is that they get high quality training with low investment, they do not lose people from the office for more than half a day and there are no hotel costs involved. But perhaps one of the most important benefits is that both the material and delivery are of the highest quality because the seminars are run by very experienced, world-class trainers of international acclaim. Another benefit that companies find is that this type of training fills a gap until they are in a situation whereby they can undertake more in-depth training’.

He continues, ‘since people are the ‘life-blood’ of any company it is of course important for companies to continue the learning and development of people within the organisation. Most HR Departments are inundated with information from training companies and so the process of making decisions as to which company to use can be very much like a minefield these days. What companies should bear in mind is this: although expensive training needs to be good, good training needn’t be expensive’.

For additional information on the availability of these seminars, please send your email to or visit and visit the ‘Quick & Dirty!’ Seminar text at the top right hand side.

About Inspirational Seminars Ltd

Inspirational Seminars (ISL) is a consortium of trainers who have all worked with well established training companies over the last 20 years. These are people who have worked closely with each other and have now come together to provide unsurpassed quality training programmes to companies in the UK and Europe. Some of their trainers are psychologists, some are NLP Practitioners and all have personal experience in every subject in which they train.

Inspirational Seminars’ team of dedicated professionals aim to bring to companies first class, world-class results-oriented ideas that will improve the performance of individuals thus improving the overall performance of a client company. This is done with well developed and established methodologies and close working relationships with customers.

Inspirational Seminars offers Public Courses and Seminars throughout the UK and parts of Europe covering a wide range of sales, management and personal development. And because these programmes can be adapted for individual customer needs it means ISL can provide around 80% of most companies development requirements.