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About Us

Karen Martin and Beverley Ireland-Symonds promote the value of having effective communication skills for individuals, teams and organisations.
Thursday, 12 May 2011

Twitter in business - 8 reasons to start using twitter for your business

I was at a networking event recently and a group of us were talking about how to use twitter in business when one guy told everyone that it was all a waste of time and that nobody should bother using social media, particularly twitter!

I understand why some businesses may be reluctant to jump in and start using twitter. It can look very confusing to begin with and lots of people can’t see the benefits of using twitter in business. However, as long as you understand who you are targeting and what outcome you want, there's no reason why twitter can't enhance your existing marketing strategy. With a bit of planning and training, there's no reason why you can't make twitter work for your business.

1) Promote your brand - Let people know who you are, what you do and what new things are happening in your company/industry.

2) Find out what other people are talking about - What's happening in your industry/location/around the world?

3) Raise your profile by sharing your expertise - Write blogs/articles/tips about topics relating to your industry or area of expertise.

4) Check what your competitors are saying and doing - If they are on twitter, are they offering any discounts or freebies? Are they talking about something new that's happening in your industry?

5) Generate more traffic to your website - Put links to your website and landing pages in articles and blogs that you tweet about.

7) Find out what your customers are saying - You may not have been using twitter, but a lot of your customers probably are. What are they saying about your company/product/service?

8) Network with people - Connect with people you wouldn't normally come into contact with and share ideas and information.

Most importantly – twitter is free, so there’s no reason not to be using twitter in business.
Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Health Minister and Poor Change Management Practices


Photo by Svanhorn
Why do government ministers always break every rule about how to successfully implement change? Everyone accepts that when governments win elections they will want to make changes to put their parties stamp on the country, but it’s the style, and the speed of which they do it, that so often flies in the face of most management theory. 

The Royal College of  Nurses passed a vote of no confidence earlier today in a Health Secretary for the first time in their history.  Andrew Lansley, the current Health Secretary has been under fire because of the dramatic changes that are being planned for the Health Service and so he should be.  His handling of it so far has been very poor at best. 

Personally, I have no problem with the idea of the government turning their attention to the health service.  There are some great dedicated, talented professionals who do a wonderful job, caring, healing and offering support in often difficult or complex environments. But I’m afraid I don’t view the whole National Health Service with rose tinted glasses.

I have a great deal of experience as a patient within different parts of the NHS, and in recent years despite new buildings and improved facilities I have found the care from staff to often be well below the standard I would expect. Too often,  I have been treated with rudeness, and indifference, poor clinical treatment and ‘it’s nothing to do with me’ attitude when I have complained. I know that I am not alone, just as much as I know there are many people who believe we have the best health care in the world. 

So I believe that there are lots of changes that could potentially be made.  However, I’m not in favour of the way the government has handled their intention to make these changes.  Firstly they made a pledge that they had no intention to make any changes to the Health Service (clearly untrue).  Secondly they started to tell people the changes that they intend making with minimal consultation to canvas people’s views.  Although some of the changes may be due to getting better value for money, and improving patient experiences, it’s quite clear to see that some of them are built purely on ideology.  Thirdly, they have now stated that they want to listen to people and are going to do some consultation with professionals who are concerned about the changes before the bill is put to Parliament. 

How could the Health Minister have got it so wrong?  He’s broken all the basic elements of  effective change management practices by failing to communicate effectively to the professionals or the service users the reasons why he believes the changes are necessary, and he is failing to get the majority of people behind him.  He has now compounded the view that he doesn’t care by failing to address the main audience at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual conference. 

Mr Lansley isn’t the only government minister to have demonstrated such poor communication skills and woeful change management practices and unfortunately he’s unlikely to be the last.

7 Top Communication Tips for Retail Staff


I was in one of the big supermarkets yesterday and couldn’t find the product I was looking for, so I stopped one of the sales assistants to ask for help. I was surprised by the assistant’s response as she looked panicked and said she had no idea where the product would be and told me to ask someone else. I then approached another assistant and got the same response! Finally with assistant number three, I was taken to the correct aisle and he found the product for me.

Maybe these two sales assistants were new to the job or maybe they were both having a bad day, but either way, they weren’t providing very good customer service. This got me wondering about how much training staff in this store were receiving.

I worked part-time in a few different High Street stores when I was at university and I remember that we received the most basic training, but I believe that I still offered good service to the customers who came into the shop because I used my common sense. However, retailers can’t simply rely on all staff using common sense and understanding how customers should be treated. Sales assistants need to understand how to communicate effectively with their customers and it is up to retailers to provide this training.

7 essential communication tips for retail staff dealing with customers:

  • Language – the vocabulary that you use can totally change the message that is being given to the customer. Make sure that language used is appropriate for the target market e.g. the teenage market might be happy with slang, but will the rest of your customers?
  • Grading – If customers don't understand what you are saying, don't just keep repeating the same thing more loudly and slowly! Maybe the customer doesn't understand because he/she is from another country, has literacy problems, or maybe you are just using the wrong vocabulary. Grade your language – if the customer doesn’t understand what you are saying, find another way of saying it.
  • Intonation & Tone – the intonation and tone you use can change the meaning of your message. Something that is meant to be a simple instruction can sound rude or aggressive if said in the wrong way.
  • Body Language – you may be saying one thing, but your body language could be saying something else. Looking bored/uninterested or panicked doesn’t give the right impression to customers. Dealing with customers in a confident manner will make you appear more professional.
  • Eye Contact – make eye contact with customers when you are talking to them. This will make you appear interested in what they are saying and make you more approachable and friendly.
  • Smile – nobody wants to be served by a shop assistant who looks like he/she wants to be anywhere else but in the shop. Customers want to feel welcome when they enter the store and feel that they can approach you.
  • Find someone who can – if you really can’t help the customer then find someone who can. Either direct the customer to the correct person/counter or take them there yourself – don’t just say you don’t know and walk away!
Tuesday, 8 March 2011

5 Reasons why you should state the obvious for your customers

Photo by Yuri Arcus
Why is it that so many organisations think that certain things should be perfectly obvious to their customers  and there is no need for them to explain? It’s no secret that the most successful companies genuinely put customer service at the heart of everything they do and will constantly review and update their policies, procedures and staff  training to ensure this is always the case.  Too many organisations are either not bothered or are clueless about the potential impact of their disinterest on their customers.

I was recently sent a database from a company I was working with, which included names, email addresses, company address, etc.  I looked briefly at this information with a member of the company and everything seemed in order.  When I reopened the file later on I was surprised to find that I didn’t have any telephone numbers.  This was really annoying and I spent the weekend trying to track down some of the numbers.  When I phoned the company at the first opportunity on Monday morning,  my question was “Should I have received any telephone numbers?”.  The member of staff sounded incredulous and  I was told I had indeed received them. “But I can’t see them I said” – “You just need to expand column L” came the reply.  Gritting my teeth I explained that I had expanded column L already, but there  weren’t any telephone numbers.  It turns out that column L marked “Customer Data 1” – was the telephone number with the first 0 missing.Grr!!

There were four main issues that arose from this encounter.
  • Poor instructions:  I didn’t know that customer data 1 referred to telephone numbers.  (I had not been told this when he told me about the spreadsheet.) The member of staff's response to my apparent ignorance  when I said I thought it was a customer number to distinguish individual customers was to tell me that no other customer had ever thought that.

  • The importance of context: I had never seen a telephone with the 0 missing unless it had been replaced with an overseas code (which these hadn’t).  I’m a trained teacher and have never said that you may see telephone numbers with the 0 missing.  This time I was told “It’s the way the system does it.”  There was no inclination on the member of staff to try and understand the context of me as a customer.

  • No recognition or acknowledgement to review practices: Even though I tried to explain quite politely that he might want to review his practice for the future, it was quite clear that he wasn’t going t do this.  From an unscientific straw poll that I took from some friends who work in different professions not one of them when presented with a set of similar set of information thought they were the telephone numbers.

  • No responsibility/No apology :  Perhaps I should have realised that the numbers were telephone numbers, but the fact is, as the customer, I expected an apology from the company and not to receive one is poor customer service.  I wasted a lot of my valuable time looking up telephone numbers.

  • Assumptions were made: The company member of staff had assumed that I would understand their systems without explanation.  Why?  Why would I? Once again this is just poor customer service.  It might have been obvious to him that Column L was full of telephone numbers, but it wasn’t to me.

So here are 5 reasons why you  should state the ‘obvious’
  1. Customers don’t have an understanding of your company systems and processes.
  2. Customers operate in their own context which directly impacts on how they ‘see the world’ including your services and products.
  3. Disenchanted customers will not return if they have to waste time and money finding things out
  4. You have no idea of the level of the communication skills of your customers. You can’t make assumptions and therefore it’s better to state the obvious.
  5. Good customer service, including clear instructions will increase sales.

It’s obvious isn’t it!.


Photograph by Yuri Arcus
Monday, 31 January 2011

Are your business e-mails professional enough?

I’ve read lots of blogs and articles recently debating whether or not business e-mails should open with ‘Dear’, ‘Hello’, or ‘Hi’, and I’ve noticed fewer people in the UK using ‘Dear’ over the last year or so.

I’ve read with interest when people argued that ‘Dear’ is too old-fashioned or stuffy and there is no place for it in today’s business world, but is this really true? I believe there is a time and place for all of the above salutations depending on the situation and the recipient.

I’ve been corresponding by e-mail with organisations in other countries over the last year and they have all used a formal structure for business e-mails – starting an e-mail with ‘Hi’ wouldn’t have been appropriate. However, if I’m e-mailing someone I’ve met at a networking event, I usually open with ‘Hello’ as I’ve already started building a relationship with this person.

Tips for Writing a Business E-mail

  • Think about who you are writing to: Sounds obvious, but people often use a standard opening regardless of the recipient and/or the culture. Sometimes ‘Dear’ will be suitable, sometimes ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’ will be suitable – take a few seconds to think which one would be most appropriate.

  • Use an opening greeting: You wouldn’t walk into a meeting and get straight down to business without saying hello, so don’t do this in a business email. Some e-mails have become so informal that they go straight into the message without any opening greeting – this can come across as rude.

  • Avoid your messages being ignored: Include a clear subject line or your email could end up in the junk mail folder. Make sure the subject line matches your message - people often send e-mails backwards and forwards without changing the subject line.

  • Don’t write in capitals: It’s very easy for e-mails to be misinterpreted, so avoid giving the wrong message to the recipient. Avoid writing in capitals and using exclamation marks as this can give your message a more aggressive tone.

  • Check your email before you send it: Sending out an e-mail full of spelling or grammar mistakes isn’t going to present a very professional image of your company. Also, make sure your message makes sense once you’ve written it – get a colleague to read it through if necessary. It’s worth a few minutes of someone’s time if it avoids inappropriate messages being sent out.
Thursday, 20 January 2011

What’s lacking in customer service training?

 

Whilst watching the Mary Portas programme last night, I was interested to see that sales staff in the high street retailer Pilot had only received the most basic of customer service training. This isn’t the same for all high street retailers – some staff are expected to take NVQs in customer care as part of their staff training, but there is still something important missing. Training staff in procedures is not enough – sales assistants need to understand how to communicate effectively with their customers.

The following communication tips are essential for retail staff dealing with customers:

  • Language – the vocabulary that you use can totally change the message that is being given to the customer. Make sure that language used is appropriate for the target market e.g. the teenage market might be happy with slang, but will the rest of your customers?

  • Grading – If customers don't understand what you are saying, don't just keep repeating the same thing more loudly and slowly! Maybe the customer doesn't understand because he/she is from another country, has literacy problems, or maybe you are just using the wrong vocabulary. Grade your language – if the customer doesn’t understand what you are saying, find another way of saying it.

  • Intonation & Tone – the intonation and tone you use can change the meaning of your message. Something that is meant to be a simple instruction can sound rude or aggressive if said in the wrong way.

  • Body Language – you may be saying one thing, but your body language could be saying something else. Slouching or leaning on the counter/a rail doesn’t give the right impression to customers. Standing up straight and checking your posture will give you more confidence and you will appear more professional.

  • Eye Contact – make eye contact with customers when you are talking to them. This will make you appear interested in what they are saying and make you more approachable and friendly.

  • Smile – nobody wants to be served by a shop assistant who looks like he/she wants to be anywhere else but in the shop. Customers want to feel welcome when they enter the store and feel that they can approach you.
Wednesday, 19 January 2011

How to make sure your messages reach your customers

Few companies realise how many of their customers have poor literacy skills and struggle with reading, writing, speaking or listening?

 
According to the National Literacy Trust, a staggering one in six people in the UK struggle with literacy and their skills are below the level expected of an eleven year old. This may be is a shocking statistic, but how does it impact on your business?
 
Well, if you have always found reading and writing easy, then it’s probably hard to imagine the daily struggle that people experience if they have literacy problems. Can you imagine trying to buy food in the supermarket if you can’t read what’s on the labels? How do you know which aisle to go to if you can’t read the signs?

The problem is bigger than this though as it’s not only reading and writing that people struggle with - speaking and listening can also be an issue. This doesn’t mean that someone with poor literacy skills can’t speak, but it does mean that he/she might struggle to communicate clearly in certain situations.

Not everyone will struggle to this degree, as it depends on each individual’s level of literacy, but any literacy problem is going to make everyday life more difficult.

Now let’s go back to your customers. Most businesses send out hundreds of messages in different forms – e-mails, letters, posters, fliers, phone calls, face-to-face communication etc – without thinking about how the messages will be understood by ALL of their customers.

Until you can put yourself in your customers’ shoes, it’s difficult to realise how your messages are coming across to anyone who has poor literacy skills. The National Literacy Trust launched a new campaign last November to highlight the difficulties people face on a daily basis if they have poor literacy skills. The Director of the National Literacy Trust, Jonathan Douglas, spent a whole day without speaking to highlight how important all literacy skills are, including speaking and listening, in order to communicate effectively.