Are you listening?

Are you listening?

Listening?

Well of course you are, or you wouldn’t be reading this. But… is your business listening?

Consider that venerable comedy cliché, the old married couple:

“Are you even listening to me?”

“Of course I am. You asked me to fix the shelf.”

“Well?”

“And you’ve asked me the same darned thing every day this week.”

(Other domestic disputes are available…)

The problem here is two (very different) definitions of ‘listening’. You could call them ‘passive’ and ‘active’. It’s good to hear and understand what another person is saying – but real listening demands an active response.

Such as fixing the shelf. For example…

Listening – active or passive?

So – thinking about your business – is your ‘listening’ active or passive?

How, for example, do you respond to complaints? Do you write off the people who make them as ‘difficult customers’? Mutter ‘There’s no pleasing some people’? Or – worse still – ignore what they’re saying? Because your focus is somewhere else?

It happens – especially with a new and growing business. Because the bigger your enterprise becomes, the greater the distance between the people who talk to customers, and the people who make the decisions. And that can happen almost without your realising it. So what’s the answer?

In my book, it’s a simple one. Process.

Consider, for example, how much freedom your staff have when they’re talking to customers. If your process is too rigid, the results can be damaging. A friend is still talking about his conversation with an electricity supply company – eight years ago. He called them to help in winding up his late father’s estate. Told them what had happened, and what information he needed. And got a reply straight out of the manual. ‘Oh, I’m sorry.We can only give that information to the customer. Data protection, you know.’ Under the circumstances his answer was surprisingly reasonable. ‘That’ll be a little tricky, because he’s dead!’

Sadly, there are still companies that don’t have a process for dealing with the death of a client. But stories like that do show the risks involved in imposing overly strict protocols. Especially those which insist that customers change their way of working to accommodate your processes.

And that’s mission-critical when you’re talking about disabled customers.

A whole new ball game…

Do you listen to your disabled customers?  Are you legally compliant?

Because Covid-19 has created a whole new group of disabled people – those who are shielding for medical reasons.  And your current working practices may no longer fill the bill.

Just consider this extract from a social media post – from a vulnerable customer dealing with a (perfectly pleasant) staff member. The snag is that the perfectly pleasant staff member is working with a process set by a management team who don’t appear to care about their customers. .

We need to get an engineer out to check it is not the socket.

It wasn’t the socket a year ago, it’s not likely to be the socket now is it?

Well no, but then we would get BT out to check it wasn’t an external issue.

So, can’t we check external first?

That’s not the way we do it.

But the way you do it I can’t do, because I’m shielded.

I understand that. Shall I arrange a refund …

You can write a letter of complaint if you would like.

How would I get the letter to you with no stamps and not allowed out?

How many conversations like that are happening in your business?

Make yours a listening business

So – time for an action plan.

To make yours a listening business you need to take a long, hard look at all your processes. Are they fit for purpose? Properly inclusive? And legally compliant? And could you produce documentation that would prove it?

Do your staff understand any new ways of working? Have they been trained? Can they get the support they need when they’re faced with something unexpected? And do they ask for it?

But above all, do they understand – and deliver – the right behaviours when they’re dealing with customers? Because sometimes even the best processes aren’t quite enough.

The social media post above concluded with a telling comment from the frustrated customer:

At one stage he said “if I wasn’t happy for someone to come out” like this was a choice!

So – do your customers have the choices they need? Choices that actually meet their needs?

Time for a little active listening…?

And there’s no charge if you need some help right now…

These are challenging times – so I am happy to help you review what you do, how you do it, and how you might deal with any glitches. I can do it virtually, via phone calls and online conference software, and I am happy to do it FREE OF CHARGE to help any business in the current situation. Just call 01359 240717 or email kate@businessplumber.co.uk. (You can buy me a coffee some other time…)

Changing a process? Check that it’s working!

Changing a process? Check that it’s working!

Changing a process is never easy, but it’s even more challenging when you need to do it quickly. And in the pandemic conditions at the time of writing the truth is that most of us – including the government – are having to ‘make it up as we go along’.

Which means – inevitably – that things don’t always work out the way you want them to.

A good friend has been organising his volunteer group to support the community, and in particular their village shop. They’re helping out with taking orders and delivering supplies to people in lockdown. And they’re also collecting orders from suppliers – including an excellent local bakery.

A job my friend took upon himself, but had never done before.

New volunteers, new job, new mistakes…

On the first day he arrived at the bakery and was told there were four trays to collect. A staff member – somewhat engaged with a customer – pointed to a stack of four trays on the floor. Which he duly picked up and took back. On arrival it turned out that two of them were part of someone else’s order…

Well, at least it gave his otherwise idle car a good run (by the time he’d delivered the two trays to their intended destination, collected the two for his own village, and brought them back to the shop…)

He duly issued a warning to other volunteers to check each order very carefully before leaving the bakery.

A warning that sadly did not reach a new volunteer, who was collecting bread for the first time a week later. And walked away with only two of the four trays he should have had.

When my friend went back for his next collection he politely suggested they could label the trays to avoid confusion. Sadly the bakery staff were more concerned with avoiding blame. Even though he’d already said he wasn’t interested in blaming anybody. He simply wanted to prevent any more mistakes…

The lesson?

This is a classic case of faulty plumbing. The bakery were simply ‘doing what they’d always done’ without taking into account that volunteers had no idea what that was, or how it worked. Their staff were frightened, busy and preoccupied, so they felt stressed and vulnerable. When – inevitably – something went wrong, they assumed someone must be to blame. No one really was. The problem, quite simply, was in the system. It wasn’t designed for volunteers.

So if you’re changing a process in the middle of a crisis, don’t feel bad if things don’t work first time. Mistakes are bound to happen. The trick is to learn from them – and to stop them happening again.

In the meantime – in those especially challenging moments – be kind to yourself, your team, and everyone else. Stay safe, and stay well!

And there’s no charge if you need some help…

These are challenging times – so I am happy to help you review what you do, how you do it, and how you might deal with any glitches. I can do it virtually, via phone calls and online conference software, and I am happy to do it FREE OF CHARGE to help any business in the current situation. Just call 01359 240717 or email kate@businessplumber.co.uk. (You can buy me a coffee some other time…)

Giving instructions (because no, it’s not obvious…!)

Giving instructions (because no, it’s not obvious…!)

Giving instructions to other people can be a bit of a minefield.

Take ‘Boil the water’, for example. Simple enough, you’d think, even for a child. Except a child won’t know what ‘boiling water’ actually looks like.

So the (irritating) result is likely to be a series of interruptions by a small person saying ‘Is it boiling yet?’

The answer, of course, is to explain what ‘boiling water’ actually looks like. And give the necessary safety lecture at the same time. But you might not do the same if you’re giving instructions to an adult. And when they’re struggling, it’s all too easy to respond with disparaging comments on their commitment and their capabilities.

The truth is that if it’s a task you’re very familiar with, it’s blindingly obvious how to do it. To you. Others may see it differently…

When men didn’t cook…

I’m reminded of one of my earliest memories…

I was sitting with my Mum and my newborn baby sister. My Dad came in with a saucepan of peeled potatoes – and asked what to do next.

Mum told him to put the pan on the gas.

‘But – won’t that burn the pan?’ he asked, with a worried expression.

‘Not,’ said Mum, acidly, ‘if you put water in first.’

He looked, if anything, even more worried. ‘But… how much water?’

‘Enough!’ said Mum.

‘Enough to…?’

‘To cover the potatoes!’ she snapped.

She was annoyed, understandably. But the truth was that he’d never, in his life, cooked a meal before. So it was important, for him, to have someone giving instructions he could understand.

Sound familiar?

It’s all too easy to get annoyed when someone fails to understand apparently simple instructions. And the results, sadly, are predictable.

Option one: the experienced person will give up, and do the job themselves. In which case they are doomed to continue doing it for ever after.

Or option two: the inexperienced person will be left to struggle on as best they can. In which case the results may well be less than wonderful.

Either way, there are two additional and very predictable results. The experienced person will be left believing their colleague is ‘playing dumb’, perhaps to avoid doing the work. And the inexperienced person will feel inadequate, frustrated, and resentful. Because they haven’t received the support they need.

So – is there an alternative?

Of course there is!

The art of giving instructions…

  1. The two people (or the two teams, or the two businesses) need to get together.
  2. They then need to work through the list of tasks that have to be done.
  3. At each stage they should check that both understand a) what needs doing and b) how to do it.

That should, at very least, minimise the problems.

Does this take time?  Yes.

Can you afford not to?  Only you can decide.

One thing is certain – if you keep thinking that anything about a task, or a process, is ‘obvious’ then you won’t even see there’s a question to answer…

So if you’d like a simple set of instructions for – well – creating a simple set of instructions, then why not buy me a cup of coffee? And we’ll discuss what I can do and how I can help. Just call 01359 240717 or email kate@businessplumber.co.uk

Client wanting extras? Then mirror, signal, manoeuvre…

Client wanting extras? Then mirror, signal, manoeuvre…

It happens to tradespeople all the time. You’re on site, doing what you’ve been asked to do… and suddenly your client says ‘Could you just…?’ Yes, we’re talking about chargeable extras – and how you deal with them.

Let’s say you’re a naturally helpful person. (Of course you are, because you care about your clients and your reputation.) So you say ‘Yes, no problem!’ and put it on your ‘to do’ list.

So far, so good.

You’ve done the extras. It’s taken you additional time (and may have landed you with additional costs). Naturally you put it on your invoice.

Which the client then disputes. ‘This isn’t the price we agreed!’

That’s exactly what happened to one of my clients – so I suggested a small process improvement.

‘Next time,’ I said, ‘by all means say “yes”. But then say “Do you need a quote for that, or shall I just add it to the final bill?”‘

The other day I was chatting about this to Michael Collett of Collett Creative. As a website designer this is a problem he often faces himself – so he told me how he deals with it. I was so impressed that I asked if I could share his approach here. And being someone who cares about his clients and his reputation, he happily said ‘Yes’…

So – do you remember what you learned from your driving instructor…?

Mirror

So – your client has asked you to make a change. Or to do something that is outside their original brief. Before you say ‘Yes’, take a quick look in the virtual mirror and check. Make sure it’s safe to proceed – and don’t rush. Take all the time you need to be sure you understand what they are asking for, and precisely how much extra work, and extra cost, that will require.

Signal

So – you’ve done your checks, and you’ve decided you are happy to go ahead with the additional work. Time to talk to the client. Tell them you’re OK with it – and, at the same time, tell them about any additional costs these extras will involve. Signal, very clearly, what those costs will be, and that you need their approval before you go ahead. Don’t even think about starting the extra work until you’ve had their clear agreement. Because you need to be 100% sure they’ve formally accepted your terms.

Manoeuvre

Once you’ve had formal confirmation, you can safely manoeuvre. Add the cost of the extras to the project total. Complete the task in full. And don’t forget to add it to the invoice…!

And if your business could benefit from a small refresher course (or possibly a new version of its very own Highway Code) then I’d be happy to have a chat over coffee. To discuss what I can do and how I can help. Just call 01359 240717 or email kate@businessplumber.co.uk

Noises from the plumbing…

Noises from the plumbing…

Say you have a team that doesn’t gel, or a person who won’t cooperate with everyone else. What do you do? I find it helpful to regard any shouting matches, or a high volume of complaints, as noises from the plumbing. This immediately stops me regarding it as a people issue, and starts me thinking, instead, of the system (the plumbing) that is causing it.

People are part of the system, of course, but there are other factors too. Let me tell you some stories to illustrate.

Sweet talk

Back in the Jurassic, I worked for an organisation that made children’s sweets. The success of the Manufacturing department was measured in “tons per direct employee”. They hit their production targets by making large numbers of large jars of sweets. Manufacturing didn’t want to make small packets of sweets, which took too much time, and messed up their performance figures.

However, at this same company, the Sales team could only make their sales targets by selling things people wanted to buy. And shops wanted sweets in sealed packets. They did not want large jars from which they would have to pour out 100g at a time into little paper bags!

So of course, Manufacturing and Sales were always fighting. And each blamed the other when they missed their targets. An issue with the people involved? No, a management issue. They should never have had conflicting targets.

Human error? Or faulty plumbing…?

Some time ago I worked with a Housing Association. Both tenants and Housing staff used to complain that the Repair service (a different organisation) did not phone ahead when they turned up to do a repair.

Then I discovered the Repair staff complaining that the Housing staff never advised the tenant’s telephone number when booking a repair! Except they did, always.

Apparently, the computer programme only transmitted the first part of the notes field (details of the problem) from Housing to Repair, and not the second part, which included the phone number and information about when the tenant would be in!  An issue with the people involved? No, an issue with the original design of the computer system, which could only be fixed by IT.

Somebody else’s problem?

More recently I worked with a small family firm which was having frequent unpleasant internal squabbles. It was clear that the way they worked had just “evolved”, so the business was not working effectively. Everyone agreed that getting more organised would be good.

It soon became clear that some tasks had never been allocated to anyone. Everyone thought it was someone else’s job! (And said so. At the top of their lungs.) Once we sorted out what needed doing, by whom, and in what order, the shouting matches went away. An issue with the people involved? No, a process problem (they didn’t have any).

In each case it would have been easy to jump to the conclusion that people were being difficult, or were not really team players. But in each case that would have been wrong – there was another cause, and once that was sorted, the noise went away.

Of course, sometimes it is a problem with the people involved. But if you start by eliminating the plumbing issues, it’s easier to avoid the accusation that you are “picking on” someone.

Struggling to see the plumbing issues? Give me a call 01359 240717 – I’ll be happy to talk it through with you!  Or email kate@businessplumber.co.uk