Sunday, 13 November 2011

White poppy for peace and respect

Forgive the off topic nature of this post, please folks - it's Remembrance Sunday and I'd like to share my reasons for wearing the white poppy rather than a red one.

My Quaker faith includes a testimony to peace and nonviolence. But the nature of Quakerism is that nothing is forbidden or prescribed, and Quakers have no creeds. We all have to make our own choices.

In the two World Wars, a lot of Quakers were conscientious objectors. Many served with the Friends' Ambulance Unit to help care for battlefield casualties. But one or two fought. Robert Lawrence Smith, a lifelong Quaker, explains in his book "A Quaker Book of Wisdom" that he chose to fight in the American army during the Second World War because he felt that a lasting peace could not be built until the "unspeakable evil" of Nazism was removed.

So I don't have to wear the white poppy because I happen to be a Quaker. It's a matter of choice.

And I don't agree with those who say that to wear the white poppy is disrespectful to the armed forces and to those who've died in the service of their country.

My white poppy shows that I wish to honour and respect the memory of all the servicemen and women, and civilians, worldwide, who've lost their lives in conflict - but that I deplore the fact that they had to do so.

And for the same reason, through the year, I wear a white dove badge on my coat.

Because "I will never know how men can see the wisdom in a war". - Chris de Burgh

Talk to me, I'm a customer!

Two shop-assistant incidents where a chance for a wow was missed.

First - in the gi-normous Waterstone's store in Piccadilly, London. I went up to the counter with a new book to buy. There were no other customers queuing. The staff behind the counter had been chatting as I approached. Perfectly OK. But as one of them served me they continued their conversation, only speaking occasional words to me.

I thought, "What do I have to do to make you pay attention to me? Wave a sign saying 'hello, I'm a customer'? Do a strip-tease in the middle of the shop?"

That's one of my pet hates - shop assistants who talk to each other and ignore their customers. If they draw the customer into their conversation then great, but if they ignore the customer then they're ignoring the people who ultimately pay their wages. Not a good move!

Then this morning, in Waitrose in Hexham, Matt and I were in the queue at the checkout behind a dear old gentleman on his own. He tried to engage the young female cashier in conversation. Nothing remotely creepy, just a friendly chat.

She wasn't having any of it. She hardly spoke a word to him while she served him. And she hardly spoke a word to us either.

For us - meh. We've got each other to talk to. But that gentleman might not see or speak to another human being for days on end. A friendly chat with a kind person at the checkout would make his week, never mind his day.

Contrast that with the staff in every branch of Pret a Manger I've ever visited, who always talk to their customers, greet them in a friendly way, ask "How are you today?" and sound like they really do care about the answer.

Customer service managers, please encourage your staff to talk to their customers!

Monday, 26 September 2011

East Coast take the biscuit for dreadful service

York-Carlisle East Coast train yesterday afternoon, in First Class.

Free tea, coffee and biscuits?

Yes but...

The two ladies pushing the tea trolley stopped just in front of me, where a black couple were sitting with three packets of biscuits on their table, presumably from earlier in the journey.

"You can't take those off the train," barked one of the trolley ladies. "I'll take them now."

And leaving all of us in the immediate vicinity speechless with horror, she scooped up the biscuits and trundled the trolley away.

That's the most appalling service I've ever seen.

The gentleman had paid for a First Class ticket. He'd paid, in essence, for those biscuits.

And once given to him, they were his to eat exactly when he liked - on or off the train. She had absolutely no right to take them away.

He did go and try to talk to her but she wouldn't listen to him.

I won't be travelling East Coast again if I can possibly help it. I'll stick to Virgin, or go by plane, in future.

UPDATE: East Coast say the team member has been "re-briefed on customer service and how to treat customers". Personally I'm not hugely impressed. I'll still avoid East Coast if I can.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Self-confidence vs arrogance: part 2

Jim Connolly has published a great article, "How to succeed in a world of failing small businesses".

And I think he's just exemplified the difference between self-confidence and arrogance.

Self-confidence says: "I'm good at what I do. That doesn't mean I think I know everything. There's always more I can learn, from people in all fields including my own. My mind is open to new ideas because that's the best way I can help others succeed."

Arrogance says: "I'm good at what I do, I know all I need to know, and I don't need anyone else telling me what to do or how to do it."

People love to feel wanted and appreciated for their expertise, and to share it. That's why self-confident people draw others to them, and arrogance pushes others away. Who wants to feel like someone else is looking down on them and making them feel like the Dirty Rascal instead of the King of the Castle?

Well not me for starters. That's why I steer clear of arrogant people.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Would you work with arrogant individuals?

A comment on LinkedIn from Michael Green led me to Jon Daniels' article: "Ten Traits of a Successful Salesman", subtitled "Ten Reasons Why I Am Successful in Sales".

A lot of the subject matter of Jon Daniels' post resonates, and the advice given is very valid (believe in yourself, see opportunities where others see problems, take action to achieve your goals, be enthusiastic, be prepared to swim against the stream).

But the "I'm the King of the Castle, look at me, aren't I wonderful" tone of the article, which I think the subtitle exemplifies, really rankled with me.

He says:
On my first date with my now wife she thought I was arrogant. She soon understood that it was not arrogance, it was self-confidence.
Hmm, it doesn't sound that way to me. Self-confidence and arrogance are two different things, and the tone of the article says to me "arrogance".

Self-confidence and self-belief draw others to you. Arrogance pushes them away.

The individuals I admire most in the business world are those successful folk who are conspicuously NOT arrogant. Michael Green himself is one. Emma Jones is another.

People who have achieved, and do achieve, a great deal in their business careers, but don't put potential contacts off working with them by bleating about how wonderful they are. Instead they use their talents and expertise to help others, through initiatives, and advice that is well-received - because it is delivered in a way that's confident but not arrogant.

To quote from one of my favourite childhood books, "Little Women" by Louisa M. Alcott:
"Conceit spoils the finest genius... [Talents] are always seen and felt in a person's manner and conversation, if modestly used; but it is not necessary to display them," said Mrs. March.
"Any more than it's proper to wear all your bonnets and gowns and ribbons at once, that folks may know you've got them," added Jo; and the lecture ended in a laugh.
While Jon Daniels' advice may be excellent, the tone of his article would make me think more than twice before working with him, or buying from him.

Do arrogant salespeople make you want to buy from them? Do arrogant people make you want to work with them? Or do they make you think "buzz off"?

Sunday, 3 July 2011

The world is shrinking

This is a bit off topic, but it's been something I've been thinking about for a while now.

I've heard for years that the world is shrinking, without realising at first-hand just how true this is.

When the only ways of transporting people or messages were powered by horses or the wind, fifty miles was a long way. If a friend or family member emigrated, voluntarily or involuntarily, it'd be very likely you'd never know what became of them. And trading with foreign countries was an expensive, long-drawn-out and very risky business.

Now, the wonders of electronic communication mean the world really has shrunk. Even if you can't talk to someone face to face (which I still believe is by far the best way to build and maintain a relationship, personal or business), you can keep in touch with them online until you see them again.

Every week I talk to my parents in Wales from my home in Cumbria, and see them as well, all without paying a penny, thanks to Skype video calls. ("It's like science fiction" says my 72-year-old dad.)

I can have an e-mail conversation with a friend who's just gone out to Bangkok as easily as I could before he left the UK.

A fellow accountant in the US e-mailed to ask me what it's like to set up your own business in your spare time, and how to charge your clients when you do that. I e-mailed him back to tell him. Without e-mail and the web he'd never have even known I exist.

And it's as easy for us at FreeAgent to sell our online accounting software service to overseas customers as to UK-based customers.

There's a world out there. And it's extremely exciting.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Good service from HM Revenue!

How often does anyone say "That was good service from HM Revenue"?

I'm going to - and please don't summon the men in white coats!

I'd been struggling to register my company, Home Business Accountant Ltd, for online filing for corporation tax. That's now compulsory. But every time I tried to register, I got an error message saying "either your details are incorrect or you're already registered".

I knew my details were correct. And I knew my company wasn't already registered.

Phoning the helpline left me listening to a series of recorded messages as I navigated a push-button phone system. And then at the end of them was another recorded message saying, "I'm sorry, we're really busy at the moment, we can't take your call, please ring back later".

They do have an e-mail helpline though. So I fired an e-mail off to them - and quite honestly wasn't holding my breath for an answer.

Then today, 2.24pm, in popped a message saying "Leave the trailing 0 off the start of your company registration number".

A sensible, practical solution... would it work? I tried it and... bingo!

Just a pity it took them nearly a week to answer my e-mail, but hey, they answered on a Saturday and solved my problem!

Thank you, HM Revenue!

And to anyone else who's trying to register for corporation tax online filing... leave the first 0 off your company registration number!!

Friday, 11 March 2011

The power of the little words

Happiness is infectious. If you make someone else happy, you'll make yourself happy too.

Mark Lee tells how an accountant made his/her client's day by writing to that client to thank them for being such a great client.

Everyone loves a pat on the back. Just think how bucked you felt the last time someone whose opinion you value wrote you a recommendation on LinkedIn.

But it doesn't have to take the form of even that many words to brighten someone's day.

Try the effect of these few little words:

"Thank you."
"Well done."
"Good luck."

Look into the person's eyes as you say it, if you can (obviously you can't do that if you're Tweeting them), and watch their whole face light up as they smile.

It'll brighten up your day.

Twitter is a great vehicle for that. Thank someone for RT'ing you. Wish someone good luck. I was in the hot seat for an accounting webchat at the end of January and I will admit to having had presenter's nerves that morning. A tweet arrived from my mentor to wish me luck, my confidence levels shot up and suddenly I felt "yes, I can do this". And no, I didn't forget to tweet back to thank him!

One of my other favourite techniques is, if I've received good service in a store, to ask to see the manager and pass on my thanks to the individual who served me. That not only brings huge smiles to both their faces, but I always walk out feeling very happy. And I know that some chains reward staff who are thanked by customers, so you could be earning them some vouchers too!

The little words can be so powerful!