Communication – good communication – has never been more important in business than it is now.
The Covid pandemic has shut down many of the communication channels we’re used to. Smoke-filled rooms have long been out of fashion, but under lockdown crowded rooms of any description are a no-no. And so, inevitably, more and more of us find ourselves confined to Muppet-gallery screen boxes in online meetings. ‘You’re on mute!’ was the callsign of 2020, and (apparently) it’s not going away any time soon.
Which could be a very good thing – depending, of course, on how you look at it.
Yes, Zoom sessions can be tiring (and occasionally frustrating). Yes, you’re at the mercy of the technology – and/or your broadband connection. And yes, it’s not the same as a face to face meeting with the chance for an impromptu conversation that could spark a new connection or a new idea.
You are no longer limited by geography – you can hook up with anyone, anywhere in the country (or the world) with an internet connection. Join any group that will admit you. Connect with anyone in that group who will give you the time of day. And you can do all that without leaving your desk. Without spending silly amounts of money – and time – on travel, accommodation and food for the journey.
These things have always been possible, but it takes something radical – like a pandemic – to get them accepted as ‘normal’. (Is it part of the ‘new normal’ we hear so much about…?)
That may be bad news for industries that depend on mass movement, but it’s probably good for the planet. (It’s certainly a radical solution to overcrowded roads and over-stressed transport systems.)
It’s also a huge opportunity – especially for micro-businesses. Because the internet is awash with networking groups that could, potentially, connect you with resources you never knew existed.
Have you claimed every grant you are entitled to? Are you aware of the potential support available from colleges and universities? Do you know about every local initiative to support and develop businesses like yours? Probably not – few of us do. But it’s never been easier to make the right connections, and find out!
Need a little help with making those connections – perhaps with some advice on networking? Then please do give me a call on 01359 240717 or drop me an email! The first hour is free, so there’s no catch. And I do a lot of networking…
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.”
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org. (You can buy me a coffee some other time…)
A few words about this blog:
Ever suffered a depressive episode? If you haven’t, it can be difficult to imagine what it’s like, or what impact it can have on your life.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our clients – and our suppliers – are human beings, with their own particular set of strengths and weaknesses. That can be particularly true of the creative people we rely on to provide the vital spark for our marketing, our social media content, our brochures and catalogues and even our branding and our business cards. A significant number of them are depressives. Frustratingly (for them) it often seems to come as part of their package.
This article – from a very talented writer – may help to put that in perspective. As well as showing how a well-established, reliable process makes it possible to cope, and more than cope.
Can’t remember… What was it again?
The conversation goes something like this.
“Have you left me a review of my book?”
“Well, of course I’ve left you a review! I beta-read that book for you. And I got a copy on its release day. Then I came to your release party. Of course I’ve left you a review. I said … I said … (pause) I didn’t leave you a review, did I?”
(Knock, knock.) “Hello?”
“Uh, hi. Have I come to the right house? You are expecting me? I have a consultation at 10am … (Blank horrified stare from me.) Oh, you weren’t expecting me, were you?”
“You did send that document off to the tax people, didn’t you?”
“Yes, yes. I’m sure I did.”
“So this envelope I’ve just found addressed to the tax people and clearly not posted has nothing to do with that …”
For me this is the scariest thing about my depressive episodes. Not the withdrawal from human contact, not the days sat shaking on the sofa, too weak to walk further than to the kitchen or bathroom, but the memory gaps. Or even worse, the false memories. Tasks undone or forgotten lie like landmines all over my personal and professional life. They frighten me.
There’s a very good clinical reason for these memory gaps. During depression, the part of the brain connected with memory shrinks. It’s as if part of the filing system has been thrown out. I can only assume that my false memories occur because the creative part of the brain (at least in my case) is unaffected and just makes up what I think must have occurred, rather than remembering what did actually occur.
It isn’t the words…
Now, I would be the first to admit that admin is not my strong point. If you want five hundred words on the inside of a ping pong ball by five o’clock then I’m your woman. If you need an impromptu ten minute speech on the importance of leg-warmers in popular Eighties culture, then just ask. But organising and keeping a filing system up to date… best look elsewhere for that one.
Even so, I like to keep my promises. I like to be professionally reliable. I like to be a responsible citizen who files tax returns on time.
So my challenge is to create, while well, robust and simple systems that will still work when I’m ill. I need visual reminders of what I need to do when. Even down to “System to follow when a client books an appointment.” I need a promise book.
Of course I don’t know that these reminders will be infallible. I think I will still need people around me to exercise a lot of tolerance and forgiveness when yet another of those depressive landmines explodes. But, by being responsible about it, I should at least minimize the casualties.
Written by Mary, a Moodscope member