It costs more to get the wrong solution

Cost of not getting the right solution

I had an interesting chat about the cost of services at business networking event. My contact was keen to share how he had met someone who offered him ‘a great deal on some social media marketing‘.  I responded by saying that the cost sounded good but also asking him what the service included and how it benefited his company marketing strategy and business goals?

The silence was deafening, followed by ‘what do you mean by strategy‘!  I was lost for words but quickly realised the reality of the situation i.e. he was totally blinded by ‘the deal‘ and hadn’t even established what he was getting for his money and whether this service was actually what he really needed for his business.

Why Cost Shouldn’t Be The First Question

This bizarre conversation got me thinking about similar situations, not just for business owners like me and him but when potential customers or clients are looking for a suitable company or provider and look to buy from you. How often is the first question ‘how much will it cost?’  Many times, I’m sure you will agree!

By solely focusing on cost often means looking for a quick fix to your problem e.g. we have a problem or need, so what is the cheapest and quickest way to fix it. This might work fine when you are looking for the supermarket who offers your typical weekly shop and you can compare like with like to get the best overall value for your money.

However, more often than not, when comparing  service providers, you are not comparing ‘apples with apples’. If you, as we do, provide a very flexible, bespoke offering, then how much your service costs will depend on a number of factors.   A good example…if my company is approached regarding providing Career Transition (outplacement) to support a programme of re-organisation and redundancies or Coaching services to improve individual or team performance, there are usually many flexible options to solve their problem and provide the best solution. Of course, cost will be a key consideration for most companies, organisations or individuals but just focusing on cost won’t necessarily provide the best solution, will it?

We like to work collaboratively with our clients, so feel it is important to develop the relationship first, by understanding your key requirements, before we start talking money.  There are a number of key questions to consider e.g.

  • What are you looking to achieve / key objectives/outcomes for your project?
  • How many people are involved?
  • Timescales to start and complete the project?
  • Finally …..How much budget do you have for the project?

It Ain’t What You Do, it’s the Way That You do it!

Why ask all these questions first? Because, the answers will determine whether the personal calling or emailing has really thought through how best they want the project or problem resolved, how much say they have in choosing the right provider or understands what they can achieve for their budget. Such questions also open up more meaningful discussions, rather than just focusing on cost, which is no different to my opening example!

Whether you are a company, organisation or individual client, what you get for your money, how and when the service is delivered and how this meets your desired objectives and outcome is surely of the utmost importance, is it not? If you need some building work done on your home, it is likely you will get a few different quotes. However…

As the song goes: “It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it” .

So, when making key decisions to determine the right company or provider to deliver the service you require, I’m sure you will want to know the answers to some or all of these questions first, wouldn’t you?

  • What is their pedigree?
  • Do they come recommended?
  • What is their approach?
  • How will they help take away any ‘pain’ or pressure from you?
  • Do they have the right expertise for your project?
  • Do they work collaboratively with you to provide you with the best solution/s for your money to achieve your objective/ outcome/s ?
  • How confident are you about the provider delivering your project in the way you want and when you want?

How much does it cost to get it wrong?  

The cost of not achieving your key objectives or outcomes or receiving bad PR by choosing the wrong company or provider will ultimately cost you much more than spending more time and effort and maybe investing some additional budget to get the outcome/s you want. This is no different to choosing your builder purely on cost and finding you have to get them back to make good the job or worse still, having to find another builder to sort out their mess!

Steve Preston is MD of independent Career & People Development Consultancy SMP Solutions (Career & People Development) Ltd

Why everybody is in Sales, even you

Have you heard the saying that ‘everybody is in sales’? If not, you might be wondering how this can be and where this is going?

Sales Perception

For many people the very mention of ‘sales’ is a dirty word and sends shudders down them, conjuring up visions of pushy double glazing salesmen, estate agents (real estate) annoying spam phone callers or emails.  Does this sound like a familiar perception?

You might also be thinking that in your job or career you have nothing to sell, especially if you work in the public sector/services. However, the reality is that you don’t need to be in a ‘sales job’ or have a product or service to sell. Regardless of whether you are in HR, IT, Finance, Marketing, private, public or charity sector or running your own business, you will need to ‘sell yourself’ in numerous work situations e.g.

  • To win at an interview and get the job
  • Secure a contract or project
  • Gain promotion
  • Get approval for training or development you are aspiring to

Let’s face it, as professionals, we spend our lives ‘selling’ ideas or decisions you want your boss, staff or team to buy into e.g. a better way of doing things, the need for change, who you should hire, fire etc.

Selling Yourself at Events

When you attend conferences, seminars or networking events, depending on your job or situation, you are likely to be selling what you or your company/organisation has to offer and how this benefits others. I’m sure you do this almost as second nature, without thinking about this as selling? I experienced a wonderful example of this at a networking event which I will mention later.

Selling Yourself to Progress Your Career

You might be an aspiring executive or manager in which case you will need to sell yourself in many ways in order to achieve your desired goal by way of:

  • CV/resume
  • Job applications
  • LinkedIn profile
  • Interview/s
  • Networking meetings

Again, the reality is that people who are good at selling themselves, get on in life. I’m sure you know people like this who always seem to get promoted, move into better jobs or be successful in their careers and life. So what do I really mean by ‘sales’? After all ‘selling’, for many people, means forcing people to buy something they don’t really want doesn’t it?

A different take on ‘Sales’

What if I substituted ‘influencing‘ instead of sales’, how would this feel? Quite possibly this might put a different perspective on your views?

But what do all successful sales people have in common? Think about how they make you feel? They make you feel good, don’t they? Why……because of these:

  • Sincere – Great empathy, engaging and no bs!
  • Attitude – Enthusiastic, positive, encouraging, confident, passionate
  • Likeable – People ‘buy’ people or from people they like
  • Energy – Nothing is too much trouble, always going the extra mile
  • Solutions focused- Looking for a win, win e.g. right fit, right product, right answer to the problem or challenge

These are clearly all highly positive personal attributes. Therefore, use this SALES acronym to help you think differently and reframe how you feel about ‘sales’ and selling yourself, your company or organisation.  

What if you had a simple approach to selling yourself in any situation? 

That would be great, wouldn’t it? 

Well, here it is…….practice the ‘RUB’ approach, as a super simple way to influence people and achieve more of what you want and win, win solutions:

  • Rapport –  Learn how to build a bond naturally so you are quickly on the same wavelength to achieve a mutual ‘meeting of minds’
  • USP/s – Your unique selling proposition/s . Might be considered an old hat term but focus on selling what makes you different or better and stand out
  • Benefits – ‘Sell’ what value you can add/ how you can make a difference/ solve the problem or take away their ‘pain’. Get people or prospective clients to imagine how this would look or feel so they almost have to say YES!    

The RUB

Living Proof!

The wonderful example I mentioned earlier, was in fact a young intern who so clearly had all these ‘SALES’ attributes and was unwittingly using the‘RUB’approach to great effect.

Despite their young age, they absolutely stunned me with their rapport building skills, commitment and determination, travelling hours and miles each week for only travel expenses. They were going the extra mile literally! They had also gone to great lengths to research the opportunity, understand what was required and make sure they secured the internship.

They had a great energy about them and enthusiastically ‘told’ me all about the product they were helping to develop and why it was so useful. I was ready to buy it from them if it had been fully developed! Having learnt what I and my company does in the Career and People Development field, they then went onto share great maturity and wisdom about what they wanted to achieve in their future career. Also, why they felt it was important to follow your passions, doing work you love, rather than focusing on purely financial gainThis was clearly from the heart, without any bs as they gave me a brilliant example of how they were making ‘sacrifices’ to be able to save what little money they did have, to be able to create the working lifestyle they wanted. It was evident they hadn’t read my current book either!

I was so impressed I have asked to interview them for my next book project on Portfolio Careers, as they are a great example of a young person with great entrepreneurial skills who is likely to earn a living from multiple talents and multiple income strands. I am sure they will be a great success because they clearly know how to sell themselves and what they believe in, which is great!         

Reframing the sales process

Many sales organisations, courses and business gurus spend much time focusing on ‘closing the sale’. What if you turn this around so your focus becomes that people choose to buy from you instead? How much pressure would this take off you when you are selling yourself at interviews, business meetings etc? There are clearly some key techniques and skills involved such as NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) which can all be learnt and like most things in life practice and persistence pays!

So, you might not have thought about it before but do you now see that you are ‘in sales’? Why is this so important? Because ….The more you develop and hone your influencing skills the better results you will achieve in your career and life!

 

Customer Service Optional – The Computer Says No!

You may well know this brilliant turn of phrase from the infamous Little Britain comedy sketches. However, this is a real life customer service ‘nasty’, albeit in very abbreviated form to be of more general interest with some real learning points!

Does your system drive your people or do your people drive your system?

This is a really fundamental question, don’t you think? Why?…Because….if your company or organisation has this the wrong way round, then your people are forced to behave in a certain way to meet the requirements of your system, rather than your system having to meet the requirements of your people and business. Does this make sense for good customer service? It seems logical to me, so highly illogical that it could take three months to get a new mobile phone upgrade resolved!

Corporate silos

Can you imagine a situation where you find an error on your mobile phone bill and call to discuss which then causes a chain reaction of different departments being unwilling to help? ‘This was the fault of the store, so you will have to go back there to resolve this‘. ‘We can’t help‘, ‘you must‘, ‘we don’t’ and ‘no you can’t speak to a manager, as they will tell you the same thing‘, were responses thrown back at me repeatedly. Are you not one and the same company? The bills say so but the call centre clearly thinks differently, as passing the blame to another part of the company is the way they do things around here!

Reactive and inconsistent customer service

Isn’t it galling that only the threat of making a formal complaint spurs some action in many organisations? All of a sudden the same unhelpful call centre person calls you back immediately with a ‘peace offering and a special upgrade deal’.  Not exactly consistent customer service, is it?

The upgrade department couldn’t have been more helpful and all was looking good until my agreed ongoing loyalty discount was conveniently overlooked. This was finally sorted and I had a potentially excellent new contract lined up, or so I thought! Bad move on my part as I followed the advice and did go back to the store, as I like the human touch, which was why I went there previously and they had been most helpful. Not so this time, as they checked on their computer and ‘couldn’t possibly offer the same deal to me in the store but they could give me a phone to contact the call centre’. Yet again, the computer says ‘no‘ and customer service was ‘optional!’

After a long and heated exchange and finally managing to speak to a ‘supervisor’, I was told that ‘we cannot have made such an offer’, which eventually changed to ‘the upgrade offer was only available from the person you spoke to on the day you originally called’. Was this ever mentioned? Of course not! Still I had their word that they would email the people I had previously spoken with and we agreed a date and time I would receive a call back to resolve things.

And so the days and weeks went by and Christmas came and went. Despite repeated messages and making a formal complaint the call still never came. I am a very patient person and I still had a phone that was working on a good tariff, so it wasn’t critical, just highly frustrating, unnecessary and downright inefficient!

How to get action!

Here’s the thing…. if you want action it appears that you have to make a complaint against how your complaint is being handled! This is now the third example I have come across recently, where action only happened after taking this route faced with problems in large organisations. Remarkable, don’t you think? Whatever happened to the Customer Service department taking your complaint seriously first time round? Do they hope that people will go away if they don’t respond? It would seem so.

Resolution or…...

The day of reckoning finally came and lo and behold a helpful human being who was keen to resolve my crazy saga. I finally received a call to confirm that my original upgrade offer would be honoured and I would be getting my new phone within 48 hours. Progress at last and only three months late! Maybe not …….Three days later and still no phone. Yet another call to the Customer Relations Manager, who I was now on first name terms with and guess what? …..’The computer says no!‘ I was given all sorts of technical reasons why the system wasn’t accepting the dispatch order. Sorry but do I care about this? All I want is my new phone which I was finally promised and now your systems are stopping you sending it to me? Unbelievable, isn’t it? ‘I’m sorry but we will need our IT department to override the system, as we can’t do it’. How long will this take? ‘We can’t say as it could be at least a day or two or longer’. Both the Customer Relations Manager and Dispatch Manager were mystified by the problem. However, I still didn’t have a new phone, as the system still ‘said no‘. Finally, another week later, I received a call and the computer now said ‘yes’ and the phone was on the way to me and this time, duly arrived!

Attention to detail

So, I finally had my phone and thought this was the end of the saga but oh no! Despite numerous emails and texts, the system wasn’t showing the correct tariff, with the agreed discount, which had triggered the saga in the first place! More calls to the Customer Relations Manager, who finally made the changes to the system whilst on the phone to me. Interesting, as if this could be done, why could not all the other much needed changes be made on the system by ‘humans’ right from the start or is it easier to say ‘no’ and blame the system?

Learning Points

It is not my aim to bore you with my unbelievable ordeal, as this is just the tip of the iceberg but more so to highlight what can and is going wrong in so many large organisations. How can such unbelievable inefficiency be allowed to happen? Why don’t different parts of the organisation speak to each other, look to understand and help resolve each others problems? Do you not have forums to encourage working together, rather than in silos? Why is the computer saying ‘no’ all the time? Is the system driving the people and constraining the business or are the people and the business driving the system so customers get what they want when they want it with the minimum of fuss? Clearly so many questions, which cannot possibly be answered when ‘the computer says no’.

Can you now imagine how great things might have been and could be in the future, if the computer said YES first time round? How great would the customer service and this company be, rather than customer service being ‘optional’?

Going the extra mile is part of business ethos and can be a key factor in your success

Going the extra mile

Isn’t it remarkable how customer service can vary so dramatically from one company or organisation to another? This applies pretty much regardless of whether in the public sector, private sector or charity sector. Also, whether retail or professional services. Some recent experiences have got me penning this blog!

Having come from a primarily retail travel background, then moved into senior Operations and HR and roles, before setting up my own Career & People Development Consultancy over a decade ago, I have always believed that you ‘live or die by your service and reputation’. Going the extra mile and striving for consistent excellence in customer service has been ingrained into my psyche and are mantras that I drummed into my previous managers and staff and are now a key part of the ethos of my company. However, a number of recent personal experiences have got me questioning how many companies or organisations really do deliver service that both surprises and delights you? More often than not, the surprise is of an unpleasant nature and experience I’m sure you will agree?

The good….

As a soon to be father of the bride, I set about looking for an appropriate wedding suit for the big day in Portugal. I was really dreading this, as I detest shopping. What I really wanted, was someone to take away the pain of the whole experience for me! I made an impromptu visit to an independent suit retailer in the City of London, whilst working in the area, before Christmas. My first experience was highly positive. The owner of the store asked me all the right questions, which would help to narrow down the choice to a quality lightweight suit, which would be ideal for a spring wedding in Portugal that I could also use for business purposes. He was most helpful and left me with his business card and a feeling of confidence for when I was ready to try and buy. As there were also a number of other quality suit retailers in a small radius, this seemed like a good area to make comparisons.

The Bad….

And so I did, with my wife, during the post Christmas sales. After three or four dreadful experiences, ranging from total apathy, I will grudgingly speak to you in between conversations over my Bluetooth earpiece, making immediate totally incorrect assumptions on style and price and the classic ‘we won’t let out of the store until you buy from us today’ look, we ended up at the store I first visited.

Going the extra mile….

Service that surprises and delights and going the extra mile

The owner remembered me and within minutes we had narrowed down the choice to three fabulous suits. If only we had gone there first but you have to humour the wife, don’t you? Within minutes, there was a clear winner for colour, style and fit, except that the trousers were a tad too small on the waist. ‘Not a problem sir, as we can have those taken out in no time’. Great but would they be the perfect fit? Not perturbed the owner pledged to have them ready for me in half an hour, while we went for a coffee and if they didn’t fit right we didn’t need to buy. Now this was going the extra mile and a real surprise! True to his word he called the tailor and when we returned the trousers were a perfect fit, even allowing some extra room for the wedding meal! He also agreed to a special discount on the sale price, including some other minor alterations and the suit would be ready in a few days.

The result….

Returning a couple of weeks later for the final fitting, everything was spot on. Even though we had already paid for the suit, the service was still exemplary. I felt a million dollars and ready to walk our daughter down the isle. We were all delighted, and all my cares were taken away. With the minimum of fuss and even some joviality, I had purchased what is undoubtedly a ‘premiership quality’ suit, altered for me, at about the same price other stores were selling their ‘lower league’ quality equivalents. The store owner had even made the whole experience a pleasant one, so now just to focus on my speech!

What was the difference in customer service?

This store owner was solutions focused and consistent. He asked all the right questions, so drilled down to the nitty gritty in no time at all. He took real pride in the service he offered, remembering people who had previously visited his store and making us feel welcome, rather then treating us an imposition. He also took great pride in the quality of his stock and his knowledge and expertise, which shone through. He clearly had our best interests at heart, which gave my wife and I massive confidence and belief that we were doing the right thing.

Even in the sale, this was an expensive purchase after all. He did not sell or pressurise us at all. So, what was different about his approach? ….this was clearly going the extra mile, wasn’t it? As some of the great sales gurus would say, he did all the right things to let us buy from him! Would I buy from him again and recommend to my friends? Of course I would, without hesitation.

Just think how much this one sale can have influenced a significant amount of further business for the store, as a result of our recommendations? In fact we have already recommended some friends to get their wedding suit from the same store. So why is it so difficult to find consistent customer service like this then? Was it because he was an independent rather than a large chain store retailer that he took more care? You would like to think this might be the case but we had bad experiences at other independent stores.

Business ethos

Going the extra mile is a mindset and can be part of your business ethos. We are justly proud of our SMP Solutions 3 Pillars of Success ethos. ” There are no traffic jams on the extra mile” the saying goes! However, can you imagine how much better would your company or organisation would be if you started to fill it up by surprising and delighting your customers or clients?

 

 

 

Encouraging your staff to take holidays

Shocking statistics highlighted by the Stress Management Society have reported that a recent study suggests that over one million Brits will fail to take their remaining annual leave this year. Another recent survey found that only half of the population took all their leave last year. So what is going on, as employers don’t appear to be encouraging your staff to take holidays?

 Why are British workers giving up millions of days in holiday?

One in five people said they were ‘too busy’ to take any time off and one in six said ‘their employer made it difficult for them to take the leave they are due’.

 Employer verses employee needs  

Economist Samuel Tombs commented ‘Employers might welcome the fact they will be getting more days of work out of their employees for ‘free’, which could equate to a 0.05% boost to the economy. However, all is not as it seems, as not encouraging your staff to take holidays can in fact have a negative impact on UK businesses with staff working less productively as they haven’t had sufficient time to rest and recuperate’.

Is there also a direct correlation and likelihood that employees taking less holiday will end up taking more sick leave? This would be an interesting statistic, wouldn’t it?

Engagement factor

Employee well-being is now a key employee engagement factor and also a driver for increased productivity. Therefore, maybe the time has come for employers to reframe your thinking by encouraging your staff to take holidays to recharge their batteries and shift your focus to maintaining a healthy and productive workforce instead?