Sunday, 28 November 2010

Trust me, I'm a customer

Earlier this year I read a great book by Stephen M. R. Covey called "The Speed of Trust".

This deals mainly with how if you trust your employees, they will work smarter for you, relationships grow more quickly and the whole company becomes more productive.

I think this principle also applies to customers. If you trust your customers, they will be loyal and come back to buy from you again.

I always buy a lot of my Christmas presents from Lakeland. Their products are excellent quality and because they're based in Cumbria, I can get local food goodies from there too. Cumbria does have some lovely local foods (think Sharrow Bay sticky toffee pudding, or fudge and toffee from The Toffee Shop in Penrith) which make fantastic gifts for friends and family.

Yesterday morning I sat down to unpack my box of Lakeland Christmas gifts and found that two of them had become dented in transit, so couldn't be given as gifts.

They'd put a note in the box to explain what to do if you wanted a refund or exchange - ring their helpline.

The very helpful lady on the other end said she would send me replacements straight away and please to donate the damaged goods to "a charity or good cause of your choice".

Never mind "send them back so we can verify they're really damaged". Never mind "send them back and we'll give them to charity". She trusted that the goods really were damaged. She believed me when I told her so. And she trusted me to give them to charity rather than keep them.

Not only does that make the whole process faster, because I didn't have to post back the damaged goods and wait on two lots of posting for new ones, but that trust means I'll be even more likely to buy my Christmas presents from Lakeland again next year.

Of course there will always be the odd rotten apple in the barrel, the employee who abuses your trust by taking sick leave to take his cat to the vet (no joking, I knew someone who did that), or the customer who keeps a dented box of chocolates or rings up pretending his goods are damaged just to get a new set.

But I would imagine that the extra customer loyalty Lakeland earn by trusting their customers means their repeat sales to these customers vastly outweigh any losses caused by dishonest customers.

Paddi Lund's Tower of Trust model has as one of its building blocks "Demonstrate Trusting". Lakeland just did that beautifully.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Business class on the train?

Another musing from a Virgin Train.

During this busy holiday period, as the trains fill with travelling families enjoying their half-term break, I'm wondering if it's time for the train companies to go back to having three different classes and have a business class, like long-distance airlines do.

One or more carriages on long-distance trains would be designated business class coaches and it'd cost a premium to sit there, though not as much as first class.

These coaches would have a few soundproofed booths from which businesspeople could make calls on their mobile phones. The rest of the coach would be "quiet" with no use of mobile phones allowed, enabling businesspeople to work or read in peace.

And "quiet" would mean "quiet". So families, stag and hen parties, and other "noisy" groups wouldn't be allowed to sit in business class (unless the alternative was sitting in the corridor because the train was packed to the rafters - but business class would be "declassified" officially in these situations, as first class is).

At-seat tea and coffee would be served, but it would cost, not be free as it is in first class.

And the WiFi service would be cheaper than in standard class, but again, not free.

I wonder... will any train companies think of doing that? I would certainly pay extra to travel in those conditions.

And while they're at it, the train companies could put on a family coach too. Maybe even with space for children to play, and at-seat TVs.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Martin Leuw says "if PAYE ain't broke don't fix it"

I attended IRIS World 2010 in London yesterday and was introduced to Martin Leuw, CEO of IRIS.

Martin recently wrote a piece for The Independent, "The coalition needs to cut red-tape and fast", saying that both employment law and health and safety law need to be made simpler, because they put small businesses off hiring employees.

I couldn't agree more with that. I help look after HR at FreeAgent and while I can see why it's important to have a first aid box in the office and send several members of staff to learn first aid (my parents both owe their lives to trained first aiders), I can't see why it was necessary to buy a big shiny poster about health and safety law and Blu-Tack it up in the office. Surely it would have been enough, and far more environmentally friendly, to send round a link to the health and safety website for staff to read?

But the nub of Martin's piece, for me, is his concern about proposed plans to devolve the responsibility for running payroll to HM Revenue.

I run FreeAgent's payroll. It is my responsibility to make sure everyone takes home the right amount of money each month. I relish that. In my days in practice I saw just what a hash HM Revenue can make of things. I'm blessed if I want them getting their grubby little paws on running our payroll. And I'm sure I'm not the only payroll queen/king who feels like that.

Besides which, HM Revenue have enough to do, recovering all these billions of pounds in unpaid taxes that we keep hearing about.

So I agree with Martin on all counts. Simplify the system but don't mess with what already works! Please!

Friday, 24 September 2010

The plane or the train?

We have mixed ways of travelling between Edinburgh and London at FreeAgent. Some of the guys like to go by plane 'cos it's quicker. Others prefer the train so they can work on the journey.

I've tried both in the last couple of days. I flew to London (City Airport) yesterday evening, then after a seminar at the ICAEW this morning, I'm now on the train back home.

Why the different methods of travel? Simple. I'm going home to Carlisle which doesn't (yet?) have a passenger airport. That means I have to go home by train. And I needed to be in the office as long as possible yesterday, but be in London in time for dinner. That meant flying.

Unlike my sister (PR officer for the Vegan Society) I don't object to flying when needed. (Sorry Manda.) I prefer not to do it every week but quite happy to fly if it's the most practical way to travel for that particular journey.

Next time I go to London, I'll also be going by train, again because I'm travelling from Carlisle.

But if and when I travel between Edinburgh and London again, which method would I choose?

I have to say I think I'd plump for the plane.

I was only offline for just over an hour while the flight was airborne. I could quite happily work at the airport before the plane left (especially given I have my new company iPhone). And it meant spending less time squished into a tiny space with a bunch of random strangers :-) Also, never mind the on-train so-called quiet coach where you're not supposed to use mobiles - on the plane you physically can't use them. So writing articles and blog posts would be easier on the plane, in a quieter environment.

Perhaps it's also because there's no excitement about travelling by train any more now that I do it at least twice a week, but flying is still something of a novelty :-)

Price? Book early enough and the plane has it! My plane ticket cost me £40 (British Airways, Edinburgh to London City) and the single train ticket cost £58!

The plane's only downside is that take-off and landing do give me the blue spooks.

So all in all, definitely the plane wins!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

British Airways needs a policy on big umbrellas

I'm flying from Edinburgh to London on British Airways later today.

Only staying one night, and need to get across London reasonably swiftly when I arrive, so am aiming to travel as light as I can, i.e. take just a cabin bag, no hold luggage, so I don't have to wait at baggage reclaim.

It's pouring here in Edinburgh (least it looks like pouring to this soft Southern Sassanach).

No problem, I thought, I have a big umbrella.

But that umbrella's too big to fit in my cabin bag, so will I have to check it in, I wondered?

Nothing about umbrellas on BA's website. When I searched it on the word "umbrella", I got marketing dross about "lying under a palm-fringed umbrella". I don't think there are many of those in Edinburgh. Or London.

So I rang BA's customer contact line (having found the number at the bottom of a page that took me through various website searches before it would show me a phone number).

The lady at the other end was very polite BUT she couldn't answer my question.

She said that the airport staff would be able to tell me whether:
  • The umbrella would be classed as a "dangerous item", in which case I could carry it on board but would have to give it to the cabin crew to stow away during the flight, or
  • The umbrella would have to be checked in.
I'm not taking the risk of having to check it in and make myself late.

Nor am I taking the risk of potentially having to surrender my umbrella at the airport. It's one thing to lose my shampoo because it's in too large a bottle. It's another to have to dump a very nice strong umbrella.

So I'll just have to get wet.


UPDATE: I bought a cheap small umbrella to tuck in my cabin bag. Then saw a guy carrying a big umbrella on to the plane as hand luggage. Bother!

Monday, 28 June 2010

"The quiet coach is a myth"

Another instalment from the Not-So-Quiet-Coach on Virgin Trains.

Tonight's travel companions? A family with young children. Adults valiantly trying to keep them quiet, which is something.

Besuited man two rows ahead of me asked them to keep quiet in low but cross tones.

And then he complained to the train manager about it when she came to check the tickets. She said "We can't do anything about children in the quiet coach".

He gave her a hissed earful.

She turned away from him when it looked like he hadn't quite finished.

He grabbed his bag and stomped out of the coach.

Now I don't think that getting stroppy with the family was the approach I'd have taken. As an auntie of five I know that young children don't do quiet unless they're asleep.

But if the train manager can't / won't do anything, then as Relative Sanity quite rightly says, the quiet coach is a myth.

I don't think there's any point at all in forbidding customers to use mobile phones in here if Virgin aren't going to at least try and control noise created by other passengers.

Thankfully it doesn't cost extra to sit in here, which is something. But perhaps it should. I'd gladly pay a premium to sit in a genuinely quiet coach. And I do mean genuinely quiet. Not as it currently is.

Because it does make it very difficult to work if the environment is noisy.

Speed the day when I can afford to travel first class :-)

UPDATE: Another tweet contact has quite rightly pointed out that it can be awkward if a family's booked seats and have ended up in the quiet coach. Perhaps Virgin should add - or designate - a family coach.

UPDATE 2: I have contacted Virgin Trains customer service using the feedback form on their website, to give my feedback about the quiet coach issues I've encountered. Let's see what effect that has...

Friday, 25 June 2010

Sometimes it needs a real person

My browser of choice when I'm on my home PC is definitely Firefox.

I was using it to make a screencast a couple of weeks back and managed to lose not only the navigation bar but also the menu bar (the bit that says File, Edit, View, etc) which made life much harder.

All of a sudden navigation was well-nigh impossible and I was having to bite the bullet and use IE as my browser.

Then this afternoon I got fed up and pinged out a tweet asking if anyone knew how to fix the problem and bring back my menu bar.

Within seconds I got a reply from a friend with the answer - press Alt + F and the menu bar will temporarily reappear so that you can choose View, Menu Bar to turn it back on permanently.


Firstly, thanks Patrick.

But there's also a lesson to learn here for customer service.

No matter how good your knowledge base, manual, website or other support documentation is, there are times when you do just want to ask a "real person", a "quick question".

This is why a phone or live chat support helpline is so valuable. Even if the answer to your question is in the support documentation, sometimes you just don't have time to wade through and find it.

And this is also why push-button helplines are a pain. Struggling through all those menus trying to work out which option you need... Oh for "press 1 to speak to a real person".

Or, even better would be, "Press 1 to speak to a real, intelligent person".

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Car recovery and hire

Just back from a week's holiday in Northumberland.

Driving over there last Saturday, across a moorland road, a motorcyclist coming the other way lost control of his machine at a bend with nasty adverse camber, swerved over to the wrong side of the road - and went smack into the front of our car.

He ended up with two broken legs, a shattered pelvis, and a brand new motorbike in smithereens.

Thankfully on our side the only casualty was the car (written off). Matt and I were unhurt.

The RAC sent a local company, R S Johnson, to recover our car. The guy who turned up with the recovery truck was so friendly and helpful that we decided to also hire a car from them for the week of our holiday.

Again, great service. National car hire firms have bitten us with charges before now (like the one which charged us for a whole new bumper when all we did was knock off the rubber bumper protector). But these guys charged very reasonable fees and went out of their way to provide great service - including a lift to the station this morning to catch our train home.

In fact, all the local people we met were really helpful when they heard about our accident. The lady at the pub, the lady at the shop and at least one person in the street offered us lifts.

I love the North of England.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Why estate agents have a bad name

Commuting 3-4 days a week from Carlisle to Edinburgh is getting very tiring. I've decided to look for a little flat to rent in Edinburgh.

Arranged to view one this evening. I duly arrived. The agent duly arrived, and as we were climbing the stairs he mentioned that the existing tenant was still in (I knew that), and that he'd been advised we were coming - by e-mail.

Mmm, I thought, not a good idea, I hope the tenant received the e-mail.

Of course he hadn't. And of course he was cross that we'd effectively turned up unannounced. And of course he said it wasn't convenient for us to view the flat.

I wish I knew that poor guy's name so I could apologise to him. He looked like he'd just woken up when he answered the door. Perhaps he was a shift-worker catching up on his sleep.

But I'm seriously unimpressed with that agency. Here's why.
  • They should have phoned the tenant to ask if it was convenient for us to visit - not e-mailed him. E-mails can get lost in cyberspace and can take longer than 24 hours to pick up and read.
  • Without a reply to their e-mail, they should then have alerted me that they hadn't been able to reach the existing tenant, and asked me if I wanted to go round on the off-chance or leave it.
So I won't be going through that agency. Nice though the flat's location was, if that's an example of the service they provide to their tenants, I don't want to be one.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Virgin put their mistake right - bravo

During the Big January Freeze, Virgin Trains did jolly well in providing any train service at all here in the frozen North.

The trains did suffer delays, but cancellations were remarkably few in number.

The only problem happened on one day when the passenger door at the front of the train froze shut and wouldn't open to let me off at Haymarket.

By the time I'd made my way down the train to the next door, the driver had locked the doors - leaving me no choice but to stay on the train until Edinburgh Waverley.

Thankfully that's only 5 minutes away. But because my train was already a good hour late, rather than do the longer walk to the office from Waverley, I got a taxi.

I wrote to Virgin Trains explaining what had happened and asking them to reimburse my £8 taxi fare.

Then yesterday, a very polite and apologetic letter arrived in the post, with an £8 cheque attached.

Bravo Virgin, that's what I call good service.

A mistake was made but it was put right and due recompense made. You can't ask more than that.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Of grey suede boots, pigeons, and a very helpful hardware shop

Walking across Edinburgh to the office this morning, I noticed a pigeon had relieved itself on my boot.

That's a new-last-month pale grey suede boot which I'm rather proud of.

Cursing all pigeons, I headed for Home Hardware on Morningside Road, which is the sort of little hardware and household shop that sells everything you can think of and more besides.

This shop not only proved to stock suede brushes, but the gentleman behind the counter proceeded to kneel down and brush the pigeon dropping off my boot, leaving it pristine.

And he was surprised when I said I still wanted to buy the brush.

I figured it was the least I could do after receiving such excellent and thoughtful service.

And I'll also be forearmed if any more pigeons decide to aim for my boots.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

There's no seat in that space!

This blog is turning into "M's traveller's tales".

Here's Virgin Trains' latest caper.

Yesterday morning, at Carlisle station ready to travel to Edinburgh, I decided to book a seat in the quiet coach on the 16.57 coming home that evening.

Lady behind the counter: "The 18.16 doesn't have a quiet coach".
M: "No, I said the 16.57 not the 18.16".

She eventually (after several questions to her colleague, checking whether the train was a Virgin Pendolino or Virgin SuperVoyager, and getting stopped by the computer system several times) presented me with a reservation for seat 1 in coach A, the quiet coach.

As the train drew into Haymarket that evening, I was glad I'd reserved a seat. The train was packed.

BUT... when I got into coach A, I discovered that seat 1 was... the wheelchair space.

And unlike on buses, the wheelchair space on trains (well, Virgin Trains anyway) has no seat in it.

Given I'd booked the seat in person and the lady behind the counter could see I wasn't in a wheelchair, I'm bewildered as to why she gave me that space...

Thankfully there were one or two other seats free in the quiet coach so I sat in one of those. Otherwise I'd have been standing for an hour back to Carlisle.

Oh well, it makes a good story for the blog...

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Quiet? Who said quiet?

As my Twitter friend Katie Macdonald (a virtual assistant whose niche market is foodie businesses - great idea) says, I don't seem to have much luck with the "quiet" coach on Virgin Trains.

My train journey up to Edinburgh for my job with FreeAgent is part of my working day. So I always make a beeline for the quiet coach, on the basis that I should be able to work more easily there.

But "quiet" is often a misnomer.

In the last few months, I've encountered, in the quiet coach:
  • Crying babies
  • Shouting children
  • People talking loudly to each other
  • People talking loudly on mobile phones
  • People listening to their iPods so loudly I can hear it at the other end of the coach
Now a crying baby I can sympathise with, because if the baby is asleep then the best place for him/her is the quiet coach, so that there's more chance that he/she will stay asleep. And as an auntie of five, I know that babies don't sleep on demand. Also, on a busy train it's just not practical for mum or dad to take the baby out of the quiet coach until he/she goes to sleep.

I guess the same goes for a bored and fractious child. Unless there's a family carriage (which Virgin Trains don't seem to have), there's not really anywhere to take that child to let off steam.

But I'm sorry, if you want to have a loud conversation with your friends (whether they're on the train or at the other end of a mobile), don't sit in the quiet coach. And ditto if you want to play your iPod.

The signs on the trains say "please refrain from using mobile phones and creating unnecessary noise". But in 3 months of using the quiet coach, I've only once heard one of the train staff ask a passenger to turn his/her mobile off or put it on silent.

That's what I do. My mobiles stay firmly on silent when I'm in the quiet coach and if anyone rings, I scuttle out into the corridor.

Perhaps Virgin should put up more detailed guidelines for use of the quiet coach, or police it more zealously. Because noisy people just ruin the quiet coach for those of us who want - well, a bit of quiet.

Sorry folks, rant over :-)