Success In Business: How To Improve Your Customer Relations

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Never Underestimate the Value of a Happy Customer.

The relationship between the business/service provider and the consumer/customer is obviously a crucial one, and one can find a whole rake of material on the subject online. One of the most frequently used clich├ęs relating to customer service is, 'the customer is always right'. I'm sure that line is familiar to all of you, and that very fact in and of itself highlights just how important a feature of our society the transaction between business and the customer has become. Most of us who have worked in a customer-facing role have had to abide by this rule no matter what. Of course sometimes the customer is not right but it is most often better from a financial and business point of view to pretend that they are.

The relationship between businesses and their respective customers can differ rather significantly depending on a number of factors such as the type of industry or the service being provided for example. Hence the level of customer care can also vary extensively depending on these factors and others. I think hotels are always a good example to use when looking at the differentiation in levels of customer service as it is easy to decipher the processes involved. A two-star hotel will obviously not be able to offer the high level of personal care and attention that The Ritz might afford it's guests for instance. 

There are also differences in the expectation of the customers, for example one's expectations in terms of the overall experience of buying a bunch of bananas at a supermarket will vary greatly from one's expectations of buying an expensive piece of jewellery from a high-end jeweller's. One of the key factors in helping many businesses to streamline and in cases, to modify their customer service approach is due to the increased use of product engagement software and other such analytical tools which help to not only collect data, but interpret it in a way which will help your business and your customer relations.

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Anyone who has a business website of any kind will know the importance of understanding the analytics of a business, as well as how such data can help to guide the business in the right direction and to stay one step ahead of the customer so to speak. That is to say, with good foresight and a correct interpretation of such data one can make better informed decisions about the business in general, and with regards to customer service and 'success' in particular.

The aim of the business in terms of customer service is to ensure they are happy and successful in their experience with your business in order to (hopefully) have the customer return for future transactions. Another by product of good quality customer service is that to this day, some of the best advertising is done via word of mouth, and for small businesses or for start up companies this really can be the difference between success and failure. Therefore by keeping your customers happy, you will increase the chances of your business being referred and recommended to others. It is due to such reasons as this that the value of customer service and 'customer success' is so integral to the success of any business, no matter the scale.

Customer Success: What is it?

Customer success is a term used to describe the process of a customer encountering a business with a particular desired outcome in mind, who through interactions with your company, (either directly or through a service or product), achieve the desired outcome. In simple terms, when a customer walks out of your business with a smile and a spring in their step = 'customer success'.

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How Can You Determine How Happy Your Customers Are?

By utilising product engagement software one can easily gather data on various aspects of your customer's experience, including how they interact with and use your service/product. By analysing the data you will be able to see where your business has room for improvement in offering the customers the overall experience and interaction they desire. One such platform which provides this service is UserIQ.

If you decide to implement this software into your business you will soon start to gain a greater insight into the full customer journey that your customers' experience. In the long term this data can be used in the decision making processes relevant to improving and maintaining healthy customer relations, and enabling your business to go from strength to strength due to the fact that the data is also presented in a contextual way, not just a random list of figures and statistics.

If you have experience of implementing product engagement software in your business it would be interesting to hear how the use of it affected your business.


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E is for Entrepreneur

An Anecdote From My Early Experiences As An 'Entrepreneur'

Hey guys thought I'd post a personal tale from one of my first experiences in business. There were many lessons I learned about business and about life in general during these formative years. One of the early lessons I learned in a kind of abstract way revolved around money, of course, what else right? But more specifically the spending and investment of money. I had to be resourceful, frugal, and in cases I had to be shrewd. One could say that rather than a lesson learned it was a situation I was in whether I liked it or not. Regardless, I feel that by starting a capitalistic enterprise with little initial capital to invest to begin with, was both ironic and a great learning curve for me.

This particular business venture began when I was 19 years of age. I was a few months away from going to study at university, so with the few months of Summer ahead of me and with a few hundred pounds in my pocket I decided to launch my first real entrepreneurial venture. That is to say, I bought an old jalopy of van, not a small one, but a big White LDV Convoy which to her eternal credit and despite being beat up and battered, somehow had the unerring knack of managing to overcome all kinds of physical, automotive and mechanical limitations in order to get us to our various job sites and destinations.

One such 'limitation' which literally clangs to mind was a time when a friend of mine who was working for me and I were slowly making our way through a busy town centre via a one way system which was near grid locked. The general 'Mission Statement/Business Plan' was that I would use this van to carry tools and materials so that we could tout for work in landscape gardening, patios, fascias, driveways, pebble-dashing, guttering and such like. I also knew that by getting a large van, it might come in handy on days where I might not have any such jobs lined up as I could use it as a means to generate income in another way.

'One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Treasure'

Initially I though I might do some removal jobs, but in the end I decided to go into the Scrap Metal business on the days where I had no other work. I would strike up negotiations and build relationships with business owners, mechanics, car repair shops, hardware store owners, plumbers merchants and farmer's. I would negotiate a flat rate price that I would pay to them each week in return for all of their scrap metal, there was risk involved as there was no guarantee that there would be any scrap to collect each week but that if there was then it was ours. Fortunately we never suffered in terms of paying more to the business owner than the value of the scrap was worth. (Importance of dealing in a commodity which you can buy and sell at profit and of which there is a steady supply and constant demand; another lesson for another day).

It is a simple notion, but like anything it was hard graft, physically, and mentally, working 12-15 hours a day everyday, constantly trying to figure where the next pound was going to come from. Being a huge fan of Only Fool's and Horses, I loved that sense of wheeling and dealing , ducking and diving, living deal to deal, each day throwing up new conundrums and obstacles and challenges, talking to different people from all walks of life. Ultimately it's an experience which makes you feel really alive. Here I learned the importance of a businesses ability to diversify in order to create various streams of income (another topic for another day). So to get back on point;

We were gently sauntering our way down the high street, stopping and starting peacefully enough, but then suddenly as we set off again we heard an almighty BANG! It sounded like the sump had blown, or like a shotgun blast. My friend who was driving, and who was quite a rough and tough, altogether confident bloke turned his head sharply and looked at me with an expression of bewilderment. We then both jumped (or rather we bolted nearly head first through the windows, such was our panic and haste) out of the van to investigate further. There was nothing at all obvious at first glance as I walked down the side of the vehicle and the sense of relief was just starting to wash over me. At that moment I looked up and could see a driver in one of the cars behind us pointing and gesticulating towards the van.

As I got to the rear I crouched down and now suddenly I could see what the man was pointing at. The whole of the exhaust pipe was lying on the tarmac completely detached from “Old Bessie”, (as our sturdy vessel had affectionately come to be known). My friend and I had to laugh in nervous disbelief, if not we might have cried. We quickly deliberated our options.

Bear in mind it was the middle of the day during the height of Summer, with hundreds of people around. We had already slowed everyone's progress enough we felt, so we picked up an end of the exhaust each, and after I had swung open the van's rear doors we then proceeded to 'leg and a wing' it into the back of the van. We did this because it just so happened that we were actually carrying a load of scrap that day so we added it to our collection to make the best of a bad situation (never forget the importance of cash flow generation).

All in all it really was rather an embarrassing and humbling experience, being watched by hundreds of onlookers as you pick up your own exhaust from off the ground and launch it into the rear. LDV Convoys are fitted with a fairly large exhaust too. Back to the topic at hand.

Bessie had cost me around 70% of my capital at that time, which to me, was a risk. I could have just opted to go back to working as a labourer on a building site labouring for £40 a day which I had done up until that point. However, I thought it was a good opportunity to at least take a chance and see if I could actually run a profitable venture. It is worth bearing in mind that from the onset the aim of this enterprise was not world domination but simply to last the summer, during which time I was hopeful that I could earn enough revenue to be able to pay my employees a fair wage and to help me out when at uni with the day to day expenses associated with living as a student.

I knew that if everything went totally haywire then at worst I was going to lose a few hundred pounds and within a few months I'd be back at uni and into the swing of studying and living that life. Looking back this was definitely a nice mental buffer for me to have and one which I recognise is not afforded to most entrepreneurs who start up in business. For most start ups, failure simply is not an option. But by starting a small business with a relatively small associated costs, I was also minimising my financial risks.

I think it should be noted that despite only paying out a few hundred pounds for the van and a bit extra for insurance and necessities, that van was the initial source of all of our income, we were able to make thousands of pounds of clear profit using an old jalopy and borrowed tools. It taught me that you do not necessarily have to spend a fortune or make an overly generous outlay on a business venture in order for it to be successful. By keeping one's start-up costs to a minimum, one can sooner be in a position whereby the business is operating profitably.

Of course this is one little anecdote of a young man's fun Summer venture but it taught me that in order to make money, don't waste it, focus on actually making it. It is amazing how many businesses go bust within a year, whose main issues stem from the 'misappropriation of company capital'. Don't make that mistake, learn from the mistakes of others who have had to learn this lesson of business the hard way.

N.B. The exhaust incident proved to be the straw that broke the donkey's back. Unfortunately later that day due to the absolutely horrific screaming noise the van was now making, with ringing in our ears we decided that the time had come to retire 'Old Bessie' for good.

*Photos all sourced from Pexels

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2 Essentials For Anyone Seeking Financial Stability Or Independence

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Avoid Credit Cards

I know this might seem a little 'Pie in the Sky'-esque for many people who might feel that a credit card is their financial “buffer” in some ways. For the millions of people who struggle to make ends meet each week, and for whom the financial struggle is an ever present and corrosive feature, a credit card can seem like one's only option.

It can be such a soul destroying experience, to feel like you are constantly at risk of losing your home due to increasing rent or mortgage rates, or to struggle to make your car payments, or to even afford fuel to put in the thing. To be in a situation such as this and then you find out the boiler has broken, and suddenly, a credit card can seem like a God send. Don't take just my word for it though, have a listen to one of the wealthiest self made billionaires in the world (Warren Buffet) who makes his stance on credit cards most clear; 'just forget about them'. The APR levels are not only a disgrace but frankly it should be illegal to charge such high interest rates. Remember over borrowing was the main cause of the huge financial recession which struck in 2008. If you have avoided Credit Cards till now, then please, just maintain that trajectory!

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However, if you already do have debts from credit cards, it might be worth considering looking into a debt management plan, which can at the least help with the stresses of managing your debts, especially if you have several debts with different companies. There are many sites with free advice pertaining to setting up a debt management plan and with all kinds of related advice depending on your own particular circumstance.

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Further to this point I would actually like to say that there are some debt management companies which are actually run as charities and hence do not charge a commission for their services unlike private companies. StepChange is one such charity and every penny you pay will go towards paying off the debt, you can find out all sorts about plans and the companies on their website, so be sure to check it out.

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Generate Passive Income Streams

I was reading a best selling book written by entrepreneur Robert Kiyosaki around a decade ago when I first came across the term, 'Passive Income'. This was just one of a number of lessons I learned from reading Kiyosaki, more of  which I shall discuss in future posts. After reading this first book of his I decided to do a bit of background research into the author and his life. I discovered he had been a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War and after returning home to the US after that conflict he had decided to apply himself in an entrepreneurial way in order to secure his financial future.

His story is not one of growing up in a rich family with a private education and a silver spoon, but a tale of someone who worked extremely hard to get to where they are today despite suffering setbacks and failures along the way; (which in my opinion always make for the best stories). He worked his way to a position whereby he could retire in his early 40s and now lives off the various passive streams of income which his various business interests generate. He apparently owns gold and silver mines as well as hundred of properties around the world all of which generate him a huge passive income.  

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In order to maintain a degree of financial stability and independence I believe the concept of passive income can be very useful to be familiar with regardless of your current financial status. If you can generate streams of income through investing in businesses which generate cash flow without your constant presence being required means you can utilise that free time to come up with even more ways of generating income/or spending quality time with family or whatever your goal actually is.

Property as an Example of Passive Income:

There's always money in bricks and mortar: In terms of Passive Income generation, the example of buying a property to lease/let or rent out, is one of investing in a business venture which should generate passive income. The idea of buying an apartment in order to let it, is that as the owner of the building you automatically are entitled to income in the form of rent, and from your end of the bargain, all you have to do is to collect each week or at the end of the month. So without your attention nor presence being required you are actually generating income. It seems a simple notion on the face of it, but any business venture is fraught with dangers and unforeseen difficulties of course, but in simple terms buying to let is a good example to use when discussing passive income.

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Please stay tuned for more business related posts as well as some tips for those wishing to generate income or those who simply wish to alleviate some of the financially related stresses of day to day life.

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Aftershave: The Three Essentials

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Aftershave is the final and vital component to any shave which can make a huge difference to how your skin feels. One of the ways in which it improves one's overall shaving experience is that it helps to protect the skin from shaving rash and redness which is always uncomfortable and it can be quite unsightly. When you’re looking to buy a new aftershave, there are some essential properties that it must have in order to be worth the investment. These three essentials ensure your product fulfills its purpose and you get the most out of it.

The English Shaving Company, are experts in all things shaving, and have put together this simple guide. Please remember to ensure that, whenever you buy an aftershave, you consider these three things and you’ll have a pleasant shaving experience.

1. Disinfectant

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The disinfecting properties of aftershave was actually one of the main reasons why aftershave as we now know it, eventually came to be. Today we might think of the most important aspect of an aftershave as being the scent but it wasn't always the case. Back when shaving was done solely in barber shops with straight razors and hot towels, the barber would splash strong alcohol onto the face after a shave in order to disinfect the skin. The alcohol would kill any bacteria.

This is great for a lot of reasons. If you nick yourself while shaving, aftershave will prevent these cuts from becoming infected. However, shaving also damages your skin in a lot of unseen ways: the razor blade doesn’t just remove the hairs from your face, but also the first layer of your skin. It catches on any bumps in your pores, causing soreness. This damage to your skin can also result in infection, or at least redness, itchiness and rashes. Another tip would be to remember to disinfect your razor blade!

Nowadays aftershave often doesn’t contain alcohol at all as some people with certain skin conditions and weaknesses may suffer. Thankfully for people with such delicate skin there are other methods of disinfecting your skin post-shave that are much better for both you and the environment. Whatever kind of aftershave you opt for, it’s essential that it disinfects and cleans your skin in order to maximize your comfort after shaving.

2. Soothing

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The second essential quality of an aftershave is that it has soothing effects. As mentioned, shaving isn’t a pleasant experience for your skin - even when you’ve used high quality pre-shave products and shaving cream. The abrasive effects can irritate your face and can also lead to a drying out of the shaved area of skin. This means that by utilising some form of soothing agent, you will be able to prevent or at least reduce the stinging, and by moisturising the skin it will not dry out meaning your skin will not feel itchy post shave.

If you have sensitive skin, it’s even more important that you find a quality aftershave that will help you recover after a shave. There are lots of products available that have minimal ingredients in order to prevent further aggravation while still soothing.

3. Fragrance

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The third component of an aftershave and by no means the least important, is to seek out an aftershave which has an appealing fragrance, one which compliments your own natural odour well, and a scent which doesn't overwhelm people in your company! This will always be a subjective personal preference (unless you have a partner who likes to choose for you :P) There are so many scents to choose from be sure to try different one's from the oaky to the musky to the fruity to the spicy, find a scent which works for you. Sandalwood is a particularly common scent and in my view is a traditionally masculine fragrance. You might prefer something light and warm, such as Bergamot, or a perhaps a refreshing citrus scent might be more appealing to you..

You’ll also want to consider how strong and long-lasting you want the scent to be. A splash of aftershave has a much more intense smell that will remain through most of the day while an aftershave lotion will be more toned-down and the aroma shall fade quicker as a result. It’s up to you which you would prefer! It's worth thinking about, one's scent needs will differ depending on the occasion, for instance if you are heading out for a night of food and drink then you might want a stronger scent to last, but if you are going for a job interview it might be best to opt for a more toned down scent.

If you consider these three essentials every time you buy an aftershave, you’ll ensure that you end up with a high quality product that’s good for your skin and leaves you feeling fresh and contributing to an enjoyable shaving experience.

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3 Factors To Consider When You're Starting A Business

If you are in the process of planning or even thinking about starting your own business, the internet can be both an ally and a foe. Everywhere you look you can find all kinds of experts talking about how to run an amazingly successful company and how if you follow their blueprint to success, you too will be able to achieve untold wealth and fortune. The fact is that each person's path to success will be very personal to them although there are some ever present themes which should be considered by any and everyone thinking of fulfilling their entrepreneurial ambitions.

The internet is home to a plethora of dedicated websites, blogging sites and suchlike all committed to advising Joe Public how they too can become a success in business. There are sites which are great resources and tools which contain really brilliant and insightful tips and guidance. However, there are also sites and businesses which offer advice in order to sell an item, product or service, so just be careful when deciding which of these are actually beneficial to you and whose advice seems to be genuine and relevant. 

This process of deciphering the good advice from the bad can be difficult, but there are simple ways of finding out which websites have good reviews by searching online for reviews of the company in question. There is a plethora of good and free advice from a range of sources and it would be advisory for any budding business minded people to take their time and to carry out thorough research. Again I reiterate the point, do not pay for advice, there are so many free sources of advice. 

'Fail to prepare, prepare to fail'.

A good place to start is by creating a detailed plan, and contingency plans for when things inevitably do not go according to the original script. This is a crucial stage in the setting up phase of a business. Things to consider when in the planning stage could be any opportunities or niches which you have identified as a potential opening for your business to operate within. You should detail step by step plans daily, monthly and yearly, by setting clearly defined and achievable goals which will help you to keep focused on the task at hand. In my view it is important to have the big dreams and the big aspirations too, but if this is all you have, you will inevitably lose heart over time if you suffer any setbacks. You have to have measurable and attainable goals, as each goal attained will re-enthuse you and help to maintain discipline and commitment in your quest to succeed in the business sphere.

You should put in the time to think about all aspects of your proposed business and seek advice from people with experience in such matters, you can even take a written business plan into your bank (you'll have to make an appointment) and discuss it with them. Research the market you intend to operate within and learn about your potential competitors and rivals. A business plan and planning in general is crucial. By formulating a good plan you can think about all of the tiny seemingly innocuous elements of the business which might go wrong, such as; what happens when a delivery arrives an hour late? Or when an item sold arrives damaged etc. It is always best to try and think of every eventuality that could possibly happen in advance, so that if things go wrong or slightly off track (and at some stage this likely), you will not be caught off guard, instead you will have a clear idea of the steps and processes you need to take and to implement in order to overcome any such difficulties.

Network And Put Yourself 'Out There.'

Another key element of starting up in business is that of putting yourself out there in the public domain, networking and really doing what you can in order to advertise your brand and business until it is established. You are the spokesperson as well as the representative of the business and by networking and putting yourself in positions whereby you are interacting with people in your field, you will be able to create links and contacts with all kinds of people and businesses. All of this is crucial in learning from others especially in helping to learn from the mistakes made by others. I find that truly smart people learn from other peoples mistakes as well as from their own.

One of the reasons I mention this point is due to the fact that so many people have the notion that once they run their own business they will be able to sit in a quiet room somewhere, sending emails and communicating with clients or customers via emails and social media without really having to interact with people face to face. But it must be noted that by being able to openly speak to people, whether at public business function or events, or to small business owners in your local town, there is no better opportunity to sell your ideas and your business than when you have like minded individuals in front of you, in the flesh. There's an old saying; 'It's not what you know, it's who you know', so please bear this in mind and while planning your plan of attack, be sure to include how you will market your business and network. You will be your business' advertiser, marketing executive, salesman and general “word of mouth” generator, be enthusiastic and let people see the passion you have shine through.

Do Not Overthink Nor Over-Analyse.

One of the biggest reasons for people failing to capitalise on following their dreams or aspirations is that they defeat themselves mentally. With so many businesses starting up every year and with most of those businesses failing within the first 12 months of existence it can most definitely be a daunting prospect. I am a big advocate of hugely successful entrepreneur Dan Pena's line on the issue of over-thinking and over-analysing issues, he articulates the point very succinctly in just three words; 'Get it done'. There's a lot to be said for just getting stuck into a project and often by being so proactive you will create and stumble across numerous opportunities which might have been beyond the realm of your imaginings during the planning stage. There is no reason why anyone with a reasonable level of intelligence and a willingness to learn and to work hard cannot become a success, there is no reason at all. We are fortunate enough to live in a society whereby we can have the freedom to set up in business but those who do over think will often be the first ones to fail, their own fears can easily permeate other aspects of the business and brand in general and ends up stifling the capability of the business to operate as it should.

You may encounter setbacks and failures along the way, which is normal, do not take such instances as a sign that you are doomed to fail or that on some level you are not capable of running a business. There are much less smart people than you who are running successful operations all over the world. Again, this is not specific to business but is applicable to life in general, you will need to have a thick skin, to be resilient in the face of things not going your way, take each setback as lesson, learn from it, deal with it and move on.

Stay tuned for more business related posts.

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