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doctor who smokes, the link building/SEO company that has an atrocious website……or in my own case, the blog that is out of date and the laptop that needs attention (un-husband is in IT!).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!