Are you OK? – I mean, ARE YOU? REALLY?

How to Ask.....

It’s RUOK day in Australia, (11 Sept) a brilliant initiative around suicide prevention. I say in Australia, because it doesn’t seem to reach here in the UK, except via the Facebook posts of the Aussie friends and relatives I have.

I absolutely applaud the initiative and I am sure it has made inroads into the public recognition of things like depression and bullying that lead to suicide.

If we only ask this one day per year then it is a start.

How to Ask.....
Are you really?

It takes a brave person to say that they aren’t OK actually. People who are depressed or leading a terrible life fighting their own demons, or other people’s demons, sometimes won’t say what is really going on for them. Are you OK is a great start. But what if they say yes and they aren’t?

How many times do we get asked Are you OK and we answer, “yes, fine thanks”? In fact there is a plethora of “funny” jokes all over the interwebs about how women are asked this often and they send a chilly “I’m fine” response back! Oh yes, I laugh until I stop when I see these and that’s a short journey…..anyhow I digress.

The thing is – we aren’t usually OK all the time. And that’s OK. The more we get used to hearing that people are not OK – that they might be struggling a bit, that they are tired, or run down, or they have had an emotional day crying on the couch, the more we will realise that life is actually like that.

I think what we could all do with some more of is learning what to do when people do actually say, No – I’m not OK. We can’t always know what people are going through. Sometimes, we don’t even know how much people mean to us until we lose them. That’s what happens in a world where we feel like we can’t get too close to other people, where making friends is hard, where just wanting some “me” time comes before being with friends and family.

A friend of mine recently lost a friend to suicide. She feels eternally guilty that she didn’t see what was coming. Of course she asked if she was OK – and the response she got back was, yes. It’s tough, but I am OK.

We don’t always know when we aren’t OK, as weird as that sounds. Sometimes it takes someone to nudge us a bit and not only ask if we are OK, but to ask some more questions. Perhaps remind them on some behaviour we may have noticed.

This world sees most of other people’s lives through social media eyes, via our computers and mostly through our phones (wankers flashlights as I heard them recently referred to). Am I going to post on Facebook that I am not OK? No way. I don’t want sympathy, or I don’t want platitudes from people who say they are “here for you” and who aren’t. I probably want to be alone with my demons. As awful as they are, they are mine and parting ways with them takes time and guts and courage. I am fortunate enough to have people close to me who do recognise when I am not OK, but not all of us do.

Perhaps what we can say to friends is to not just ask the question Are you OK, but to tell them it’s OK to not be OK just for now. That things will change and life can get better, or we can work on changing our thoughts to make the most of a shitty situation. And then as the website suggests, start a conversation. Ask, Listen, Encourage, Follow Up. Simple steps that could make a difference.

It takes a brave person to say they are not OK, and it takes a true friend and an even braver person to keep that conversation going.

Disclaimer: I’m not a pyschotherapist, nor a mental health professional. I’m just a normal person who is sometimes not OK. (And thank the gods, this isn’t one of those times if you are wondering – I am perfectly OK and I mean it! 🙂

hr… it’s lonely at the top

In reading the latest post from Alison Chisnell, I realised and I guess recalled, what I remember feeling, at a time when I was deep in middle earth HR. That this is a lonely job. It is a tough job, and one you don’t seem to make friends in (it’s just easier that way!)

I mean that in the best possible way. If you think about what we, as HR Professionals get charged with; what we are told, what we do – a lot of that is surrounded by confidentiality, integrity and privacy. If you hear something, or if you are the official holder of information, you are usually where the buck stops. If the CEO has decided to outsource the business, you get told but you can’t tell anyone else. If there is a performance issue with a staff member, same deal. I have even been entrusted with relationships that have needed to be kept secret!

Alison’s post reminded me what it was like, being in a position of managing change within an organisation. It isn’t just HR Professionals who can be isolated, senior management are in the same boat. The saying of it being lonely at the top didn’t just magic it’s way into our phrase books. I’m not talking about HR being the “top” of the business world (although, we all know it should!), or making a point about it being a better role in any organisation (again…..!), but usually, when the heads at the top want some change in the business, we are either the first to know about it from them (preferable), or the first to hear it on the grapevine, possibly because something has been done in a “unique” way. It makes us the top of the tree sometimes, when it would be far easier not to be.

Either way, the idea of HR Professionals talking to each other, supporting each other and sharing our experiences is a healthy one. In the world of Social Media, or in fact most online business, everyone shares everything – results, what to do, how to do it, how not to do it especially! In HR, we tend to want to be the keepers of information. Shared knowledge is a powerful thing. To be the one sharing your own knowledge, helping people out and perhaps lending an ear or a shoulder of support needs to be encouraged. Thanks for the reminder Alison!

the cobbler has no shoes

I first heard that expression when I was talking to a friend of mine whose partner is a financial adviser. They had just paid a massive tax bill. Not ever a pleasant situation and I know at some point or other we may have all had to do just that, but when you think your partner has it all under control and then learn the opposite, well let’s just say, not a happy time! He is the managing partner of a large national firm. Yes, you could argue, who could possibly have time to do their own tax, when some of the most influential business people in the country rely on you to do theirs – sound familiar?

Surely it is one of the most common psychological phenomena in the world. Like the plumber who has a leaky tap, the electrician has their wires crossed (sorry, indulge me!), the overweight doctor who smokes, the link building/SEO company that has an atrocious website……or in my own case, the blog that is out of date and the laptop that needs attention (un-husband is in IT!).

I am learning slowly that I do good work for my clients (there is that whole female fraud thing we do so well, but that’s another story!) and I can do all that wonderful strategic thinking, planning and carrying out – for them…but I am loathe to admit, it is something that I don’t do very well at all for my own business. For me, it seems a strange bit of imbalance; I focus all my time on my clients and usually the stuff I do for me is last…and I’m not even a mother!

Is it because we are so busy (we are all as busy as we make ourselves though, remember that!) or is it because of what we expect people in professions to do because they are good at it? You know, we think – oh, they’re in IT, I bet all their own stuff is in order. Or in fact, is it because (particularly for careers in IT), when you go around to your friends and families places, the first thing they do, after handing you a beer, is ask if you wouldn’t mind taking a look at their laptop! A friend once told me when I had started out that he envied my being able to do this blog and that write-up…..because he had become so engaged with his contracting work, that he barely had any time to focus on his own business. Now I’m almost there and none too sure I like it either!

I know I am not alone here, it is a common problem. In truth, I do know the most obvious reason behind it is: this is what I do all day long, then I have to come home and do it all again here too. Where is the fun in that? I’d much rather go for a ride, or go to the gym or throw the Frisbee around the park – anything but more of the same.

So what is the answer? For me, I apply the same rules to this as to any other issue – I call in the network! Professional networks across all of my “professional spheres” – social media, HR and corporate relations, including coaches and of course social media groups, discussions and forums. The personal ones include friends, family and at times, specialist help, counsellors, therapists etc. I have never been too shy to admit that I can’t do it all and I can’t do it alone. I have cleared out all my self-help books….or most of them, but I keep my network of professional advisers.

For those of you who know me, I am the great outsourcer! I love a beautiful garden, but am not that good at it. Get someone in. I love a clean house but resent the time spent cleaning it. Get someone in (bless you Shelley!); I love to cook, but there are sometimes when that just isn’t feasible (un-husband his share of shifts, as does Cook and the local takeaways) – so why not apply this logic to an age old problem?

I am really fortunate to know a very cool and talented bunch of uber business people; the group we call The Rocketeers: thankfully, all very different to me! When I need some help to strategise about my business, or to kick off the strategy for some corporate fund-raising (or even some personal fundraising, big plug) then I get a great team of people together to bounce ideas off – and they come up with stuff I had never thought of.

I do rely on coaching quite heavily as well. I am fortunate enough to have a life coach and a business coach, both work complementing each other and both have very similar strategies to help me to achieve my goals. If you can’t afford a coach right now (I am fortunate that my business coach is a part of the remuneration of my contracts), then the old networking group is a great solution. There are only 4 of us in our group, and even though we have different needs at different levels for different reasons, I value their input individually and as a group. It is also an interesting learning for me, I was never very good in a team unless I was leading it, so they are very patient with me!

So, the old “I get by with a little help from my friends” (big concession, I am not a Beatles fan!) has never been truer, especially now in tough economical times. The answers are usually all there, we just need to step outside ourselves and do some creative thinking, and especially creative listening. Either that, or outsource! Who could ever live in a world without shoes?

…because I’m the customer…

I was inspired recently by someone I met, via his great post at TRecs to talk about customer service, again. For those of you who know me, it is something I go on about and one of my passions.

I have always failed to understand why one of the most basic abilities as people; human interaction, is so difficult for some people. I am fully aware that we’re all different, some are extrovert, some are introverts, some are wild nutters like me – and some are very shy and retiring. I get that. It is what makes the world such an entertaining and interesting place. But a little tip for the retailers and service providers of the world; don’t hire the ones who are introverted and shy, regardless of their skill set.

You see most humans, like me (although some would argue I am not quite like most!) like to walk into a shop and be recognised. Or go anywhere and be recognised. I actually don’t care if it is a raised eyebrow, a grin, smirk or a wink. Just do something. Acknowledge that your door has been opened or someone walked past you on the retail floor. Yesterday I had some time to kill on the way to an appointment so I cruised around a few shops. Sales are on, things are cheaper. Doesn’t that mean that more people can afford to buy things? Ergo – more people go shopping? I know consumers buy more things in the sales, but things aren’t always about the money. No I don’t have loads of it, but I have strong principals and I also want an experience when I shop.

Most of the stores I walked into yesterday afternoon didn’t quite see it my way.

You know, I get that it is the end of the day; it’s dark cold and miserable outside (but usually not inside, so what the…?), and it is close to the end of the week or the start of another week and or whatever other thousand reasons you want to create. But when I walk into your shop – you know the one you created to make money? I expect a little recognition. Obviously I also realise that the owner mostly doesn’t sit behind the counter. Maybe that is the problem!

I do know that of the three shops I walked into yesterday, two of the owners were there. I know I have to resign myself to the fact that I will never get understand the why of this. It is probably like reading fantasy science fiction, or playing golf or wrestling or changing your name when you get married – I don’t get those things either!

The most amazing thing to me about customer service is that is free! Yep, that’s right, one of the very few things that you get for free in this world. There aren’t too many! One of my favourite quotes is “there are no traffic jams in the extra mile” (the customer service guru Zig Ziglar). It is one of the truisms of my life. It costs me no more to smile or nod or ask someone if they need help. And I don’t work on the high street!

It is true, and as most of my readers will know, I am Australian. By definition that makes us think we can talk to and smile at anyone on the street. I am also aware that it has the uncanny and unpleasant affect of making me seem simple. That is OK too. Yes, I am the nutter who smiles at people and makes eye contact on the road. Why? Because I get a massive intrinsic kick out of the feeling that that little smile or nod or wink could have just made someone feel special. I know, it could also make them think that I am a stalker…your choice!

My HR training and people management experiences has taught me that the best person for the job is not always the one with the most qualifications, nor the one who can put that book on the shelf in eight different ways or make the gold sequined dress go really well with those pink tights. Recruiting people for jobs where they are responsible for the promotion of your business needs to be based on personality, the ability to interact, a feeling for intuition and a strong sense of understanding customers – empathy.

You wouldn’t read about it, but, customers also have bad days, hate the weather and have just lost their jobs broken up with their partner or had a bad haircut. We all have stuff going on, deal with it and get on with your job. It’s right up there with one of the things I wish I could change in the world, along with the correct distribution of food between the obese and the starving, the ignorance about climate change and the economy, and the treatment of less fortunate souls in our world, but don’t get me started. I do truly believe that one little action or reaction from a shop assistant might just change the way a person’s day goes. I just don’t get why it is so hard. I also don’t get why a good feeling is so undersold.

As Mervyn says – do we have the guts to find out what our customers really think and want? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect to be treated like a long lost friend; I don’t even expect to be remembered (my ego isn’t that big!) but I do expect to be treated with respect and a bit of happiness.  I am the customer; the one who is buying something to attribute to the success of the store and the money you earn. This is a very simple equation. Be grateful, let your face know if you’re happy about it – better still, let other people know. It’s quite contagious.

Funny isn’t it, that films like Falling Down is seen as one man losing his mind, rather than an understandable build up of the kind of frustrations we get in everyday life. Yes, there are different ways to provide feedback. One of them is to vote with your feet and never return. But in a city like London, do retailers and service providers really care? I am one of a potential twelve million people (at least) who will come into the store. Move aside love, there are more people trying to get in!

For the record, the real service providers are not the ones who talk to clients on social media and say “we’re sorry to hear about your experience, here try this number”. They are the ones who resolve your issues for you. Who make an effort. I know there are millions of stories of people who do go that extra mile and they are to be rewarded.

I know the use of social media as a communications tool is now de rigueur in business now. But let’s not make it like the media and report only the bad stuff. We can start to make an effort by reporting great customer service, not moaning in the hope that someone listens (guilty I know!). Business who have a significant edge over their competitors are the ones who go back to the source of the original bad customer experience and resolve the issue; not merely tweet about it.

Is this awful customer service experience also the reason we shop online? So I don’t have to put up with the whining from the shop assistants about their date last night, or the unfairness of having a job where they make you work or wear a uniform or talk to customers heaven forbid (or is that just Top Shop?). Be grateful for a few things:

  • You have the ABILITY to work
  • You have a job
  • You have the ABILITY to smile and improve someone’s day
  • You will live longer (there’s research on this!)

Any retail experience is not just about what things cost. I am saddened that in a world of over consumerism more people don’t vote with their feet. That we mostly still search for the bargain of a lifetime and then moan about the service we get whilst doing it. Are those two things related? Maybe. Or maybe it is just putting out there what we want to get back, either way we have a long way to go!

Social Media will make you review your website. Oh and your business. Ready?

In my short experience in this game, one thing I know is true – so true in fact that it may just be basic and awfully boring to some of you! If that is you, it’s OK to leave now, this is meant for all the newbies.

When I spend some time with a client, learning about their business, their customers and their values, we then get onto their website. I deal with small business, they are mostly concerned about their own little place, not what the rest of the whole world thinks!

The Little Place
"..just concerned about our own little place"

They watch me have the same experience their customers have when they go to the website. Sometimes they stand back, arms folded and gloat over their wonderful work. Most times they look on, cringing ever so slightly. Mostly, I find that the website could be a little prettier. Actually, never mind just pretty, some of them could be a little more user friendly, possibly designed in this decade and with a bit more of a welcoming spirit about them.

What happens when your customers land on your web page? Do you give them an experience, or do you give them information? This is 2009 we want the experience thanks.

If I want contact information about your business, I can go to the Yellow Pages (but please don’t send me there!) It might be that your information is not up to date, that your website doesn’t reflect what you are telling your Social Media person, or that it doesn’t really reflect who you are anymore. I tend to find when submitting proposals to clients, that the lead time for consulting is quite long. Usually long enough for them to fix their website, so they can work on getting people there.

When you start engaging and conversing with customers, suppliers or anyone that hasn’t previously heard of you,what they find on your site is static. So static it is so far out of date that you would be embarrassed if someone came up to you at a party and said that they saw your website and “I didn’t think you did that anymore”, or didn’t I see on your website that you had won that big account for ..(insert out of date and large company name here)”. Unfortunately, it happens all too often. I think part of the reason is that websites used to be really expensive to create. People think that they still are. Of course some of them if they were created long ago, will take either thousands of pounds to rectify, or thousands to make something new.

Let’s face it, you can no longer just hope to go with the website you created when your business was starting out, or the website you just had to have that was created with no money and just looks plain ugly, is completely dysfunctional and sends your customers screaming to your competitors. Sorry to share the news folks, but if your website looks like crap, Social Media won’t help you! As part of your “we had better have a social media consultant” budget, you may need to consider these other things:

  1. Is there money in that budget for a revamp, upgrade or total demolition and rebuild of your current website?
  2. What do you actually want your website and your social media campaign/strategy to do?
  3. Does it reflect your business, branding, customers, members, suppliers etc? Do you want it to?
  4. Are you doing SEO and link building? Do you need to – do you want to?
  5. What other online marketing strategies are you engaging in and do each one of your consultants know what the other one is doing?

Be prepared for change.

Yes, your website probably will change, unless it is already great and you are into this whole SEO/SEM digital marketing space. Well done you. You are the minority I can assure you. It is interesting when I go to industry events that are run and include mostly industry people, they don’t really realise that industries like hairdressers, dry cleaners, child care centres and stationers are not into any of these SEO/SEM antics!

I digress…I was talking about being prepared for change. I’m not just talking about changes to your website, but changes to your whole business. Once you start engaging with your customers (that is “listening and talking” to them by the way), they will start providing solutions or suggestions to your customer service problems, your structural or strategic issues. Nothing is off limits with social media. To be honest, I love that I can now have an input to any organisation on what MY opinion is. Personally, I never really needed Social Media for that. Of course they listen to me……….

Your business may well change. That was…your business may well change.

The way you deal with your staff, your customers, your suppliers could change. That will mean that people feel empowered to contribute to your business. This is not like telling someone how to parent their own children (boy, isn’t that a tough lesson to learn!?). As a consumer, you have the right to contribute your thoughts to your suppliers, partners and the businesses you frequent daily. They of course have the right to ignore you and do more often than not; at their peril. We all have the right to choose who we do business with, who our customers are and to say no sometimes to clients.

It is like getting a job. Don’t just be grateful that you got one, no matter how long it took you and how desperate you were. Think about what you can contribute, by all means, and make it a damn good contribution too, none of this turn up and be absent thank you! Contribute as if you were a valued member of staff. Then you can discuss with your employer just what they are bringing to the table. Your employment contract, like the contracts you have with your clients should be about relationships and should be about values – yours and theirs. If they don’t match, don’t go there. The stress mis-matched values costs you is far too great, even for the holy dollar, pound or yen.

That was me digressing again. Sorry!

I tell my customers and my prospects that one of the goals of Social Media is to drive integration with customers and share information. In this day and age, whilst we think it doesn’t always mean that, it means we will be driving traffic to your website. Are you ready to expose yourself like that?

I don’t do website modifications btw. I know some people I would refer you to, but part of my remit is not making people spend more money if they don’t have to. I don’t work like that.

It may sound to some that I am working on doing myself out of a job! This is about sharing information with people who are thinking about jumping head first into a Social Media campaign or strategy. I talk about whole of business strategy, not just a campaign. That means that you need to think about what your whole of business is saying, who you are saying it to, and how you are saying it.

Social media is not the panacea of all ills. It will create change for you, your business and your website. Are you ready for that?