Saturday, 13 October 2018

5 Tips for Effective Email Management

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from clients and others is about the amount of email they receive at work.  Email can come at any time and the expectation in our 24/7 connected world is that sending an email will result in an instantaneous reply. It’s far easier, cheaper and quicker to send an email and the same message can be copied to dozens of recipients with no additional effort on the part of the sender.  

Love it or hate it, email is part of our lives.  The problem is that many aren't taught how to handle it in the same way we’re taught to (say) organise our workspace, de-clutter a home or prioritise tasks.  Many tend to check email on getting into the office and to start responding immediately to each email one after the other.

I’m a person with friends and family, two companies I run, a business association of which I’m Chairman and I purchase goods regularly online.  As a result, I get emails from different sources for different reasons. I use Apple Mail as my email client as it allows me to see my personal, business and other email accounts at the same time.

Over the years, I’ve read a number of tips and tried different methods, so here’s what I’ve found useful:

1.    Separate “personal” and “corporate” email:
Some people who have all email sent to their business email address, with the result that they’re “drowning” in emails.  I have a personal email address which I give to a select few and use business email addresses for the two businesses I run.  I also have another email address for the business association mentioned above.  It doesn’t reduce the number of mails I receive, but it puts me in control by allowing me to decide which area of my life I want to prioritise.  Think of it like sorting the letters received in your home – you probably open the ones that look “interesting” first.

2.    Have an inbox folder for “The Boss”:
If you work for someone, they decide on your final performance rating and bonus.  Create an inbox titled “The Boss” and set up a rule in your email client that all email received from your manager should go directly there.  When you open your email client, you’ll see what’s come if from the boss and can decide immediately what to do with it.  An extra useful tip is to include your manager’s manager as well. You can then see at a glance any messages from “the boss’ boss” and warn yours of what’s there.  They’ll love you for “having their back”.

3.    Use the “4-Folder System”:
One tip I read suggested having 3 folders:
  • “Action” for messages that must be actioned NOW
  • “Read later” for those that you could read when you have quiet time (e.g. emails with complex instructions, updates on activities, etc)
  • “Maybe” for emails that you might read but don't think are vital.

I added “KIV” (Keep In View) for emails that I send out but want to keep track of (say because I need a response).  When I look at my inbox, I first sort emails into “Action”, “Read later”, “Maybe”.  The “Action items” then get handled first, followed by the rest.  The great thing is that this makes you prioritise your emails and also empties your inbox immediately.  The downside?  It needs disciplineto make it work.

4.    Create and use inboxes for specific projects:
Some suggest we use inboxes for specific projects.  As long as senders use the project name in the “Subject” field of their email (e.g. “Project Maximus”, “Project Aurora – Update”) you can instruct your email client to send email containing these words in the subject field direct to their designated inbox.

5.    Have an email address specifically for online purchases:
I’ve already mentioned this above as when vendors ask for your email address (usually so they can confirm your purchase and when it was sent).  The downside is that they may also send unwanted newsletters (unsubscribe – tip #6 above) or that someone my procure their customer database and send unsolicited email.  I can also close off this address any time I want and establish a new one.

The above describes setting up and personal organisation mostly, but I’ll follow up with five more tips on actually managing what has just been done. 

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 websiteprovides 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, 10 October 2018

10 Tips for Keeping Customers Happy

Businesses rely on happy customers.  Happy customers buy more and more often, introduce new customers and are more forgiving of mistakes.

Makes sense to keep them happy, but some manage it better than others.  Both personal experience, experience of observing others and anecdotal evidence suggest, however, that organisations that follow these 10 tips generally do better.

1.     Make it easy for them to deal with you:
We’re all busy people and don't want to follow complex procedures for simple things. Especially when these procedures seem designed more to protect the business from the customer.

2.     Be honest:
Some organisations seem to hide what customers might consider “important information”.  Whilst the motto “Let the buyer beware” applies to an extent, withholding information that “reasonable” people would consider vital to purchase decisions can land us in trouble.  Ask yourself, if you think someone’s withholding information, will you trust them?

3.     Be fair:
How would we feel if we were treated the way our organisation treats its customers?  If we don't like or agree with it, it’s probably time to change…

4.     Listen… 
… especially to complaints.  What customers say or tell us is free feedbackwhich could help improve service or spot future trends or problems. 

5.     Communicate:
When something happens, we may have to explain why and what we're doing about it.  Hiding from customers’ questions and hoping they’ll give up is a non-starter nowadays. The internet will ensure that any reluctance to respond to what are seen as genuine problems will be publicised and the organisation will have to work harder to repair the damage.  

6.     Keep promises:
When we say we’ll do something, we create an expectation.  If we can’t fulfil promises, we shouldn’t make them.  For example, if we say we’ll call back, we must call them back.

7.     Don’t take it personally:
As customers, we get unhappy when things go wrong and want to express our anger – usually at the salesperson in front of us.  On the “other side” (as the salesperson, Customer Service Officer, etc), we hate taking complaints.  We tend to forget that the customer’s anger is directed at the organisation, not at us (although it can seem like it at times!). 

8.     Fix it!
If the organisation has caused the problem, the best thing we can do is fix it – fast.  Then take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again (but remember tips #1-4 above…).

9.     Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”:
Thanks to improving technology, increasing legislation and a generally more complex array of products with different features, it’s becoming more difficult to “keep up”.  It’s better to say that we’ll find the answer (as long as this doesn’t happen too often) and is in line with tip #2 above.  Customers appreciate people who don't “shine them on”.

10.  Smile:
At the right time, it makes such a difference!

The one common factor of all the tips above is that none of them involves spending any money.  They’re all linked to attitudewhich can be the hardest thing to instil in people who deal with customers.  The cost to an organisation is time spent in training and observing. To further drive the right attitude, we can rewardthe behaviours that display it.

Customers have more choice and (thanks to the internet) a louder voice now.  Don't give them a reason to choose your competitor over you and tell the world why they’re doing it.


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 websiteprovides 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, 3 October 2018

So Much For “Silos”

In a previous blog I commented on the advantages and disadvantages of “silos”.  I recently had two experiences that show the downside.

The first was when I wanted an update on a product I had ordered from a “kickstarter” project.  I had emailed their “support@...” email address a number of times to ask what was going on, with no success.  I then tried looking them up on Facebook and found they had a page.  I immediately messaged them to ask why I hadn't received a reply to my enquiries to “support@...” I did get a message back (three days later) saying they were “shipping none stop” and that I should email “inquiries@...” instead to get a “faster” reply.

The second episode concerns a government department where I had to renew the validity of a document, but was told that the team that handled this particular document wasn’t in on the day I called and that I would have to come back two days later.

Dividing responsibilities amongst different departments, assigning different email addresses for different purposes and enquiries all make sense if it means that customers get services or responses in a timely manner.  However, when it results in degradation of service or delays because “the other team/department/person” isn’t available, things need to change.  It may be a simple case of changing shift patterns, cross-training or opening earlier/closing later.



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 websiteprovides 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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