Friday, March 18, 2011

How to lose potential business

I'm a great fan of good business practice, as we all are. I'm looking for good, efficient service. The sort offered by some of my clients like The Savoy (not that I'm taking all the credit)

With customers being a bit harder to come by these days, you'd think that companies would try a bit harder to get customers. Here are two examples of incredibly poor customer service that I've experienced in the past few days.

I was speaking recently at International Confex at Earls Court. It's the biggest UK show for event organisers and venues. There were hundreds of hotels, tourist boards and suppliers exhibiting. I visited fifty stands, explained that I was interested in their service or venue, since I may be able to recommend them to clients. In every case, my details were taken, either from my bar-coded badge, or my business card. In the two weeks since the event, I've received three emails from exhibitors. One was nicely personalised, referred to my interests, and suggested possible collaboration. The other two were sent impersonally and made no connection whatever. One was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. I also received one phone call. Just one. It was from a lovely lady called Jean, who represents a hotel in Dublin. She was superb, and I will definitely recommend her venue.

That was it. From fifty companies that I asked for information, in an environment where they had paid to meet potential clients, over ninety per cent failed to follow up.

Here's another example. I was asked earlier this week by a friend in the US for a recommendation of a PR company in China. I know a few, but not that well, so I decided to make some enquiries. Several people recommended the same company. I rang their London office with the query. I was put through to someone's voicemail, which included in the outgoing message "I will call you back within two hours". The next day, I still hadn't received a call, so I rang them again, and this time spoke to a real person.They said I'd have to ring a different office and gave me a number. It turned out to be Haymarket publishing, not their other office at all. I rang the company again. They gave me a different number, which turned out to be a fax machine. You can imagine my mood by now, since all I'm trying to do is to refer them to a friend who is looking to employ them. Finally, I managed to speak to someone in the other office, only to hear "We don't deal with that, you need to call our Singapore office". It was too late to call Singapore, so I rang the next morning (today as I type this). The phone diverted to a mobile number, and the person I spoke to told me "This is my personal mobile, you shouldn't be using this number". I apologised (even though it wasn't my fault). I've now given up on them.

So here's the thing. I've been in the position of a customer looking for a supplier. I'm offering paid work to companies. I've ended up so frustrated that I've given up. I would never dream of treating my customers and potential customers in that way. Nor would you, I'm sure.


Ged Carroll said...

Would it be helpful if I put you in touch with some of my Chinese-based colleagues?

Feel free to give me a call on 02074628900

willie said...

Alan, here's my 'conference organiser' response.

There are few things that I would profess to have done more than most people, but for better or worse, I have sat through more conference speeches than Julian Assange has had sleepless nights.

And it’s obvious to me: proper preparation prevents piss poor performance: it is undeniable. So how much planning should a good competent conference speaker do before he takes the stage and tries to enlighten, inform and engage an audience full of people who have paid a significant amount of cash to see him.

Should his secretary knock up a few slides that he reviews the day before? Should he wing his 30mins; unstructured and unclear on what he wants delegates to take away? Should he ramble on for half an hour in the hope that delegates are just happy to have someone, anyone, do a turn on the platform?

If the average one day conference fee is around £400, and he is one of eight speakers, does he think this approach is worth £50 from every delegate? More per minute than attending a premier league top-of-the-table clash? More than Tony Bennett at the 100 Club? So, if you, Mr Speaker, are to provide this level of value (as well as of course not make an *** of yourself), there are a few things you should think about (dare I say advice?) before you speak at a conference:

- Imagine the worst session and speaker you can remember and consider how pissed off you were. Try and be the exact opposite
- What you want to say, is likely to be different from what delegates want to hear, and the latter is much more important than the former
- Consider what is it that you want delegates to do back at their desk after they have heard your speech? Think: how can you make their company money; save time; save resource? How can you make their life easier? If you have taken up 30mins of their life, make sure it’s worth it for them
- Take some time to understand how people learn and change your presentation to reflect that (more on this in next weeks blog)
- Try and be interesting and personable
- Have a plan to get some delegate engagement during your session

In order to include all the above – and I concede it is undeniably different for everyone – I would suggest two full days preparation for a 30mins talk should be your target. It’s unlikely that you will be as entertaining or charismatic as Tony Bennett or as dynamic as the Man Utd front line, but at least you will have prepared and that may well go a long way to perfecting the 'performance'. Because remember: a good session is a performance, not a talk.

jan.willis said...

Hi Alan
Great post! I work with small businesses and in my experience what you've described is not at all uncommon. So many of them work hard to generate leads and then blow it by failing to follow up in a timely manner - or at all.

What they fail to appreciate is that the person on the receiving end of poor customer experience will tell all their Facebook friends and colleagues, they may even be so incensed they tweet and blog about it to the whole world (as in your case). You have been very kind not naming names but others won't be quite so charitable.

Meaning the business hasn't just lost that one potential customer but probably many others and done serious harm to their reputation.

The moral of this story? make sure you have a proper system in place for following up ALL leads and enquiries in a timely manner. Make it easy for people to contact you and if you do screw up (because let's face it, no system is totally fool-proof) apologise immediately. Moments of truth like this are a great opportunity to enhance your reputation if handled correctly.

Jan Willis
WOW Consulting