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When things went wrong….

Coming about in relation to an outsourced service not meeting standards, the matter escalated when Customer Services proved ever more disjointed. I’d contemplated the situation with an initial conclusion, the situation was as clear as mud.

It wasn’t until (eventually) meeting an appropriate manager who could efficiently illustrate that combining knowledge with authority (in this case the right person for the job) wasting resources could be avoided: the ‘gatekeeper’ element can avoid being a `business beware’ element.

With a value proposition which, for me, isn’t easily understood (nor tripped lightly off the tongue), John Lewis’s proposition of being ‘never knowingly undersold’  had a lot of ground for discussion – they offer to match or beat price (high street outlets only) with, if I’m correct, the interesting bit for me, comparable service offerings (although I’m still not clear about how a service offering is measured).

Until I’d had this recent ‘debate’, revising management systems for queues (of any type) might have fleetingly got my attention but I’d never had any inclination to ever ponder management systems, subjecting management effectiveness, subjecting gatekeepers’ authority, subjecting a business value proposition to vulnerability…. I’d met it before (in big Corps) but hadn’t realised how this ‘system’ could, transferred to smaller businesses,  have a bigger impact.

Placed at points of convergence, a business gatekeeper is as easily able to undermine a business, or lose an opportunity to capitalise, as it is (when well managed) to be a value proposition and add value to a business.

Driven through a business environment, and checked by maintained commitment, commercial success  is the objective:  for the majority in business. Therefore, it stands to reason that any business support mechanisms ‘placed’ on the frontline need to be effective. The bigger the business the lesser the impact – hence, my vague contemplations on ‘gatekeeper’ not being a buzzword but, from sole trader through to large corporate, a business tool with challenges.

My current thinking remains that business:  small, medium or large, with vertical or lateral management and sole trader (including  co-ownership (John Lewis) cultures), ‘gatekeepers’   can leave businesses susceptible when ‘behaviours’ aren’t managed.  And, as we’re ALL gatekeepers to our customers, whatever forms the gatekeeper takes; performance is relevant if the business is to benefit.

Typically this returns to managing business to avoid having one that could have let, like a Trojan Horse,  a lot of unnoticed additional problems in.

TrojanHorse

Image credits: Joshin Yamada      Jackie Curry  Article credit: Copyright SUF 2014 ©

With inflation falling to the Bank of England’s 2% target for the first time in four years and numbers from Bank of England Credit Conditions Survey (2013 Q4)  continuing an upward trend, the notion of  ‘positive’ outlook has (for some) been reinforced.

Could it be that Default Rates on lending to small businesses  being reported as ‘fallen significantly in Q4’,  with  medium-sized companies unchanged and large PNFC’s falling over the quarter,  was due to re-structuring of existing facilities being part of the reclassification for 2012?  Alongside a statement which shows spreads on corporate lending falling in Q4, with  ‘significant reductions’ for medium-sized companies and large PNFCs, and a slight reduction for small businesses’ it’s worthy to  question an attribution to re-structures into the figures behind the numbers.

Depending on the questions asked and the answers given some results are ‘not directly comparable’ therefore perhaps some statements are too narrow?  Maybe an insightful survey is one that focuses on the survey participants’ business attitude, their plans and strategy in achieving that objective. Would that offer a stronger perspective and wider field of vision into the UK economy or would it  tell us what’s happening in business rather than what’s happened?

Image credit: Pilot Theatre  Article credit: Copyright SUF 2014 ©

Rising Froth: Assigning Value Discipline

Just as the economists are said to be puzzled by ONS statistics showing a rise in employment during recession, I’m hearing some business owners being equally puzzled as to why, with an increasing roll-call of practicing solicitors, it’s difficult to find one they’re comfortable with.

As essential facilitator as part of the buying /selling of businesses and property process, the proactive and efficient Solicitor seems to be as hit-and-miss experience as the intermediary who works with client best-interest at the forefront; or as my dear old Grandpapa would say they’re all froth, no beer. From the most recent comments, it would seem that some business Service markets (just to be clear, finance included) have elements in their sectors who are achieving disproportionate reward for the work they are perceived as undertaking. Nice work if you can get it? … Not from what I’m hearing, which makes it galling to have given out advice  to a business owner to seek out the right people to handle the job, those who add value before their business gains the value, and to hear of them being let down and ultimately ever more cautious. The good old days of the friendly Solicitor haven’t gone but, just as any business has to adjust, if the friendly Solicitor can’t be friendly as well as efficient, I’ll no doubt continue hearing of a disinclination by business owners to approach them as part of the business process.

Without going into the minutia of data, exploring whether a downturn in the economy has increase or decrease effect on a professions numbers, any business service sectors’ paying clients expect full market applicable knowledge to be offered: along with guidance, advice and information; whilst efficiently having as much of any pain of a sometimes painful process taken away – no matter what the economy. In a downturn the necessity of offering value for money is ever more prevalent.

Like the three bears’ porridge, there are those who’ve always striven in reacting their resources and experience to be just right – neither too hot nor too cold with their offerings -  unlike the hot temperamental ones who won’t move until fees are paid upfront, or would rather bicker with the other party’s solicitors (I’m considerably smarter than yow!), or the too cold who are so uncommunicative they may as well be in a freezer.

The notion of excellence widely varies: think about the last place someone told you to get a bite to eat – was it the same experience for you, as them?  Now think about following through a recommendation made for your business to use….. I once needed personal photo verification; I enquired with a Solicitor’s office and was told it wasn’t a problem if I was willing to wait around to nip-in a space between appointments. It was a painless couple of minutes; I was acknowledged, and signature assigned as such. I also left £20 lighter with no receipt and a sense of being ‘fleeced’, yet had I been told beforehand about the charge, and proffered a service receipt, I’d likely be admiring the efficiency.

A frequent request made to me is that of recommending a solicitor, to which I’m happy to oblige and put into the pot those who’ve worked well with my clients. With some clients/customers never having been through a process they’re about to embark on, not fully understanding that process is understandable. How a business Service, such as the Solicitor, can surpass their understanding; un-confuse its often alien language, inform of the relevance of qualification or regulation and explain the efficiency of implementing technology, should be considerations to go alongside any recommendations.

Working with a proactive team means benefits for all the businesses involved and ultimately all-around client/customer service level  – however, Customer Service is a value discipline to which only the customer can assign worth.

Image credit: mrrakt   Article credit: Copyright SUF 2012

Although annual inflation had dropped to its lowest  in 3 years at under 3%, Inflation and Productivity research by the Forum of Private Business’s (FPB)  showed, from those who took part in the referendum survey,  inflation was running at 6%-7%, with the most common increase in costs for SME’s being energy.  Also citing fuel and energy costs as a sector challenge, the construction industry saw a fractionally higher output in the Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index Mark/CIPS  with a figure that only just separated growth from contraction. Residential building activity showed as being the weakest performing sub-sector, with commercial activity also showing a drop.

According to Zoopla  figures for the last 12 months, the value of the average home in Britain has risen by £3,373:  the Independent shows the average home value as £226,369 and property prices in London continuing to rise.  Changes to mortgage lending regulations which intensify scrutiny of the borrower’s ability to pay have been put back from 2013 to 2014, whilst research, published by Cluttons, shows rents expected to rise significantly  over the next ten years in the Capital, will not be matched by a rise in supply -  therefore prices and rent will be pushed upwards in an area which already has the highest concentration of renters in the UK.

Not alone in wanting to see the evidence used for the postponement decision in the Revaluation of Business Rates, are The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS),  The British Retail Consortium (BRC)  also wants the scrapping of inflation based increases. As companies will have to pay rates based on property rents in 2008 (near peak evaluations) until 2018, they face hikes of over 2% next year. Every 5 years, the way bills are calculated is revised by the Valuation Office Agency, The Growth and Infrastructure Bill (clause 22)  includes postponing the next business revaluation until 2017.  With some commercial property values having fallen significantly since pre-recession any business rate fixture not relevant to current values could be hard hit – some potentially facing higher rates than rent.

Whilst there are now around 30 institutions taking part in BofE’s Funding for Lending which gives access to cheap funding; with the proviso of growing net lending into the economy Supply Chain Finance (SCF)  a cashflow scheme has been announced. Based on the strength of large companies i.e. Vodafone / Rolls-Royce / Tesco, credit ratings notifying suppliers’ banks that invoices have been cleared for payment, those suppliers can then arrange for their banks to give them 100% advance of the money they are scheduled to receive. With a £20bn target set,  the Government intends to implement this amongst its suppliers, starting with the Community Pharmacies in England and their 80 million monthly NHS prescription items.

Another month with no hanging-around in business, including for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) who, having some building work done,  spent £10,000 re-stuffing an old snake and taking care of their assets.

Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF 2012

 

The man ‘flu hasn’t receded: meaning I’ve been at the receiving end of quite a few ‘told you so!’ from those near and (increasingly) not-so-dear as they remind me of their fore warnings – ‘It’s colder out there than it looks’, ‘keeping those wet socks on won’t help’, ‘feed a cold, starve a flu… where does it say drink plenty of whisky?’

Basically I’m being told I’ve been a fool to mess about on the river  for an inclement day, when I’d  managed to get a boot full of water before I even set off… and now I’m paying the price twice; once with the persistent cold symptoms and once by the annoying ‘told you so’.

I haven’t had my flu jab… is more likely the reason.  It might be more opportune as a lone voice, or fighting conventional wisdom to be able crow ‘I told you so’ – like to those I’d warned to look at their metrics – but they’re managing to keep warm, out in the cold, fighting fires, trying to breathe new life into something that has clearly gone…. and I can’t be bothered  because I’m sick…. of people saying  ‘told you so!’

Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF 2012

 

I sometimes don’t know which hard surface to bang my head against first.  There’s the one waiting next to those who, being good at what they do in business adopt an attitude of possessing business acumen in specialist areas – to which they have no experience - or, the hard surface next to those businesses who follow these expansion of service offerings like a blinkered donkey following a carrot.  It can magnetise me with despair.

Whilst some advisors are well placed to give advice it doesn’t follow they have a specific expertise appropriate to a specific business type. And, the less confident a business is, the more likely they’re exposed to a non value-for-money service when there is a gap between what is needed and what is supplied.

So, when the small business owner tells me their “house is in order” because they’ve been told by their “professional” advisor – but they can’t understand what they’ve been told, or why they are doing what they are doing with their business – that’s got to be leaning towards a paradox?

Image credit: Brett Jordan  Article credit: Copyright SUF 2012

 

Shoot…!  ….Before  You’re Shot!

Killing Overload….

Clearly for us in the Northern hemisphere, after tilting its maximum towards the sun in June, the longest day  in terms of daylight hours has reached its peak for another year. Doubtless is the longest day for business owner-managers, with any changes occurring in different areas at the same time, over yet… and the potential is to increase the sense of everything changing at once. Add in the sense of peddling twice as fast to stay in the same place, it’s easy to lose direction, become staid and too busy for business… or life.

In the micro and small business operators world, in which time is eaten up quicker than cheese by a mouse in a creamery,  the daily challenges can be similar to that given out to the Radio 4 panellists on Just a Minute: managing 60 seconds without repetition, hesitation or deviation. For some, the constant erosion results in a belief that being older means automatically time will move quicker, for others, the misinterpretation that nothing remains the same.

 

At a time when even being a long established family run business, with a great local reputation, isn’t  sufficient to stand out against competing county and national chains, there is  constant opportunity in the basis of business and the trading of products and services, and it is difficult to think of any businesses exempt from the benefits of continually refining its own information or  practice  (even before the time of the internet). However, when information overload is added to the mix of ever prevalent disturbance  to attention, there can be a tipping point reached:  being both cause and symptom, new opportunities  and experiences  are suppressed.

In this modern life in which time and technology moves at a pace seemingly faster than the speed of light, where it’s possible to use a phone that is smart  enough to monitor heartbeat,  after running for a train to which tickets were bought over the internet, whilst making the decision whether to arrange a taxi  on arrival,  when mail  no longer necessitates a postie and face to face conversations  happen through a screen, time does indeed seem to go quicker than ever before: business environments and customer wants/needs  constantly changing - the changes in effect becoming a constant.

 

3 Shots to Crank Up Business’s Constant Changes ….and Kill the Overload

  1. Concentrate on areas that ensure the business is sustainedThe financials, the data, the spreadsheets – boring and time consuming but true
  2. Give attention to new customers as well as loyal customersIdentify a market, the customer in that market and what that customer wants – time consuming but true
  3. Apply digital technology: applications such as email, smartphones, websitesBe selective; use the silent mode on your mobile phone, prioritise emails and make your website relevant – time consuming but true.

 

There are hundreds of businesses competing and claiming to give professional service (what other type would they make claim to!?) Add to that corporates with their brand going before them (think coffee – think Starbucks, think health – think Boots, think cheap supermarket – think Asda), the independent has plenty to make their days seem very long.  For example, motorists are now enabled to buy car parts online, the website being the enabler; some are good sites, some are bad and some are in the middle. Some motorists choose to use a mechanic in a garage; some have good garage services, some bad and some are in the middle: as in all business types there are the good, the bad and the ugly. There’s no magic involved in the value-base for online customers altering their middleman from garage to website, and the mechanic’s customers’ preference of garage as intermediary, the customer has the choice of preference and a business has a choice in how it operates. Product or service, B2B or direct, all business types  have a commonality  in their customers wanting gold star service  -  it should be a norm but is often seen as an added bonus -  add to that something that gets their attention or makes an impression, the customer experience becomes enjoyable.

Offering great deals which pass savings on is what customers want: it’s what businesses purport along with having a great reputation, keeping the customer updated and so on.  But  business being enjoyable isn’t  easy for many sectors, us included; there are no giggles in high-end rate scales, pedantic red tape,  or corporate contemplation, but experiencing customer satisfaction by creating an agreeable experience for a customer  is drive in itself, no hesitation or deviation – for repetition.

 

Putting the customer first doesn’t always make us the most popular, arguing with a lender when we’re firmly on the side of customer makes for one of our less enjoyable challenges, but, a business that puts its customer first, by knowing they have understood what their customer wants, builds a confidence which reinforces their ability against the competition.

Seize the information overload, wring it dry, mangle it into submission and make it work for your business instead of against your business …..providing you’re not in a blackspot!

 

Image credits: hannanen710,  vinylsoda89,  zipckr netaholic13, Evil Erin  Article credit: Copyright SUF 2012.

 

 

Old news, the UK is in recession (again)  as the Office of National Statistics said Britain’s GDP fell 0.2% in the first quarter of 2012 after contracting by 0.3% at the end of 2011, forecasts were upset by a big fall in construction output and industrial output. Therefore, with a sinking-ship type economy, apt news via an Australian  whose planning on constructing Titanic II  in late 2013, with a maiden voyage planned for 2016.  With an interesting and pragmatic approach towards his new state of the art venture, that only a billionaire could have in such times: “of course it will sink if you put a hole in it”.

The Taxpayers stake in RBS could be sold off  before the next general election but, according to the Treasury, not before “it delivers value for money for the taxpayer”.

The Bank of England  are on the move with 1,000 FSA staff  from Canary Wharf to JP Morgan offices for their Prudential Regulatory Authority role.

The latest BoE Trend in Lending Report showed that bank lending to businesses was down 3% over the latest 12 months; with lending to small businesses down by approximately 10% in the latest 12 months.

Landlords and their tenants are being considered for a Government charter  which could include legal fire and safety standards, and rules governing anti-social behaviour, as part of a central standardised document of landlord/tenant responsibly.

Google UK is to launch its financial comparison service  for credit cards and savings accounts.

Diamond Jubilee Year sees the Queen’s speech 9 May  and will likely to focus on Bills passed and those in progress; the Finance Bill regarding tax measures and stamp duty, the Financial Services Bill which aims to overhaul financial regulation, the Localism Act  which introduced local authorities to being able to grant discounts on business rates (provided they are funded locally) and the Grocery Code Adjudicator Bill  that aims to monitor the grocery supply chain.

(Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF)

 

 

 


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