In the Times there was a moving interview with Kirsty Allsopp about her mother’s death. She said many interesting things but the one that resonated particularly with me was that some of her friends were too embarrassed when they met her to mention her mother’s death. She said that “its much better to say something than nothing, even if it’s the wrong thing. There are one or two people I’m very close to who have never said anything”
I now come into contact with the recently bereaved so regularly I am no longer embarrassed. However I do remember years ago when I met a recent acquaintance soon after her husband was killed in a car crash. I was paralysed by fear and awkwardness. How hard it must be to have to cope with other people’s discomfort around you on top of your own grief. We all need to stop being so British and get over it.
Here in Central Somerset there is one employment agency which is always represented at local networking events. The business is only 7 years old, and is still quite small (3 offices) but all the local SME’s must know about it. The owner is a dynamic and attractive young woman. She is incredibly upbeat.
There are very few of us with her unashamed ubiquity but it clearly works, she has invested her time, and that of her staff in getting out and about.
Not a bad model to follow.
I am reading a book with this title by Michael Heppell. Unlike so many business books it is actually quite good. It doesn’t pretend that all your problems will be solved and you will become a millionaire by following 3 simple steps.
It has some nice examples of great customer service, particularly within the hospitality industry, and reminds me that language is so important in how messages are given. The same information can be given in a way which either rubs customers up the wrong way, or alternatively makes them feel they are getting a great service. So plenty for me to learn there.
But the main benefit to me of reading the book is to refocus myself on great customer service. Simple things like making the client really welcome and sounding really upbeat when we answer the phone. When people come to me they are paying a fair amount of money, it is (or should be) a big deal to them to be making their Will/Lasting Power of Attorney/dealing with Probate and they deserve to be really well treated. It’s not (I hope) that I treated anyone badly, it’s just as you get busy you can become jaded and you lose your welcoming edge. So this week I have refocused on customer service, and when I do go that extra mile not only do the clients appreciate it, but it is also a much more enjoyable experience for me.
If you are taking professional advice you want your advisor to know what they are talking about, and explain and advise with authority and confidence. You don’t want someone who won’t give their opinion. I really get this in the context of medical advice, where its impossible to make an informed decision based on 6 minutes of the doctor’s time. They tend to default to “if it was my husband/wife I would…”
The same must be true for solicitors, but the fine line is that we must listen well to what our clients want to achieve, and not push them into a solution that works for us because it is easy for us or will earn us more money. There is also a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but I suspect that when people come over as arrogant they may actually be shielding their own lack of true understanding.
Not being tough enough to be in business has been a recurring theme of my blogs. I was telling my son about my latest unnecessary sleepless night and he told me that his boss – a Chinese woman who now has 400 employees – used to get stressed about problems, but does not any more. She has got over it.
I found this really helpful – as if it is permission not to let things get to me. I do notice that I can cope pretty well with the big mistakes – I had much more significant issues to deal with in my Corporate life, but they rarely got to me. It’s the little human things – in particular the complaining individuals – which have the ability to tweak my anxiety buttons. But I don’t give up hope, soon I expect they will be as water off a ducks back!
Some lovely clients just invited me out to lunch after a lengthy session discussing their Wills. It was so nice. We got to know each other, I hope we were all being ourselves, not playing the roles (me the solicitor, them the clients) which would have been far less enjoyable all round. I certainly felt at ease.
So thank you very much, if you are reading this. It was a lovely gesture and I appreciated it a lot and shall remember to do the same for people who advise me.
When I go out to see clients I take their instructions on my laptop. Almost every time I have a moment when I think I have lost all the data. So far it hasn’t actually happened but as I don’t really understand how it all works, I can’t really trust it.
I have just seen an elderly client, making a will that will certainly be controversial. The type we solicitors all dread. But at least (after that moment of panic) I haven’t lost the instructions she gave me.
I saw a friend recently who said she asked me 3 years ago why I was leaving my secure job to set up a business. I apparently said that I was getting to the age where I just couldn’t keep quiet. I would be in Board meetings where no-one wanted to hear my opinion, but I would give it anyway. I was sure I knew better. It was time to go.
In common with so many women, I sat for years quietly in meetings not saying a great deal, thinking it wasn’t my place to speak up. When eventually I found my voice it’s hardly surprising no-one particularly wanted to hear it.
My friend is a senior consultant psychiatrist, highly intelligent. To my amazement she said she does the same. In the NHS the men are almost always the ones to speak up and the older women who do the same are in danger of being classified as witches.
I do think we women of a certain age must take some of the blame for this. So to any younger women reading this: don’t wait to be asked for your opinion, because it may never happen.
We have just come back from our son’s wedding in Korea. It was completely wonderful. Rob and his wife Minhye now “just” have to complete the painful and expensive exercise of getting a visa.
I was away from the office for 2 weeks, and things went brilliantly in my absence. The team was magnificent and – a first – new work came in while I was away. And it wasn’t all from personal contacts of one sort or another, the sign that the business is developing a life of its own.
I really thought that the time had come when I could start taking more time off but needless to say since returning, it has been full on and I have been working this morning (Sunday).
Perhaps I am hyper sensitive, but when you are in a small group, and there is someone who looks bored and doesn’t engage in the conversation, it casts a shadow over the whole group. I imagine the people who do this have no idea of the impact they are having, but what they seem to be saying to me is “I am not interested in these people or this conversation. It’s too dull for me to be bothered to engage”.
In fact all sorts of other things may be going on for them, but just realising that they have the potential to kybosh the group dynamic has been a useful realisation for me, and in future I will either try to engage them (a bit) but failing that just ignore them.
One of the problems of working for yourself is there is no manager telling you to do the things you don’t like doing, or praising you for doing things well.
I was talking to a chap who said he tried to start a business, but just didn’t get round to doing the things he was uncomfortable with. It occurred to me I have rarely been managed. I was employed for 30 odd years, had many bosses but with one exception no-one really interfered with what I did, or praised me when I did things well. So although I had managers they didn’t really manage me. Perhaps it’s not surprising that in the end I decided to quit.
I went to a fund raising event and was sitting on the same table as the auctioneer. He was clearly going to be up against it. A disinterested audience who frankly weren’t keen on spending their money and would rather be talking to each other than listening to him. I asked him before it started how he would cope and he said that he would bully everyone into listening, and frankly he didn’t really care.
What he meant was he didn’t care if he wasn’t liked, or how the audience reacted. He was great, he insisted on silence, got pretty stroppy when the bids were disappointing, and generally didn’t try to be nice. Well done!
Most businesses get to a point when the founder hasn’t got time to be actively involved with all the clients. The clients may be disappointed, and the founder will be pulled in various directions: wanting to do the job they understand and excel at, whilst knowing in their hearts that to build the business they have to focus on marketing and strategic direction rather than seeing clients. And they certainly should not be doing the photocopying (which I am currently doing, multi-tasking as I write this)
I am at the point where I can’t meet all the clients, and was talking to Toby, who has an amazing business training race horses. He (being of a younger generation) said that it’s like going to the pub and being served by someone other than the Landlord. You are a bit disappointed. But if the person who serves you engages with you and you have a good chat, you are won round.
An example that would never have occurred to me, but a great one!
I was explaining to Peter Rosenvinge of Variety Club that a lot of people will write Wills but don’t do probate. They are often well informed and know their stuff. But there is no substitute for watching how the Will plays out after the person has died to know if it causes family ructions, anxiety and misunderstanding (often the case with complex trusts) and if the tax planning is effective. And most important that their partner and children are left with enough to live on.
Peter said that it’s like writing a recipe but not cooking the meal, which I thought was a great way of describing it. You will never be sure it works.
I was having dinner with some friends, telling them about the changes that are happening in the business, that it is all quite unsettling. Lindsay asked if I planned to fail or succeed – softening it by saying they didn’t mind either way and would still be my friends if I planned to fail.
I was a bit taken aback, but actually it’s a really helpful steer. If I plan for failure (as in “we could try this but it probably won’t work”) we will fail. Without being unrealistic, we must assess the risks, then plan for success!