Friday, September 10, 2010

Why Twitter and Customer Service Don't Mix

Is your business using, or planning to use, Twitter as a customer service tool?

If it is, think carefully about what you're doing. Because while it may seem like a good idea, it can also miss the point.

It's not that there's anything wrong with making Twitter a channel for talking with existing and potential customers. But it's important to remember that any external contact has a marketing edge to it (see Start Marketing Through Everything You Do). And the very way you use Twitter could send the wrong message.

Let's take a real life example. A customer tries to change the service they're buying from a major telecoms company. They speak to the company's representatives (who happen to be in India) on several occasions and every call ends with a promise of action that's never fulfilled.

The by now frustrated customer understands the power of Twitter and has a moan via a tweet, naming the business that's let them down. The outfit in question have a customer care team that monitors Twitter and, predictably, respond by offering to get involved and sort out the problem.

A few tweets amd calls later the issue is resolved and the customer care team admits that they "don't understand" why their offshore colleagues did not follow up on their intial promises of action.

Problem solved and customer happy. The care team has rescued another situation and all's well, right?

Wrong! Because the issue should have been sorted out earlier. If the customer has to resort to complaining, publically, on Twitter, then the problem has already gone too far.

So to come back to where we started: is your business planning to integrate Twitter into its customer service strategy? If it is, don't miss the opportunity to review your entire approach to customer service, finding ways to pick up and resolve issues earlier through the more conventional channels.

That way there's a chance that the only tweets you'll see about your business are compliments, not complaints. And you know how much those are worth as marketing messages.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Have You Joined a Trade Association?

According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) there are around 12,000 trade associations in the UK.

That is, organisations that represent commercial enterprises of all shapes and sizes. A trade association generally covers one specific trade or commercial activity, such as the Carpet Foundation (a forum for carpet manufacturers) or the National Hairdressers' Federation (whose membership should be obvious).

Whatever industry you're in, there's probably an association with your name on (or something close to it). Some of them are very specific, such as the Road Emulsion Association or the Adhesive Tape Manufacturers' Association.

The purpose of these associations is usually to share knowledge and good practice across their industry, and to represent their sector in the media. They may well provide guidance on standards along with training or directories of resources, and perhaps networking opportunities and even social events.

Associations can be a huge benefit to those going into business for themselves. In addition to the resources on offer, they can also provide the encouragement needed by a sole trader when they're wondering why they ever embarked on that path. Self-employment can be a lonely and frustrating way of earning a living, particularly in the early days, and making contact with an association can help relieve this.

So if you haven't already, how about taking a moment to see if there's a group that represents your trade, and spend some time investigating, to see whether it's worth joining.

Directories of trade associations can be found on the websites of the Trade Association Forum or British Services.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Celebrating Small Enterprise in the Countryside

This summer, up and down the country, small businesses have been promoting their wares at rural shows and fairs.

The British landscape is dotted with these celebrations of table-top enterprise. Quaint and curious stalls spring up selling anything from home-made jams and chutneys to hot tubs or army surplus Landrovers. What was often a hobby in times of plenty has, for many, become their main source of income - an essential financial lifeline.

We recently visited the Galloway Country Fair. Held in southern Scotland, just south of Moffat, it's squarely aimed at the hunting-shooting-fishing fraternity, so it's not to everyone's taste. But the fair provided a great opportunity to see local entrepreneurs at work, selling their varied collections of products.

A newcomer to the show was Helen Knowles of Tinnisburn Plant Nursery. For years she's been growing plants as a hobby and she's working towards converting her passion into profit. She specialises in unusual plants, often the older varieties which have been long-neglected but still have plenty of charm, even if they're not so fashionable.
In the craft tent, Duncan Smith was selling his unique range of hand-made glass birds and animals. A regular at the Country Fair, he was pleased that this year's event was relatively dry and attracting a good crowd. A craftsman in glass, Duncan has developed his own techniques for creating a distinctive range of gifts items. No two models are identical and even the simplest involve hours of work.

The photo at the top of this post is an example of his work and more information is available from the DS Glasscraft website.

Everywhere you looked at the show there were enterprising individuals who were turning their expertise into income. Makers of cheeses, fudges or cider, wood turners and cabinet makers, jewellery designers and creators of hand-made gifts. One or two regional or national businesses were also represented, but they were definitely in the minority.

While the recession might be formally over, belts remain tight and no one is complacent in the face of a possible double-dip. The ranks of the rural entrepreneurs seem likely to be swelled in coming months as more people seek alternatives to employment, partly through necessity as the job market remains static or even shrinks.

The summer of 2011 may see even more small businesses promoting themselves at fairs and shows across the country. Who knows - one of those behind the table might even be you!