Category Archives: Correspondence Course

Handling Complaints

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Handle a complaint well and you will turn an unhappy customer into a wild fan of your business.  Handle it badly and not only will they never return – they’ll tell their friends (10 to 15 of them according to The Handling Complaints Pocketbook).

When Range Rover’s new model was plagued with faults in the 1980s, Managing Director, Mike Hodgkinson, sent a simple message to every dealer.  As soon as anyone comes in to complain, offer them the chance to drive a new car off the forecourt; there and then.  In the year it took them to fix the problem, only one customer took them up on the offer.  But the press went wild about their customer service commitment.

People know things go wrong with products. They know that services falter from time to time. They know you are human. So what they want is not perfection: they want to be listened to. By taking their complaint seriously, Range Rover signalled that customers were being listened to, so they were happy to let the company work on their problems.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

People will work hard to make your life hell if you fail to take their complaint seriously.  How much does it cost to put something right?  A bit of time, a bit of stock at cost price?  Nowhere near the cost of dealing with an endless stream of calls, letters and visits.  Add to that our increasing ability to publicise our frustrations and disappointments on the internet.  Invest immediately in making things right.  That way, you avoid the potential cost of the complaint and maybe win a new friend.

In fact, I would be tempted to aim to super-please: don’t just make things right, but make a generous gesture, that leaves people talking about that with their friends.

The Psychology of Customer Complaints?  I’m OK

Sometimes customers do complain – and sometimes you will deserve it.  What can you do when the mistake you made is minor, but the complaint is a big one?

One tool of basic business psychology points us to what may be going on – the customer thinks they are better than you are.  In their mind, they are a good person, cruelly wronged.  You, on the other hand, are stupid, malicious, or inadequate… in their mind.

Your customer is saying to themselves:

“I’m OK; you’re not OK”

Why do some people turn a complaint into a conflict, and then fail to deal with that conflict effectively?  That’s simple: they take the other tack and try to prove to the aggrieved customer that the customer is “Not OK”, and that they themselves are clearly “OK”.

This attempt to get one-up on the customer is doomed to fail.  Would you go back to do business with someone who showed that attitude?

The secret to defusing the potential conflict is to show that you too are “OK”, by demonstrating that, like them, you recognise that the situation is unacceptable.

This means building rapport, by empathising with their point of view, then demonstrating that you want to solve the problem in a way that is intelligent, well-meaning and capable.

Further Reading 

Two pocketbooks you may like:

Customer Service

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


In business today, price is no longer a major differentiator. So many companies offer promotional promises and will try to undercut their competition. The one aspect that will mean your customers come back to you is how they are treated and the level of customer service. There are some statistics to support this:

  • A company can increase profits by 85% if it retains 5% more customers each year.
  • It is 5-8 times as easy to sell to an existing customer as to a new prospect.
  • Some direct mailing tests to groups of “customers” and “prospects” found that approaches to customers were four and a half times more profitable than approaches to prospects.

Source: Research from Bain & Co

Customer service is all about attitude.

Nurturing and retaining customers is crucial to the success of your business. Customer service is all about attitude rather than techniques. A member of staff can have all the techniques in the world but if they do not believe in the business and do not want to do it, they won’t. Are all your staff focused on making the customer the focus of their world?

The Big Secret to Customer Care

… is to care!

What do customers really want? The most important thing you can do for your customer is listen to what they want and be open about whether you can provide it. The big secret to customer care is to care enough to listen, and to respect what you hear, so:

  • Be welcoming
  • Ask questions
  • Listen carefully
  • Offer only goods or services that truly meet their needs

Satisficing

‘Satisficing’ is doing the minimum to meet a set of criteria. This is the approach that many organisations take to customer care. It is certainly the easiest way to deal with complaints. Easiest is rarely best – and certainly not in this case. Treat complaints as an opportunity to have a good long conversation with your customer and go way beyond satisficing. Go beyond pleasing; aim to delight.

A recent customer service experience taught me a real lesson. I bought a new service which didn’t work first time. I contacted technical support, who first denied there could be a problem, and then treated me as if I were foolish “You don’t do it like that – that won’t work …”. After many calls, I did speak to one engineer who said (I am quoting verbatim – I wrote it out in my daybook): ‘this is a bug’.

After a week of ever more frustrating emails, I figured out what to do. The service worked perfectly, the advice on an online forum was good. The customer care, however, means I’ll never recommend that service to anyone without warning them. If an email takes three minutes to rush off, it will only take five to write with care. Word of mouth is the best – no, THE BEST – source of new business. Are you chasing quick responses from your staff or are you seeking first class customer service?

A Customer Care Review

When did you last have your monthly customer care review?  Thought so!  Set one up, if your answer was not 31 days ago or less. Here are five great questions to ask your colleagues and discuss:

  1. What annoys our customers most at the moment?  If you don’t know: ask them.
  2. What have we improved on customer care this month? This is what your customers notice, not what you worked hard on.
  3. How do we compare with our competitors? What are people saying on forums, for example?
  4. What are we doing to really delight our customers at the moment? Go beyond satisficing.
  5. Is it time for a “mystery shopper”? There are a number of companies who can offer this service, but unless you are a small business, you can do it for yourself.

Moments of Truth

Moments of Truth are those tiny moments when a customer learns something about your business organisation. Every interaction, however small, has a moment of truth in it. What will that truth be?

What does your front door look like? Estate agents will tell you that it is easy for viewers to fall in love or out of love with a house, based on its front door. We aren’t saying repaint your front door when you want to sell your house (though you should): we are saying get the entrance and reception area of your business right. Tomorrow morning, come in through the customer entrance and see it through a customer’s eyes.

Director of Welcoming

Okay, you say receptionist, I say Director of Welcoming. A receptionist sits behind a reception desk, takes names, and makes calls. A Director of Welcoming welcomes people in and then does everything they can to make them feel welcome. Small difference in the work: vast difference in the results.

First impressions really do matter. It might be the voice on the end of the phone when a new customer first calls. It might be the first email or letter a new client gets. It might even be the greeting they get when they first visit your office, factory or warehouse. What’s the common thread? Your receptionist. And often these undervalued colleagues are required to multitask with the minimum of training. This is just plain wrong, because it puts your business in danger.

Further Reading 

Two pocketbooks you may like:

Take your Selling Skills for a SPIN

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


“The best sales people have a 4:1 listen-to-talk ratio”

Neil Rackham of the Xerox Corporation discovered this astonishing statistic and, if you want to influence people to get more of what you want, you’ll do well to apply this knowledge.

Rackham is best known for the concept of SPIN Selling and the book of the same name. Here’s a quick run down of how it works.

S for Situation

Start by asking searching questions of your potential buyer – what are their needs? Use the funnel approach we looked at in the earlier blog, Questions, Questions, Questions, to establish the wider context, and then zoom in.

P for Problem

Listen very carefully to your potential buyer’s response and encourage information flow. People buy to meet a need. What difficulties are they having? What are they not satisfied with? You want to identify what their problem is so you can …

I for Implied need

Demonstrate your understanding of their needs and problems – show them you know what their pain is, so that you can …

N for Need-payoff

Show your potential buyer how you can meet their need, solve their problem and take away their pain.
When you have done this, they will want to buy. If you can quote a price that they can afford, you are ready to close the final sale. In the book, Rackham recounts that orginally, he wanted to use the term ‘value question’, but realised that this would make the acronym read: SPIV!

The Three 80-20 Rules of Selling

They say the world is governed by the 80-20 rule. There does indeed seem to be an 80-20 for nearly everything and sales is no exception. In fact, here are three that you ignore at your peril.

The 80-20 Rule for your First Meeting

This rule refers to how to spend your time, at the first meeting with a potential customer. Use your time with:

  • 80% Information Gathering
  • 20% Information Giving

So at the start of your meeting, establish how much time your prospect has, to ensure you can get the information you need. And since no rule is perfect, make sure you leave 10 minutes or so to close the sale if you can (always try) and agree next steps.

Note that this rule is another way of expressing Rackham’s rule, quoted at the top of this blog.

The 80-20 Rule for Junior Buyers

Junior and middle managers are intensely practical people. They have to be: their job is to get things done. So ensure you address their interests. When you gather information, listen for their concerns in this proportion. And when you give information, address their needs in the same ratio:

  • 80% The “How” of it
  • 20% The “Why” of it

All selling is about finding an itch and offering a scratch. Operational people’s itch is a process one. Not so their senior colleagues.

The 80-20 Rule for Senior Buyers

Senior Managers’ role is to think strategically. Reverse your pattern with them to focus on what they need:

  • 80% The “Why” of it
  • 20% The “How” of it

So how do you gather information? There is an art to it. Think funnel:

Start at the top with a wide open funnel, and ask wide open questions, like

“Tell me about …”

Listen for where their itch seems to be, then start to probe, with narrower questions like:

“Tell me some more about …”

Next, confirm your understanding by asking detailed questions like:

“So, what exactly …”

Finally, play back your diagnosis of the nature of their itch, to ensure you know what sort of scratch they need:

“From what I’ve understood, you …”

Don’t be afraid to ask for a Yes

In sales meetings, one of the hardest moments is when you have a strong rapport with your potential customer, you have offered a great solution, and you are convinced they want to buy from you. So how could you spoil this perfect moment? What if they reject you? Perhaps it’s best not to say anything more and wait for them to buy.

But what if they don’t? You know how it can be with that first kiss – maybe your potential buyer is waiting for you to make the first move. If you do have the rapport you think you have, asking respectfully if they are ready to buy is not only appropriate, it’s often the only way to close a sale. Here are five ways you can do it:

  • “We’ve discussed all the ways our product works for you – are you ready to place an order?”
  • “Is there anything else you need from me, before you discuss what booking you want to make?”
  • “If you are ready to order, shall we talk about delivery arrangements?”
  • “Would you like me to get some paperwork ready now?”
  • “Do you prefer to go for the XAKD model or the DXKA model?”

 

Further Reading 

You may like The Salesperson’s Pocketbook. Two other great pocketbooks:

Event Management

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Planning and staging a successful event can create a large and positive impact for your business. Managing it is not complicated – it simply takes attention to detail.

The first detail to get right is to create the right event. Start your planning with a very simple question:

‘When people are leaving my event, what do I want to hear them saying to each other?’

The exit conversation is a litmus test of a good conference or event. Every choice you make needs to be focused on creating the right conversations: conversations that pick up on the right themes, interpret them the way you intended, and carry your intended emotional and rational commentary.

Whether your event is a simple meeting, an exhibition, or a large conference, you must be rigorous in selecting the right content, and honing the timings and styles, to build up to your conversation test. This will mean being robust with the chief executive who wants to speak for an hour, but whose message merits 20 minutes. And it means being brutally frank about the dreadful Powerpoint that your Ops Director has produced and helping them to create slides that are memorable for the right reasons. It means making sure that exhibitors play by your rules and, of course, it means getting all of the front-of house details just right, from the welcome desk to the refreshments.

There are four phases to planning and managing an event that match the four page project lifecycle we saw in an earlier blog.

Scoping

Well in advance, start thinking about your exit conversation test, and design an event around that. Ask questions about why you are doing the event, what success will look and sound like, and what the commercial payback needs to be? From here, think about the right type of event, and the headline components that will carry the greatest burden of content or mood. This should allow you to sketch out approximate answers to:

  • Purpose
  • Type of event
  • Location
  • Timing (when and how long)
  • Headlines
  • Budget
  • Benefits

Budget and Benefits give you your business case, which you will use to gain approval to proceed.

Planning

Planning needs to answer the questions who, when, where, and how? By the end of the process, you need a minute by minute plan (with contingencies for over-runs – like 25 minute scheduled breaks that can vary from 10 to 30 minutes as needed) of the event itself and a step-by-step plan of the run-up to the event and the follow-up from it. Each task needs to be assigned to someone capable and available to do it. It is fine to build in time for informal, unscripted interactions, but plan for when and where they will happen, even if you don’t choose to anticipate what will take place. Build a team around you to make your event a success.

Implementation

On the day, appoint one person to take care of all front-of-house, publicly visible arrangements. Their responsibility is for co-ordinating every aspect of participants’ experience. Another, back-of-house will be responsible for the resources for all of this, co-ordinating staff, equipment and preparations. These two need to be in constant contact. Also consider appointing a host, whose only role is to delight your guests, leaving the front-of-house manager to scamper around and sort things out if needed. Get the team there early (the night before is a good idea) and come prepared with a kit bag of every emergency item you can think of. My conference and event kit bag has:

  • Gaffer tape, masking tape, pvc tape
  • WD40
  • Common tools like screwdrivers, pliers, knives, scissors
  • Spares of common battery sizes
  • Spares of common electrical and electronic/computer/AV leads
  • Loads of pens, paper, glue, sellotape, sticky notes, and other stationery
  • Tissues and wipes, safety pins, hotel needle & thread mending kit and shoe shine
  • Ropes, string, clips and karibinas
  • Basic first aid (the venue will have a full set) for convenience: plasters, aspirins, throat lozenges.

Follow-up

Whatever follow-up you promised your attendees – do it well. Also follow up with the venue, speakers and exhibitors. And sit down with your team and review how you did, how each person performed, and what you can all learn for next time. Finally, clear all of your post-event admin: invoices, lost property, archiving, for example.

Public Relations Primer

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Not every manager will need to get involved in public relations, or PR, but, from time-to-time, many will. So it is worth knowing and understanding the basics of one of the most important aspects of marketing.

What is PR?

The definition differs from one expert to another and the emphasis is very different on the two sides of the Atlantic. I personally prefer the simplicity of the definition offered by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) on their website:

‘Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.’

The UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) places its emphasis on reputation, and defines PR as:

‘Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.

‘Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.’

For me, PR is about engaging with your public, so the concept of PR is relevant not just at the corporate level, but also at the level of individuals who want to strengthen their careers. The principal approaches to PR are:

  • Writing
  • Collaborating
  • Engaging the press and professional media
  • Engaging through social media
  • Direct engagement

We will take a short look at each.

Writing

Getting your message out by writing articles, blogs (like this one) and books has a very simple effect: it says ‘we know what we are talking about’. By offering your public practical or insightful content, you are enhancing your reputation and strengthening your relationships with your readers. It has traditionally been largely one-way, but with the advent of social media and bookmarking, the ability for your public to comment on your writing and engage in a dialogue about it has grown mightily. This can only be a good thing for you, if you have something valuable to say, and you say it well. Please comment below!

Collaborating

If you can collaborate with other, non-competing, organisations, you can extend the reach of your PR activities to encompass their public as well as your own. If you engage them effectively, they can become your public too. So the relationship you need with the ideal potential collaborator is one of overlapping interests, but not conflict. This is not to say that there are not some valuable collaborations to be made between competitors too, but the risks (and rewards) are substantially higher.

Engaging the Press and Professional Media

For some people, PR and issuing press releases amount to pretty much the same thing. Without a doubt, the press is continually hungry for engaging stories that will interest their audiences, so if you do this correctly, this is nothing more than an example of a good collaboration. But what the media can do is get your message out, bundled in a package of objectivity and professionalism that amplifies its effectiveness considerably. But don’t blow it: if you are asked to comment on camera, on the radio, or even in print: prepare well, because if you don’t, and you perform poorly, the media can turn your reputation into an overnight shambles.

Engaging through Social Media

With so many forms of social media around, even the so-called experts are struggling to offer coherent advice as to which to focus on and how to do it well. The two tips that seem to surface again and again from the best of them, and which make greatest sense to me, are:

  1. Focus: choose one or two social media that your audience are most likely to engage with in numbers and in depth, and focus on using them well
  2. Social: the nature of social media is that they enable social connections, so you need to be listening to conversations and engaging with them as you would in a bar, cafe or restaurant. If you just use them for announcements, then you are losing most of their value.

Direct Engagement

From meeting customers in the street, to sending them information by newsletter, direct engagement has the capacity to be the most powerful form of PR of all – and therefore the ability to do your reputation most harm as well as good. The difference between a helpful advice email, with some good offers, and a piece of unwanted junk is subtle. As with writing, above, direct engagement has to have WAM factor: ‘what about me?’ says your public.

Further Reading 

You may like The Marketing Pocketbook. There are also some great resources on the PR profession websites:

 

The Basics of Marketing

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Marketing is not about selling. That may sound obvious, but too many people act as if the purpose of marketing is to sell: it is not. The purpose of marketing is to raise awareness of your product or services, so that people will be motivated to investigate further, or they will be aware of what you offer, if they need it in the future.

The challenges for marketing are:

  • Knowing who your potential customers are
  • Knowing what channels of information they most actively engage with
  • Knowing what messages will resonate most strongly with them

Using the answers to these, you can design a marketing campaign that answers the three questions that a prospective customer will have:

Question 1: What are you offering me?

If I am a customer of yours, then your product or service must meet a need or satisfy a desire in me. A strong marketing message sets up that need or desire, to prequalify readers, viewers or listeners and get the attention of those who are suitable targets. It then stimulates their interest by making a promise that the product or service can meet their needs. Finally, it amplifies desire, by showing the customer what they will get (beyond the product or service itself) by buying. This bit is about benefits and you must link them to strong positive emotional states. The favourite of many advertisers is, of course, the promise of love, romance or the three-letter alternative. Now they want it, you need to answer the next question…

Question 2: Is it good value?

They want it, but how much are they prepared to pay for it. Focus on value not cost. Done well, some customers won’t even care about cost (think of the people who queue to buy the latest hi-tech, hi-cost products that simply replace things they already have – desire; not need). But if they do care about cost, you must show how the benefits you are offering outweigh this – and the ratio is a measure of the customer’s perception of value. If you can satisfy them on this too, they don’t only want it, they want to go out and get it. So now answer…

Question 3: How can I get it?

Choose a delivery strategy that is consistent with the image you want to convey for your product or service and then (in most cases) make it easy for the customer to buy. Why ‘in most cases’? Because for certain products or services at the premium end of their market, you can add to the perceived cachet of the product by making it hard for the customer to buy. This increases its sense of exclusivity and therefore of its perceived value.

Getting your message out

Promoting your product means providing prospective customers with plentiful relevant information. It needs to answer their questions about your product or service, but also about you, and why they should buy from you. There are a near infinite number of media that you can use, in combination. Here is a selection.

  • Advertising: newspapers, magazines, radio, television, online, billboards, posters, leaflets
  • Promotional: brochures, pens, apparel, stationery, bags, websites
  • Sponsorship: events, causes, awards, hospitality
  • Direct: mail, email, telemarketing, newsletters
  • Signage and branding: buildings, plant, vehicles, uniforms, products
  • Public Relations: articles, press releases, interviews
  • Events: conferences, exhibitions, hospitality and entertaining, trade fairs
  • Social media: Twitter, blogging, Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube

Further Reading 

You may like The Marketing Pocketbook and a couple of earlier Pocketblogs:

Staff Induction – A Point of View

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Let me be frank: I hate the term ‘induction’. At best it sounds like something from my undergraduate electromagnetic field theory lectures: at worst, it sounds like an obstetric procedure. So why do we use it to refer to the process of welcoming a new staff member or volunteer to our organisation, and giving them the preparation they need, so they can fit in, feel at home, and contribute as soon as possible?

How you welcome people into your organisation and into their team can have a big impact on their performance. Use the process to set expectations, but do it gently. Far better to demonstrate the behaviours and attitudes you expect, and involve real role models, with top performance, in welcoming new staff, than to inflict a heavy handed set of cosy chats and dreary PowerPoint presentations.

Trickier still is the task of bringing in new joiners are new to the world of work, because they are school leavers, graduates, long-term unemployed, or returners. What can you do to smooth their transition to productive contribution and fitting in?

In preparing for their arrival and during their first months, here are three things you can do:

  1. Welcome them
    Shortly before arrival, write to them to welcome them and, when they arrive, have someone to welcome them and show them around. An “induction programme” sounds scary – a welcome programme is far more… welcoming.
  2. Give them a buddy
    Ask an established colleague to act as their buddy to show them the ropes and answer questions. Allow time for them to meet their buddy frequently in the first few weeks.
  3. Ensure they have the skills they need
    Sit down with them and identify what skills they need, to do their job well. Where their experience has left gaps, plan a response, combining on-the-job and off-line training, coaching and mentoring, regular feedback, and formal learning.

My preference for creating a really good welcome is to pair each new joiner with a recent joiner. To give them some time to go out for a good coffee, where they can discuss the most valuable programme of learning about the joiner’s new role. What they need to see, who they need to meet, and what they need to learn. Empower the transition buddy to arrange whatever is necessary, from enrolling the joiner on a training course, to letting them work-shadow people in other parts of the business, to meeting the CEO. This kind of tailored experience gives real responsibility to the new joiner to get started effectively, and will give the recent joiner a new set of insights into the organisation.

Further Reading 

If you want to take less of a risk and make sure you cover all of the bases, try the terribly named but well-written Induction Pocketbook.