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…)

Moving services online? You may need a (better) process

Moving services online? You may need a (better) process

Thinking about moving services online? Perhaps to save cost? Or time? Or – perish the thought – staffing costs…?

Surely that should be easy enough?

Well yes – and no. Because a lot depends on the nature of the process you’re trying to deal with. As many local councils have discovered.

Let’s be fair. In recent years local councils have faced enormous challenges. They have had to cut their costs. And – rightly – they have been looking at ways to do that without cutting their key services. Surely (so the logic goes) they could set up automated processes to answer common questions. And even, perhaps, to deal with the most common transactions.

Simply – as they thought – by replicating what their teams were already doing.

Ambitious plans to move services online

They started confidently enough. In 2015 GOSS, a tech company specialising in work for government sent out a survey to local councils. 66% of respondents said they’d be moving 50-100% of their services online by 2018.

That didn’t happen.

By 2019 only 11% had 50% or more of their services online, while just 46% expected to reach that less ambitious goal by 2022. (Down from 55% in the previous year.)

So what went wrong?

Keep it simple, stupid…

Many councils ran into three problems almost straight away.

  • Their processes – often developed over many years – were too complex to be easily automated.
  • Their systems (according to 54% of respondents) lacked the necessary capabilities
  • 44% were held up by lack of resources – and 39% by lack of in-house skill

With mistrust from the beginning – understandably, perhaps, where job losses were likely – many projects got off to a rocky start. And even when they’d been implemented, the reaction from the public was often less than encouraging.

Because – all too often – an overcomplicated internal process had been made into an overcomplicated sequence of interactions. And nobody loved it. Especially when they had to enter personal information repeatedly to gain access to different council services.

A huge proportion of users failed to complete the processes online. Instead, they rang the council for help. With (perhaps) fewer staff to man the phones, they often had a long wait for an answer. if they got through at all…

So the public hated it. The staff hated it. And the councils began to worry that they had spent a sizeable amount of money on a white elephant.

Time for a change?

So what’s the answer?

For the councils – and for any organisation that wants to go digital – it all boils down to the customer experience. If your online systems are easy and intuitive to use, people will be much more willing to use them.

And you’ll get far fewer angry phone calls.

But to achieve that goal, you may very well need to review the entire process you’re trying to digitise. Because while it may function perfectly well when trained, experienced, and knowledgeable staff are running it, you can’t expect your customers to deal with it in the same way.

And if you need a little help with that, please call me for a chat on 01359 240717.