Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Can You Call Back?

I’ve encountered a number of occasions when I’ve called a business to speak to someone only to be told they’re not available.  I’ve then been asked to “call back”.

My question is: what does this say about the business’ attitude towards others?  It may be a case of training staff to take a message, but even so, how many people, on being asked to call back, may simply put the phone down and not call back?  How much potential business could be lost because of this simple error?

The telephone is often someone’s first encounter with a business (assuming these days that businesses even provide contact numbers).  Their first impressions of that business, its staff and their professionalism will be influenced by that first contact.  There’s no more effective way of turning business away that being unprofessional on the phone.

One of the problems people tell me about is when they have to be transferred from one person to another (because the first person doesn’t have the expertise of authority, perhaps) and then have to repeat the same information over again to the latest responder.  This once happened to me three times in a single call.

The solution to telling a customer to “call back” is to ask the caller for their name, contact number and a brief description of why they’re calling and then to ensure that information is passed on to someone who will act  on it.  In some businesses, people are trained not only to do this, but also to check that the person to whom the information was passed did call back.  

What can we do to correct this?  Simply agree standards with our people and make sure they’re followed.  These can include: 
  • How to greet customers
  • Words and expressions to be used
  • When to pass the call to higher authority
  • Number of times the phone may ring before it must be answered
  • Tone of voice
  • How to pass information to colleagues when transferring a call
  • How to take a message 
Reputations can be made or broken on a single call.  How to ensure this doesn’t happen is one of the least difficult tasks a business faces.



I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My website  provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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Saturday, 18 January 2020

Luck Is...

How many times have we heard that someone was “lucky” to get a piece of business, or to achieve something?  I came across a useful formula for “luck” some time ago which made eminent sense to me:

Luck = Preparation + Opportunity

Having thought about how this applied to me, I felt that I could agree.  The main question is then, what should we prepare for?

To me, preparation in my business is thinking about possible training or consultancy scenarios and then thinking up and researching material to cover them.  It might also involve thinking about what I don’t want to happen to my business (e.g. new burdensome regulations) and then working out how to handle the “problem”.

I’ve found that, in the case of training scenarios, a lot of what I prepared some time back is suddenly in demand, and that often all I need to do is update material to have a realistic proposition in a short space of time for my potential client.  

Of course, all the preparation in the world is no good if the opportunity to use it doesn’t present itself, but that’s a risk one takes.  So much of life is spent preparing for what doesn’t happen, but experience and “keeping our ear to the ground” helps us to see what may or may not be important.

Taking things a step further, could “Business Continuity Plans” contribute to a business’ luck?  If a business can weather a crisis better than the competition, is this “luck” or “good planning that was given an opportunity”?

However we care to look at it, preparation has a great part to play in how things turn out for us.

I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My website  provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

  

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Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Tree Growers and Pit Diggers

On 31 December 2019, the BBC news website ran an article by Business Reporter Dearbail Jordan in which he quoted rotating chairman of Huawei Eric Xu as talking about “tree growers and pit diggers”.
 Xu defined “pit diggers” as "Those who prioritise short-term gains and pass problems on to their successors.”  “Tree growers”, however, are "[Those] who put long-term success ahead of short-term gains by continuously contributing value to the company.” In an ideal world, we want all our people to be “tree growers” and not “pit diggers”.  Our problem is that our performance management methodology often encourages the “pit digger” mentality as people are rated mainly on their annual performance (some even on their quarterly output).  If we’re seen to reward short-term thinking, or to penalise longer-term thinking, we shouldn’t be surprised if the “pit-digger” approach then prevails. Our general corporate culture is, sadly, skewed towards short-termism, in no small part due to the fact that we’re expected to produce a continuous stream of positive results for “senior management” or “shareholders”.  One wonders, however, if people ask themselves whether such positive streams can be kept going ad infinitum.  In the end, something will happen to knock the business sideways. Similarly, in government, the same short-termism prevails as democratic governments are usually elected for periods of five years or so.     In an ideal world, we have a mixture of short-and long-term goals.  We are rewarded when we take on problems and wrestle with them.  The lessons of struggle and failure are (as long as we learn from them) more valuable than continuous success and not taking any risk. What can we do as leaders to make sure that: a) we aren’t “pit diggers” ourselves and b) that we identify those in our organisation who are?  Answering in reverse order, ask colleagues: everyone knows who the person (or people are).  As for the first part of the question, we need to balance our activities between long-and short-term goals and to look at performance metrics that support us in measuring “tree growing” activities and results.  

I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My website  provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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Friday, 20 December 2019

Assume Makes an...

.. ass out of you and me is how the saying ends.  

Our lives are governed by assumptions.  We “assume” something will go a certain way (especially if we’ve planned it).  We “assume” that certain views are inherently “right” (or “wrong” depending on our cultural, social and educational background.  We “assume” we understand what the person means.

As Robert McCloskey (and, apparently, Alan Greenspan) said, “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant.”  We tend to think we know what another person means or wants, but this may not always be the case.

I recently attended a wedding reception during the Christmas season.  Luckily, we were the first to arrive at the venue to find that the tables had been decorated with a Christmas theme.  This wasn’t surprising; after all, it was the Christmas season.  What became clear, however, was that the message that the event was a wedding reception rather than a Christmas celebration either hadn’t been delivered or understood clearly.  It was no problem to remove the decorations from the tables, and we all had a laugh about the “crossed wires” that had caused it all.

It got me thinking, though.  How many times have we as managers either been guilty of assuming something was the case without clarifying it, or of assuming that our message to others was clear?  We’ve given an instruction to someone, only to find that when the task was finished, it “wasn’t what we wanted”.  

It all boils down to communication – one of the most important management skills and one on which I find I still need to improve.  One of the best ways to make sure it’s been “well received” is to get the other person to repeat what they understand the task to be.  Look at the restaurant staff who take your meal order.  At the end, they repeat it back to you to make sure everything has been correctly recorded.  

I constantly need to remind myself that what I say may not be what the other person understands.  I’ve learnt not to assume that everything will happen as people say it will, or as I expect it to, so making allowances for miscommunication or misunderstanding should be just as natural.

More work needed, as they say! 


I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My website  provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.


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Wednesday, 11 December 2019

How Easy Is Help?

Is your customer help department a “black hole”? If people send in a request or complaint, do they get an acknowledgement? Or is there just silence?  How do they know what’s going on?

How many of us have dealt with organisations (particularly online vendors)?  I’d imagine the answer is “Quite a few”.  Now how many of us have found that getting answers to questions or help with problems is easy with the same organisation?  I’d imagine that the answer to this would be “Not quite as many”.

Selling is about people – at both ends of the sale.  The customer wants something that does what it should do for the price they’re willing to pay.  If it fulfils this requirement, we have happy customers who will (we hope) buy more from us and keep us in business.  

We’re at the other end.  Our job is to convince the customer that what we have is what they want (and will pay for).  The way we react when things go wrong is critical.

I’ve encountered businesses who don’t have a contact number (let alone email) for when things go wrong.  Why would this be?  The cynical among us would say that it’s because things go wrong so often, that they’d spend all their time sorting out problems.  Others might suggest that it costs too much.  The final scenario is that there’s a place “somewhere” on their website where one can log a problem.

Not having any kind of facility for raising problems or complaints is likely to be bad news for business growth once the word gets out (which it will these days).   Most businesses have realised this and will usually have something (albeit not easy to find).

The next focus should be on how the issue is handled.  Ideally, if the only way to log an issue is somewhere on the business’ website, the customer needs to receive an acknowledgment that their issue has been noticed and will be followed up.  Often these come from a “Do Not Reply” or “No Reply” email address, which still keeps the customer at bay waiting for a response.  Whether (and when) they get one is still open.

Personally, I’m a fan of receiving a response from a named individual and there are businesses which do this well.  Equally, there are those that simply don’t seem to have any system.

Unless our product or service is one we can’t do without, we need to have a “problem desk” equipped to handle all issues that may arise.  We can’t stop problems happening, but we can control how we handle them.    


I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My website  provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Service Standards: A Double-Edged Sword

One of the increasingly common sights on company websites is their “Service Pledge” or “Service Standards” – a promise to customers to treat them in a particular way.

Given that customers expect to be treated “right”, this may go some way to maintaining satisfaction levels.  The key, though, if we don’t want our promise to turn against us, is to find out what customers want and then work out how (and if) we can deliver.

Getting this information isn’t easy.  For one thing, we don’t like hearing that we’re doing something wrong.  That’s easily addressed – we have to be prepared to “bite the bullet”.

More difficult is asking the “right” questions.  I’ve just been asked to complete a membership survey for a club and found myself puzzling over questions that weren’t particularly clear or didn’t actually address what I felt should be addressed.  They were asking either the “wrong questions” or not being specific about what members were being asked to answer.  For example, “What do you think about the décor?” may seem a good question, but what is the information they actually want?  Members were asked to give a score from 1-5 (1 being worst, 5 being best).  My “OK” (or 3) rating might be another member’s 5 (or 1).

Assuming we can obtain some useful information from our surveys, our next question is, “Can we address this and if so, how?”  Do we need to train people, buy new equipment, put signs up, for example?  Are our instructions for customers clear (remember, they may be to us)?  Can we afford the changes required both now and in the longer-term (training, after all, is a continuing expense)?

After we get useful information, we need to develop our standards with those who will be responsible for implementing and maintaining them (i.e. our people).  These are the ones who know what can and can’t be done, what the main areas for complaints (and praise) are, and what gets in customers’ way (e.g. slow management decision-making!).  If we don’t engage our staff, we can’t expect them to engage with processes “forced” on them.

Once expectations (customers, staff and our own) have been raised, can we meet them (or better still, exceed) them?  

High standards, if sustainable, are what separate our business from the others.  


I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My website  provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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Tuesday, 19 November 2019

What Are You Doing...

… to stay ahead of the competition?  

Business requires us to be competitive and offer some kind of “edge” if we want to survive.  For some, this may be easy if they’re a monopoly or a market leader and have no real close competition.  As the advance of technology (to give one example) has shown though, today’s stars may become tomorrow’s also-rans.

As leaders, our job is to be thinking 5-10 years ahead whilst letting our direct reports concentrate on running the day-to-day business.  This is easy in a large organisation, but in a small business where the owner is often Chief Executive Office, Head of Sales, Finance, Marketing, IT and HR, the time left for being Head of Planning is limited.

That said, the future’s important.  Asking these questions may help us decide what it’ll look like:
  • What do I/we do well compared to the competition?
  • What do the competition do well compared to me?
  • Where could I/we improve with minimal effort/cost?  
  • How can I do it?
  • What might/could the competition do to hurt my business?
  • What other opportunities might help my business?
  • What other events might hurt my business?
  • Where might new threats come from?
  • Who do I need to develop or hire to take my business to the next level?
  • What skills are becoming redundant?

One of the main goals of continually improving our businesses is to keep our customers aware of us as a leading player (and therefore willing to continue buying our product or service).  

A secondary goal is to keep the competition just slightly off-balance and always looking to catch up.  The changes don’t need to be huge (although people seem to expect quantum leaps in everything these days).  Many organisations see small changes over a period of time, with the odd “major breakthrough” at intervals.  

Apart from keeping the competition off balance, the process of asking all the questions above also helps us understand our business, markets and environment.  What better way to improve ourselves as business people?


I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My website  provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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