Category Archive customer service

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When Social Goes So Wrong – Reputation Management

One of the great benefits of social media is its instant connectivity and accessibility to so many individuals across the globe.  This benefit however can become a distinct disadvantage when things are not all rosy in the social media garden.

SMFL 01 Clooney full size

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s just look at a few examples.  Staff with the responsibility of posting content on behalf of your business decide to boost the reach of your messages by tapping in to a popular hashtag #.  It can be harmless and often look unprofessional, more akin to jumping on an overburdened bandwagon.  One such recent example is #PlutoFlyBy .

Nice pun from the bathroom accessory guys…

Space is all over the news with the#PlutoFlyby, so let us help YOU save space in the bathroom

Or this one from a US Italian restaurant chain…

Have a breadstick on us, Pluto! You’ll always be a planet in our eyes. #PlutoFlyby

Mmm… awkward and looks a little desperate however it’s not malicious and no one is harmed in the hijacking of the hashtag.

Moving on to corporations creating their own hashtag and it backfiring; now that can be an interesting spectator sport.

#MCDStories McDonalds marketing team expected nothing but genuine “nuggets” of wholesome stories, instead they created a McFlurry storm of negativity as tweet after tweet tried to out-score the other on their terrible experiences. Ouch!

Even classy supermarket Waitrose hasn’t escaped the hashtag howler brigade. Their #Waitrosereasons campaign generated a stream of pretentious and pompous tongue in cheek tweets that played on the expense of shopping at the store.  This included a tweet suggesting the shopper always transferred shopping to tesco bags so neighbours didn’t know they’d won Euromillions!

Yes we can laugh at the big brands getting it wrong but what if it happens to you and your business.  We are all vulnerable to attack as soon as we “put ourselves out there” but how do we respond if someone genuinely takes against your business or someone who works in it.

Examples that hit the media spotlight often involve high profile individuals.  Kevin Pietersen brought a successful claim for defamation against Specsavers when their Facebook and twitter advert suggested the ex- England cricketer tampered with his bat.

But it’s not always possible to hit the troublemakers for six.  Bed and Breakfast owners Martin and Jacqui Clark failed to win their case against TripAdvisor after they had received very poor reviews on the rating site.  The Judge refused to reveal the identities of those making the post which had caused the Clark’s to lose business.

This leaves something of a hole in the world of social media where trolls can continue to inhabit and inflict their pain without fear of retribution.  In my view this should be addressed rather swiftly as the proliferation of rating sites has led to many attempts to “game” the sites for competitive advantage.  If a review is fair the reviewer should have no fear of being seen.  If they are allowed to remain anonymous the opportunity to post false and defamatory messages is made far too easy.

What Should You Do

  1. You have the right to take legal action if a post mentions you or your business by name or by reference makes it clear who the message is about. For a successful claim of defamation it must be considered offensive leading others on hearing or viewing the comment to think less of the referenced person/ business.
  2. Defamation cases fall into two categories.
    • Libel for the written word e.g. newspapers, e-mails, texts, blogs, tweets and Facebook posts.
    • Slander refers to the spoken word – overheard or recorded.
  3. If you are the subject of an offensive comment on social media report it, block if it’s a tweet. Unfortunately Facebook’s policies are rather inconsistent but still report any messages that cause genuine offence.  Most social media platforms now have options to block foul and abusive posters.
  4. If it’s defamatory content my advice is not to engage with the person posting. Many celebrities and businesses have fallen into the trap of trying to “manage” the situation by responding directly. It’s a natural urge to do so but often creates a stream of communication that escalates without resolving.
  5. If not considered abusive or defamatory – let’s say it’s a publicly visible negative message/ complaint received mentioning a product, service or person within your business. Then you should seek to take the matter away from the public gaze.  If on twitter follow them and ask for a follow back to enable a direct message DM which only the two of you can see.   Message them on Facebook or better still ask for an e-mail address or if appropriate phone number so you can deal with the matter directly and without additional public interference.  Often with big brands, as seen with the hashtag examples, one negative comment can quickly lead to a feeding frenzy of vented spleens. Engaging publicly with everyone can quickly become a full time job.
  6. If your own quick actions as above fail to solve a problem of defamation or if the comments are visible in other mediums such as Google search you may need to call upon the help of a professional.

There has been a great deal of media attention around high profile cases of social media based defamation including Kevin Pietersen, Lord McAlpine and Russell Brand.  As a result there’s been a threefold increase in cases across the country as more of us gain an appreciation of our rights.  The numbers are still pretty low, only 26 matters  2013-14 but the year before saw only 6 cases.  Source: Thomson Reuters – Practical Law

One of the biggest problems a victim of social media trolling can face is the challenge to find anyone to listen.  The huge social media corporations are notoriously oblique in their “face to face” relations with users.  Facebook, Twitter and Google have layer upon layer of FAQ’s, help forums and suitably straight-jacketed reporting processes.  If, as many find, your problem doesn’t tick the right box you’ll have a merry old time attempting to get a sensible answer or swift resolution.

If you find yourself in such a situation please drop me a line.  Over the years I’ve had a number of successful outcomes for clients dealing with Google, Facebook, Apple and Twitter.

David Laud

Make an enquiry here:-

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We all want to be Norm – 10 Tips to Build Stronger Customer Relationships

Back in the early 1980’s a US sit com hit our screens and almost immediately became a hit. Centred on a small bar in Boston the show introduced us to a series of characters who were the regulars and staff of “Cheers”. The theme song was catchy and used the phrase “Where everyone knows your name”. One character personified this tagline more than any other. A large chap with ill-fitting suits, tie almost always askew and mop of curly hair, his name was Norm Peterson an *accountant played by the wonderful actor George Wendt. *In later episodes Norm becomes a house painter.

Each time Wendt’s burly frame stepped down the stairs and came into view he was met with a chorus of welcoming voices “Norm!”

That friendly welcome became one of the most popular aspects of this hugely successful show which ran continuously from 1982 to 1993 and produced a number of spin offs including Kelsey Grammer’s “Frasier”.

But rather than offer up a history of popular US sit coms I’m highlighting this specific element as an example of how we should be looking after customers.

We all want to be Norm (pic by Jordan Wilson)

We all want to be Norm (pic by Jordan Wilson)

Business owners and managers in the hospitality sector appreciate all too well the importance of knowing the customer and making a personal connection. Restaurants, bars, hotels, clubs they all rely very heavily on the power of personal recommendation and with the advent and growth of TripAdvisor they know they cannot afford to let standards slip.

Just for a moment put yourself in the role of a customer looking to use your business to buy or enquire about a product or service. If you’re a first time customer it’s highly unlikely that the communication is going to be as warm and familiar as that enjoyed by Norm but the objective should be to get to that level. Who wouldn’t want to feel that they’re recognised, remembered and ultimately valued by the establishments they frequent?

At a time when business is becoming ever more competitive and the winning of new customers more complex and costly, it’s logical to invest time to understand their experience, their needs and without being too intrusive more about them as individuals.

Starbucks are a great example of a business that invests in exactly that element of their marketing. You can buy a decent coffee in any one of a number of nationally branded and local establishments in most towns and cities. Why would you choose one shop over another? Some may genuinely prefer the taste of Costa coffee but the vast majority of us weigh up the overall experience.

The simple task of taking your name for the cup makes you feel as though the staff are taking a personal interest in you, yes it has a functional purpose but I suspect it was introduced for more reasons than you may think. Trying to remember hundreds of regular daily customers by face for the average person is quite a task but if you take their names you are adding a neat memory aiding process to the task and chances are they’ll not need to ask after one or two visits. Then how good do you feel when your name is remembered? Would you want to return to such a store? Of course you would.

Keeping with Starbucks their attention to customer’s behaviours extends to the queues waiting to place their orders. Ever noticed what most of us do when we’re waiting to be served? We reach for our smartphones, check our social media accounts, e-mail and then when we’re ready to place that order we scrabble for a wallet or purse. Noting this behaviour Starbucks developed a function of their smartphone App which enables customers to not only earn rewards and get free food and drinks but essentially pay using those phones they already have in their hand. Just look around at your average Starbucks and count the Apple Macs and smartphone usage, they understand their market and how best to engage with them. What I like about the Starbucks example is that they took the time to consider the customer experience and find a way to improve it. I also like the fact that it’s a great combination of offline and online but at the heart is the desire to make that trip to buy your coffee and snack that much easier. Of course it doesn’t hurt Starbucks to have an app that requires your personal details to register and use it but by now you’ve built a level of trust having been a “regular” and happy to share a little personal data.

For those of you now complaining that you don’t have “Star-bucks” to throw at such projects (see what I did there) don’t worry it doesn’t need to be expensive.

The best marketing and customer service solutions are often simple, common sense and can be implemented without breaking the bank. The essential part of this process is to initiate direct action and start taking a greater interest in that over used phrase the “customer experience”.

Here are 10 suggested steps to get things underway

1. Take time to stand back and become a customer of your own company, be honest and objective.
2. Look at what you’re delivering, break down the elements into stages.
3. How are customers responding?
4. Become more familiar with competitor approaches but avoid following their lead.
5. Build on the positives of the current offering.
6. Address the negatives.
7. Adapt to take advantage of the intelligence gained from the exercise.
8. Train staff to become more aware and develop empathy with the customer.
9. Introduce communication channels to keep feedback flowing.
10. Review and refresh regularly.

If this is an area that interests you or you would like more information please feel free to drop me a line.
David Laud

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Excellent Customer Service – Have You Got it Covered?

Having just returned from a trip to California I’m inspired to write about customer service.  Not that we encountered the very best at every turn, yes it was mostly very good but my TripAdvisor reviews did include the odd horror.

cafe los feliz

Cafe Los Feliz – Good Food Great Service

Yes, even the great land of “awesomeness” and “super excitement” didn’t get it right all the time.  Anyone who’s visited the USA will know that the policy of tipping can be delivered in a variety of ways depending on who, where and sometimes when you’re visiting.  What you quickly realise is that “service” is very often included and if not added automatically you’re strongly encouraged by guideline % figures.

But if you don’t feel the service matches the promise it can get very interesting, almost as if the business refuses to accept they could get anything wrong.

On the downside we found attitudes were at times curt and clippy in certain establishments. The approach to customers tired and cynical.  Service in a couple of restaurants started well but quickly fell away as other patrons arrived and their well of goodwill and friendliness quickly dried up as visible stress levels increased.  One hotel in particular responded so poorly to my observations of their hotel on Trip Advisor that it will only serve to generate poor review number two.  If a customer is not happy don’t poke them with a sharp stick.  I was rather astonished at the arrogant dismissive response.  If you’re running a business you need to take all feedback on board and respond in a balanced sensible way, even if you do think their experience somewhat far away from reality.  The fact is it was their reality and their shoes you need to stand in.

On the upside we encountered many excellent examples of good service.  The Café Los Feliz lived up to their Instagram presentation with the delivery of an outstanding breakfast.  The Arch Rock restaurant in Santa Barbara who’s superb food was only matched by the excellent chat we had with the waiter and the Italian Seafood restaurant in San Francisco – Cioppinos so good we went back for more on another day.  Their promise of finding a table for us in 20 minutes evaporated to 5 when the maitre d came to us whilst we were ordering drinks at their bar to say she’d loved the way we’d been so happy and polite and offered to jump us forward to the next available table.

So the US are not, in my view, the custodians of all that is “excellent” in customer service.  Of course they’re still very good in so many areas but to my surprise there are a number who are clearly not as good as they should be.  Not a perfect piece of research, we were on holiday after all and not handing out questionnaires or interrogating staff and fellow customers.  Our perception however is real and nevertheless valid.  Perhaps the recession has had its impact and service levels have as a result been adversely affected as profits became harder to find.

We did all love our Californian excursion a truly memorable experience but it’s clear you don’t have to travel so far to see excellence in customer service.  This weekend we took our dog to the nearby beach at Saltburn.  We stopped off for a cuppa and a bite to eat at a small café near the beach and noticed the many purple blankets at each table.  The owners had considered the experience of their clientele, the UK climate and possibility of children and adults who’d taken a recent dip shivering as others decide to have a pit stop before heading home.

The blankets were a small but very important touch, showing that the Café understood its customers and cared enough to keep them comfortable whilst sipping tea and eating scones or ice cream. When it comes to customer service Camfields Espresso Bar in Saltburn have got it well and truly covered.

Camfields in Saltburn - They've Got it Covered

Camfields in Saltburn – They’ve Got it Covered

It’s the little touches that can make such a big difference and that’s true of any business.  The result you want is a happy customer and for them to spread the word like warm butter on those Yorkshire scones.

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8 Top Tips to Help You Get Organised

Sunday is traditionally known as the day of rest, the day we stay away from thoughts of work and revert our attention to more leisurely pursuits.  The need for rest and relaxation and diversion away from stresses and strains of our busy working lives make Sunday a perfect day but….

That’s not quite how my Sunday worked out for me.

Getting Organised

This Sunday I spent the best part of the day harvesting dead wood from my office, organising myself and planning.  It had been a little while since I’d last re-organised but I’m now determined to stay on top of all things real (paper) and virtual (e-mails and digital files).

It is quite amazing how much “stuff” we accumulate and what we regard as important one week but happily consign to the bin the next.

Staying organised takes discipline and the ability to make effective decisions.  My biggest problem is fighting the inner hoarder in me – time to be more ruthless.

Of course the process and determination of what “truly organised” is will vary from person to person.  They key is to feel on top of things and confident that matters won’t get overlooked and opportunities or deadlines missed.

There is a level of science and tangible evidence of the psychological benefits of having a tidy up in the office.  So if you’re in need of a little more order in your life here’s a few tips to get things started:

 

  1. Work out what being organised will look like for you.  Don’t be side tracked by other views of what you should or shouldn’t do, make your own determination and picture your life in an organised vision of the future.
  2. Scope out the task and set out the specific actions that you’ll need to take.  If this attack on chaos at home or work impacts on others it’s only polite to share your thoughts.
  3. Know yourself…we all have little foibles that can often get in the way of progress. Procrastination or as my wife so delicately puts it “faffing about” can be one weakness if there’s a particularly knotty matter to handle.  My response to this is to deal with it first, get it out of the way and have the more enjoyable tasks lined up as the carrot to motivate me through the less palatable parts of the project.  Others may be stimulated by having their favourite tunes firing them into action in a “get to it” playlist….some may need both.
  4. You are in control so be your own boss but don’t be easy on yourself.  Set deadlines and meet them.  Just make sure they’re realistically achievable.  Don’t set yourself too big a task in one go.  There’s nothing worse than half completing the job and being tired out too. It will just end up being a de-motivating and totally counterproductive experience.  If you have a very large job to do to get yourself organised, break it down to manageable chunks.
  5. Don’t just shuffle the pack.  Clutter and disorganisation will only be temporarily alleviated by shifting “stuff” from one area to another.  Be decisive and ruthless.  Get rid, shred and recycle as appropriate.
  6. Many hands make light work – a phrase that can come in very handy if you’ve willing helpers.  Don’t be afraid to ask.  If you’ve shared as in (2.) above they may well volunteer their services willingly.
  7. Adapt as you go.  If the original plan needs a tweak because you’re finding a better way to index files or make use of a particular cabinet, go with the flow.
  8. Treat yourself.  We all like to feel a tangible benefit to working hard so why not promise yourself a nice lunch or trip out with the family as a reward for getting organised.

Once you’ve finished remember you actually haven’t…being organised is an ongoing process.  Keep on top of matters to avoid falling back into the bad habits of old.

The greatest advantage, once the job is done is the feeling of control and confidence you get from knowing exactly where things are.  You can save a great deal of time and avoid the frustration of duplicating effort by clearing out the clutter and in so doing retain the knowledge of what you have.

For me a cluttered office results in cluttered thinking and working practices.  A clean and ordered environment certainly improves my outlook and ability to cope with the ever increasing demands of the modern multi-tasking world in which we live.  My weekend might feel a little shorter but the week ahead will prove far more productive as a result.

David Laud  – Click Here to follow me on Twitter

 

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Knowing the Price of Everything and Value of Nothing

Oscar Wilde’s famous quote from his only published novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is one that intrigues me.  It can have a number of subtle meanings but within the novel it is specifically relating to the bartering of an item in Wardour Street . In the late 19th century this part of London was known for antique and furniture shops and Lord Henry’s bidding for a piece of old brocade may have hinted at the difficult economic circumstances of the period.  Lord Henry’s frustration at the time taken to secure his purchase leads to his statement, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Cost-value graph on blackboard

Fast forward to the 21st century and things are not so different.  One effect of the recent recession has been our re-focus on reducing our outgoings both personally and commercially as the pinch on our profit and lifestyle hit home.

Let me be very clear (sound like a pompous politician there) I don’t have an issue with careful cost control.  Quite the contrary, I actively encourage a regular domestic and business review of expenditure.  The issue as it relates to Oscar’s brilliantly written line is that we can become “hard wired” to focussing exclusively on the currency of a product or service and not the benefit or return that item will bring.

As a marketer and business owner this is very important territory.  I’m equally a supplier and customer and in both relationships I try my best to be consistent.  The difficulty is in identifying what that often quoted but rarely defined “value” is.

What is “value”?

As a noun it’s “the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something”

As a verb “to estimate the monetary worth”

All too often we see the term reduced to a base level with items branded as “value meals” and the like.  That’s not really value, it’s just cheap but of course that’s a word that won’t shift a chicken tikka masala from your local supermarket shelf.

Knowing the value of something can be harder to realise than you might think.  Often we only truly gauge something’s worth when it’s no longer available.  From your favourite TV series to particular brand of perfume, that great boss who selfishly retired or reliable local mechanic who always fixed your car with a smile.  When they’re gone we appreciate them more.

This test equally works on goods and services that we might already attribute more value to than they deserve.   What about that expensive watch, particular club membership, car, holiday destination or brand of coffee?  These are often aspirational items and by owning or experiencing them we believe as a consequence our lives to be “better” and thereby valuable.  That’s a state of mind that many brand owners want their target customers to buy into but if we were forced to use an alternate would our lives be so much worse?

Businesses that sell services can often struggle to differentiate themselves from the competition.  There will always be those who use price as a promotional blunt instrument.  Successful companies take the time to understand not only the mechanics of their offering but the emotional response to experiencing the best and worst of the market offerings.

You might technically be measured as the very best at what you provide but if you employ robots or a team of over confident practitioners to deliver, they’re unlikely to capitalise on that technical advantage.

Good business is all about the human experience.

So what are the factors that make the difference?

  • Accessibility
  • Action
  • Attitude
  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Experience
  • Flexibility
  • Focus
  • Knowledge
  • Listening
  • Resilience
  • Responsiveness
  • Simplicity
  • Truthfulness

And of course this can all add up, when we include the fee, to value.

If you’re up for a challenge take a look at a couple of services and products that you use over the course of the next few weeks.  Ask yourself what you are basing your decisions on and consider if that is the best measure for making those purchases.  Put yourself in a position where you must justify those purchases to a boss and they are going to want clearly articulated and rational responses.  Consider which of those items you would wish to retain and those that fall short and face being replaced.

What does value look like to you?  Once you’ve thought about it from your own consumer perspective you might want to have a go at applying it to your own business.  Consider, honestly, if you would want to buy from your business, if so great…. can you do even better?  If the answer is no… where are you failing and how can you address the shortcomings?

If you’re not a typical customer of your company’s product or service, seek out those who are and ask for their honest, non sugar-coated views.

Knowing the price of something is the easy bit, knowing the value… that’s a skill that we all need to work on.

David Laud

 

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Law Firm Management – Survival of the Fittest

Charles Darwin knew a thing or two about evolution.  If I can cast my mind back to my human biology lessons, the term coined by the great naturalist was “Natural Selection”.  It took a little while for this radical theory to be accepted by the mainstream scientific community but now it is universally seen as the reason we, as humans, exist in the form we do today.  Of course not just humans, we can trace the origins of all living creatures through this process.

Crisis? Perhaps you need to adapt to survive...

Crisis? Perhaps you need to adapt to survive…

If Darwin were alive today he would no doubt be fascinated by our individual and organisational development.  He might also see how his theory can as easily be applied to businesses as it can to individuals.

A sector currently experiencing a significant series of evolutionary events, shaping their structure, relationships and existence is the legal profession.

Just last week we heard of yet one more familiar north east name going into administration.  The loss of 50 jobs and a history of 250 years, gone.  They are not the first in this recent wave of firm closures and they most certainly won’t be the last.

Why are we hearing of so many failures?  The answer, as in any scientific evaluation, is not straightforward.  The truth is that the myriad of challenges that have conspired to arrive at the door of law firms in the UK are individually manageable with care but when they arrive in rapid succession, they create a chain of events that leave only the very fittest and dynamic of practices standing.

The Law Society reported toward the end of 2013 that over 400 law firms had closed in the preceding 12 month period.  Last week the same organisation revealed that more than 4,500 solicitors had simply not arranged to renew their practicing certificates.  Without it they are unable to carry their work.

The events that have brought about the closure of so many firms include;

  • The recession resulting in SME’s looking to save cost by avoiding lawyers’ fees – (Law Society Gazette May 2013), larger corporations driving down fees and personal clients unable to get divorced as they can’t afford to put their affairs in order. The property market is also only just waking from its lengthy hibernation.
  • Personal Injury and Medical Negligence solicitors impacted by the Jackson Reforms seeing an immediate drop in fee income, volume of instructions and the departure of claims management companies from the market.
  • The Government removing legal aid for divorce and failure of mediation to replace the lost fee income.
  • Introduction of the Legal Services Act and “Alternative Business Structures” enabling non solicitors to offer legal services and large corporations such as Co-op, Direct Line, DAS, BT entering the market.
  • Professional Indemnity insurance cover proving increasingly difficult to obtain, suppliers in the market cherry picking only the very best risks and others facing excessively high premiums.
  • Solicitors Regulatory Authority introducing burdensome and expensive measures such as Compliance Officers for legal practice and finance.

These facts and more point to a series of tremors in the legal world that have built to form a seismic event.  The consequence of these factors is when the dust settles the clients, both personal and business will have far less choice.  On the upside, of those firms remaining we can be assured that they are resilient and very likely to be focussed on the needs and value they can bring to the client.

The conclusion we can draw using Darwin’s theory is that having survived the natural selection process those still standing will be fitter and more prepared for the future.  The advantage existing firms have at this time is their opportunity to still act, adapt and ensure their survival and avoiding a Dodo dilemma.

David Laud – Partner i2i Business Solutions LLP

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Marketing – It’s a Dirty Word

I still encounter those who see marketing as at best a necessary evil and at worst a practice of smoke and mirrors with no substance.

iStock_000028922460_Small

This unwarranted prejudice is borne out of a lack of understanding of the core principles of marketing.  Sceptics who poke sticks at marketers often suggest that the acquiring of customers is not difficult.  Winning new business is not connected to marketing activity.  They believe that by producing a quality product or service customers will return and promote to others.  That method of gaining customers can often be effective but the marketing element should already be interwoven with production and customer experience and not simply be seen as a blunt instrument of advertising or PR before or after the fact.  Ironically sceptics often employ marketing techniques, unaware of their natural ability to develop the business.  MD’s don’t always connect their activity to marketing which they see as a separate collection of basic promotional actions.

If you were to survey 100 non marketers and ask them for a definition of marketing the chances are over 50% would reference advertising within their response.  The truth is marketing, certainly for me is “The Business of Business” a little more than creating and placing an advert.  To be an effective marketer you must understand all you can about your customers, the financial model that produces the product, where the margins kick in, the mechanisms involved in delivering the product and the experience of customers once purchased.  The entire scope of the company, its infrastructure, inner workings and technical elements must be understood to contextualise a successful approach to develop the brand and thereby grow the business.

All too often when recruiting or appointing a marketing resource business owners go into the process with a narrow pre-determined idea of what the person will add to the mix.  They focus on PR or advertising.  They might also worry about the need for a better online presence rather than consider an opportunity to involve the marketer in helping with business planning and setting a strategy.

Typical Marketing Professionals Skill Set

  • Account Management
  • Administration
  • Advertising
  • Analytical
  • Brand Marketing & Management
  • Business Development
  • Client Relationship/ Customer Care
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Content Marketing
  • Contract Negotiation
  • CRM/ Database Management
  • Creative
  • Direct Marketing
  • Displays
  • Event Planning
  • E-mail marketing
  • Financial
  • Interpersonal
  • Leadership
  • List Management
  • Market Analysis & Research
  • Market Strategy
  • Merchandising
  • Mobile Marketing
  • Order Processing
  • Planning & Project Management
  • PPC
  • Presentations
  • Product Research
  • Problem Resolution
  • Product Management
  • Product Promotion
  • Professional
  • Public Relations
  • Purchasing Inventory
  • Quality Control
  • Reporting
  • Sales Tracking
  • SEO
  • Social Media
  • Supplier Management
  • Teaching/ Training
  • Team Player
  • Time Management
  • Troubleshooting

An added challenge for many is the “hobby” marketer boss who believes they can play “the marketing game”.  We all consume so many marketing messages each day it’s not surprising that a boss or client might suggest they have the answer to a new advertising campaign, website or sponsorship deal.  Don’t for one minute think I’m against business owners or bosses getting engaged with the marketing activity.  I’ve spent far too long in my career trying to encourage such interest to fight it; but it can be difficult for junior, less experienced marketers to put a counter view forward when the ultimate decision maker insists on having their way.

Where experienced and effective marketers set themselves apart is in their ability to distinguish “good ideas” from the ego driven project.  They need an ability to swiftly reflect and analyse any newly presented opportunity, establish the potential impact and make recommendations in plain jargon free English.  That particular skill can save organisations a large chunk of their marketing budget.

A very good example of the scale of the challenge for today’s marketer is their need to stay on top of the terabytes of information related to digital marketing.  Without necessarily being an expert the modern marketer must understand the principles of SEO, (search engine optimisation) PPC (pay per click advertising) Social Media, Mobile Technologies, Online Advertising and CRM (Customer Relationship Management).  Interpreting Google Analytics and having the confidence to reject or accept digital agency proposals are also essential attributes of those holding the responsibility for marketing in any organisation.

Yes it’s complicated out there but life is these days.  We can either keep up or give in and outsource management to the wave upon wave of niche agency suppliers promising to deliver success.  Without the confidence borne out of our own knowledge of specific marketing processes we’re left with fingers crossed just hoping that the agency knows what they’re doing with their sizeable budget.  Personally I don’t see it as an option.  We owe it to ourselves, clients and employers to provide the very best level of expertise and professionalism and demonstrate that more than ever we have the knowledge and the spark to drive businesses forward.

Far from being a dirty word marketing is the discipline that business owners need to embrace wholeheartedly.  They need to seek out the very best qualified practitioners to work with, provide resource and trust them to deliver.  David Laud – FCIM Chartered Marketer, consultant.

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Marriage of Convenience or True Love – Law Firm Mergers

What lies behind the sudden increase in solicitors firms merging?  Is it a need for personal partner security, succession or future proofing, fear of failing or a strategic move to build a successful business?

Marriage Merger

2013 has revealed a weekly supply of dramatic news impacting the legal profession.  Jackson reforms, loss of legal aid, liquidations, economic position and client migration, inability for partners to plan ahead, ABS’s and the increasing impact of the Legal Services Act, succession issues for traditional partnerships, professional indemnity renewal……they have all combined to place the profession in new uncomfortable territory.

One consequence of these issues is the fact that there are now far fewer firms in England & Wales than at any time recorded by the Law Society.

As at September 2013 there were some 10,726 firms to be precise. It still sounds like a big number but as reported in the LSG it’s 400 less than the same month in 2012.  This dramatic fall is due to all of the above factors which have resulted in:

  • Firms closing their doors voluntarily
  • Firms placed into administration
  • Increased merger activity

The rather worrying state of affairs has created a rather tense atmosphere within many firms as they find themselves glancing around to find security against the pressures, the security of a merger partner.

It’s the merger activity that is of particular interest because if well thought through and executed it can deliver a very positive outcome to counter the weight of negativity surrounding the profession.  Unfortunately the press releases with smiling partners shaking hands in front of newly branded and dressed offices are unlikely to convince many onlookers of the true drivers of such arrangements.

When partners start to feel the cold and their accountant or bank has that “little word in the ear” they see the one route to securing their future as that long discussed but never acted upon merger opportunity.

The firm nearby that presents less of a threat to personal control than others with domineering partners.  The firm that has the client you’d always courted but failed to land.  The firm who’ve just announced an investment in IT which must mean they’re “switched on” and looking to the future.  The firm that hasn’t joined a national brand in a vain attempt to protect its future flow of work.

It’s not surprising that the above traits are seen as attractive to the partners of a firm keen to link arms with another.  Regardless of whether it’s an arranged marriage or one that all partners consent to willingly, the success of the union will not be founded in any of those considerations but could certainly result in its failure.

As with any successful marriage having things in common helps but is not essential.  Yes you need an attraction, a spark and a personality match that uses the “chemistry” to good rather than toxic effect.  When joined the “personality” of the newly formed business must be a commonly shared persona.  If not the deal can be blown wide open leaving space for detractors, conflicting agendas and negative views of those who were just waiting for the “I told you so” moment.

Leadership is critical and it doesn’t necessarily need to be a single person more often a team who share a vision driven by clearly stated and understood objectives.

The original cupid arrow that created the merged business is typically founded in solid logic and should have all the ingredients for a successful outcome. Unfortunately the complexity and challenge of putting organisations together can dilute and lose the benefit of economies of scale and combined resources.

Critical to the success is a clearly articulated strategy delivered consistently by an effective leadership team. The focus at all times MUST be on the customers, lose sight of that key fact and matters can start to unravel fast.

Rather than being daunted by the scale of the challenge it’s helpful to view the merger plan as a series of projects that each need to be worked on to achieve the overall desired outcome.

Not many employees relish change and mergers present plenty of new challenges and potential threats to personal job security.  Keeping the talent engaged is important as is the need to motivate the business to achieve the new goals.

There are many positives to be borne from mergers but before being charmed by a suitable partner it’s worth looking at theirs and other track records. We can and should certainly learn from the mistakes of others and the legal market is peppered with them.

On the upside mergers can and do deliver, but best look at an equation that gives 1+1 = 3+ not 0.  This is a marriage that needs to deliver offspring that can grow and evolve and take the newly formed business forward.

Here below are a list of projects, an example of the areas a typical merger would need to cover to deliver a positive and co-ordinated outcome.  The list below is but a guide and is not comprehensive.  The projects would of course be determined by the specific features of the merger.

Merger Projects Example

  • Client database co-ordination
  • Staff induction & integration
  • Accounting period, procedures & systems
  • Cashflow projections and monitoring
  • Client care, complaints and reports
  • Business Plan evaluation of strategy
  • Marketing – website, materials, budget
  • Brand evaluation, name, positioning
  • Compliance matters – money laundering/ SRA
  • Insurances
  • Overall IT infrastructure assessment
  • Quality mark retention

If any of the above issues resonate with you and your business and you would wish to explore your options please feel free to drop me a line in confidence – david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk

David Laud

Managing Partner

i2i Business Solutions, Management Consultancy

david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk  twitter @davidlaud

Byadmin

Making all the right noises – using social media to support your customer service

Have you ever found the need to offer up a tweet of desperation, or Facebook post of frustration when a company fails to deliver on its promise or has caused you a problem?

I know I have.

Customer-Service

At the time of composing the message it can prove to be cathartic, setting out your ire and pointing it at the target you can get it off your chest, even in 140 characters.

But how does the company deal with your complaint? For me that is the true measure of a good organisation, its ability to respond. Did they get back to you swiftly, accurately noting your comments and responding appropriately? Or did they respond in their own sweet time and offer up an auto bot placation to hope you’ll go away? Worse still are those who just fail to respond leaving you to boil and find a way to escalate the issue with added justification.
If you’re running a business, any business, you must consider the way in which you can handle potential negative feedback. The rise in popularity of Tripadvisor has taught many restaurants and hotels that negative reviews can directly impact future business and positive feedback offer a reassurance and drive customers toward you.

With so many of us now connected on social networking platforms and becoming increasingly comfortable with the medium as a method of communication we cannot afford to overlook their impact.

These are the key tips for offering excellent customer service on social networking platforms;
• Make your company twitter and Facebook accounts clearly visible on your website
• Actively engage with those who “like” your Facebook page and “follow” you on twitter
• Monitor the social networks for references to your business and keywords associated with it;
o This can be done via Google alerts by setting up the keywords and having any reference e-mailed to you. Note: This can build in a time delay so should not be relied upon for real time responses.
o Use a social mention monitoring site to manage the references and keep up to date by having the alerts function activated.
o Sites worth considering; SocialMention.com, mention.net, social oomph, hootsuite, twilert.
o Take a look and see which suit your needs, twilert is good as it is simple and low cost and enables a free trial to assess the effectiveness for your business.
• When you receive a negative comment whatever you do don’t become defensive or aggressive
• Offer multiple channels for communication, tweet but take it private so DM (direct message), e-mail, phone or text.
• Respond quickly and consistently, if you don’t have an immediate answer let the customer know that you’re working on it.
• Don’t patronise or engage in chat that would be considered “too personal”
• Above all ensure those who are charged with handling frontline matters on social media understand the rules and are chosen for their interpersonal skills and client care focus.
• Don’t allow third parties to present themselves as “helpers” or “customer support”. Self-help through technical forums can be beneficial but taking that one step further exposes your business and brand to potential risk of damage through unauthorised comment and actions.

Its common sense, you may think, but just consider your own experience and how the big organisations often get it wrong. Mostly customers want to know they’re being listened to, offered a channel to communicate and be allowed to express a view. Of course not every complaint or query will be justified but by offering a sympathetic and proactive customer response via social media can significantly reduce the negativity and in many cases reverse the position entirely. If you’re not aware of the conversations on social media you run the risk of missing opportunity and being subject to unwarranted bad publicity.

If managing your customers via social media is something you want to explore in greater detail drop me a line.

David Laud

David.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk Twitter @davidlaud