Friday, February 11, 2011

Win a Testimonial With Great Customer Service

Nothing sells your product or your brand more effectively than a good story.

Potential customers want to hear what you've done for your existing clientele. They want to hear that you deliver value for money. You don't need to have designed and built a sophisticated solution or put yourself to massive inconvenience. Simply doing a good job for a fair price is enough for most people.

Here's a good example, from our recent experience, of someone doing exactly that.

It began when a survey of a potential new home indicated a possible woodworm problem in the roof timbers. The surveyor, like so many professionals, made the potential risks very clear to us, and then said the nature of the insect infestation, if any, was outside his remit and we needed to get a pest control specialist in.

The pest controller is the star of this story. Never having hired one before, we took the obvious step of typing 'pest control' into Google. Within a few moments we'd identified a couple of local suppliers, including Proactive Pest Prevention in Dorset, owned by Robin Elford.

We called the mobile number listed on the site. No answer. It was the middle of the afternoon so perhaps he was up a tree somewhere, chasing wasps or squirrels, or squeezing under the floorboards of a Victorian mansion hunting rats. We don't really know what pest controllers do when they're at work, but this one clearly wasn't in a position to answer his phone.

However, within minutes Robin phoned back, having spotted the missed call. We explained the problem and he asked some questions about the age of the house. Built in the 1990s it was unlike to have woodworm and he shared a quick tip for checking it for ourselves. As we didn't own or have access to the house he offered to take look himself.

We asked about cost. Time is money and professional expertise has a value. We were surprised when he said that preliminary site visits were free, if they were in his local area. Actually, we were staggered. At a time when business is tough here was a professional willing to give us the benefit of his knowledge for nothing.

Robin took a good look at the area identified by the surveyor, and concluded the holes were not made by insects. He also gave us several very plausible reasons why it was unlikely to be woodworm. With that he was on his way to another call, leaving behind satisfied customers who felt they'd had excellent service.

Robin was an example of a business owner who goes out of his way to ensure customer satisfaction. That's partly the sort of person he is and partly because he understands how important it is to invest in future business. We might never have another pest control problem but if we do, we're in no doubt who we'll be calling for help, and we've already started recommending Proactive Pest Prevention to friends.

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

How to Hire the Right Staff

Bringing a new employee into an SME business is a highly risky but unavoidable element of growth.

The perfect hiring decision can be a quantum leap for your business. The wrong decision can be costly and potentially damaging.

Subjectivity on the part of the business owner is often the main reason hiring goes awry: They want to find a carbon copy of themselves, and they believe that the new person will have the same level of passion for the business as they do themselves. In addition, they are not skilled at interviewing and selection and take decisions based on gut feel rather than using a structured process.

Worse even: Bob the neighbor’s daughter’s husband needs a job and because he only wants a little bit of money, he gets hired with no regard for what he can actually DO until he alienates the best client or runs off with the safe!

Reduce the risk of hiring the wrong person by taking these steps to develop a rigorous selection process and ensure objectivity:

1. Have a clear plan
  • Understand clearly why you are recruiting. What are your desired outcomes?
  • Which skills will complement you and your business without replacing yours?
  • How do you want those skills to be applied to achieve desired outcomes?
  • How will you remunerate the person?
  • How will you determine whether the desired outcomes have been achieved – What will success look like? 

2. Write a job and person specification
Documenting your plan will act as a route map. It will inform potential interviewees and keep the interviews on track. It can also act as an induction document and form the basis for future discussions with the employee once you have made an offer. It specifies particular duties, targets, working hours and anything else you want to include (as long as it is legal!)

3. Find a good candidate pool
Never make an offer to the first person you interview without at least a comparison. Get a list of potential candidates before you start the interviewing process. This will help keep you objective and give you choice. The wider the candidate pool, the better the final selection is likely to be.

4. Interviewing is an art
Interview the applicant list and invite the best ones back for a second interview and another screening opportunity. Prepare a list of open questions, based on the job description, to probe skill areas. Ask everyone the same questions, and ask for evidence or examples to back up claims. Consider gaps in CV time scales and refer back to the job description to keep you on track. Be objective by using a scoring system based on your selection criteria in the job spec – Remember that the applicant who talks the most is not always the one best suited for the job!

5. Never, ever hire without checking references
This is where so many hires go wrong: Ask for references and follow them up with a phone call. You are under no obligation to make an offer to anyone until you have done the necessary due diligence.

Guest post by Cathy Richardson FIRP DipRP, an independent Recruitment Practitioner who assists SME businesses to grow through applying successful and efficient processes. For more information visit the website http://www.cathyrichardson.co.uk/ or email cathy@cathyrich.co.uk for more information

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