About Us

Karen Martin and Beverley Ireland-Symonds promote the value of having effective communication skills for individuals, teams and organisations.
Friday, 29 October 2010

Slamming the phone down on customers is not part of the service!

I’ve received four calls this week from call centres overseas asking to speak to my partner and each one has ended with the caller putting the phone down on me!

On each occasion, the following has taken place: I’ve answered the call, rather than a man, as they were expecting, and they’ve instantly assumed that I’m the ‘wife’ and started calling me Mrs Smith. I realise that this is a cultural difference, but my response is always, “There’s no Mrs Smith here? which instantly throws them.

If they don’t put the phone down at this point, I ask who’s calling, which they are always reluctant to tell me. I find this very strange as they are either calling to speak to my partner because he’s one of their customers, or they are hoping he’ll be a potential customer – either way it surely makes sense to give the company’s name!

After insisting that they tell me who’s calling for a few seconds longer, the call always ends with them putting the phone down on me. Now I admit that I am winding these callers up slightly, but I can’t believe that it’s part of any company’s customer service plan to put the phone down on customers.

I’ve also noticed that once I start asking questions that seem to deviate from the script the caller is following, he/she is unable to continue with the conversation.

If companies decide to relocate their call centres and customer service centres overseas, why oh why don’t they provide better training for the staff working in these centres? I’ve worked with students and clients from many different countries for the last 16 years and I understand that it’s difficult to teach someone how to act in a different cultural setting, but it certainly isn’t impossible.

If you are going to base your call centres overseas, train your staff properly!

Now where’s that number to block cold calls…?
Thursday, 21 October 2010

How much is your voice worth to you?

The larynx (voice box) is one of the most precious organs in the body. Our ability to speak, sing, scream and laugh all come from larynx and the two folds of membrane (vocal cords) stretched across  it which vibrate and control the flow of air from our lungs.  Most of us have experienced, a sore throat and a croaky voice at some point in our lives and it’s always a relief when we can talk normally again. Despite this, few of us think about taking care of our voice until something is wrong.

Listening to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne speaking at the dispatch box yesterday delivering the long awaited ‘Spending Review’, it was clear that he’s not a natural presenter and although he did his best to keep his voice hydrated with frequent sips of water, there were times when his voice was strained and raspy.

I would recommend anyone who has to do a lot of public speaking to have some sessions with a voice coach.  It could save you from doing lasting damage to your vocal cords.  However, even if you can’t do that, there are some simple steps that you take take care of your voice and can be applied in any context.

Things to avoid:
  • Smoking - (irritates the vocal cords)
  • Alcohol  - (dehydrates)
  • Caffeine -  (dehydrates and is also a diuretic)
  • Spicy food -  (can increase acid production)

Things to do
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before –  being tired can affect the voice.
  • Relax – Try and meditate for ten minutes before you have to present. Drop shoulders and practise breathing deeply and calmly.
  • Keep hydrated – drink water before and during your presentation
  • Breathe deeply – Use the diaphragm to breathe deeply and supply your voice with lots of air. Your voice will be clearer.
Enjoy the short video below.  This is an example of a commentator who certainly didn't hydrate his voice before or during his commentary.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Reach more customers - improve your messages

Do some of your customers have poor literacy skills and struggle with reading, writing, speaking or listening?

The answer is probably yes, as according to the National Literacy Trust one in six people in the UK struggle with literacy and their skills are below the level expected of an eleven year old. This may be is a shocking statistic, but how does it impact on your business?

Well, if you have always found reading and writing easy, then it’s probably hard to imagine the daily struggle that people experience if they have literacy problems. Can you imagine trying to buy food in the supermarket if you can’t read what’s on the labels? How do you know which aisle to go to if you can’t read the signs?

The problem is bigger than this though as it’s not only reading and writing that people struggle with - speaking and listening can also be an issue. This doesn’t mean that someone with poor literacy skills can’t speak, but it does mean that he/she might struggle to communicate clearly in certain situations.

Not everyone will struggle to this degree, as it depends on each individual’s level of literacy, but any literacy problem is going to make everyday life more difficult.

Now let’s go back to your customers. Most businesses send out hundreds of messages in different forms – e-mails, letters, posters, fliers, phone calls, face-to-face communication etc – without thinking about how the messages will be understood by ALL of their customers.

Until you can put yourself in your customers’ shoes, it’s difficult to realise how your messages are coming across to anyone who has poor literacy skills. To launch a new campaign, the Director of the National Literacy Trust, Jonathan Douglas, is going to try and get through the whole day on 5 November without speaking. The aim is to highlight how important all literacy skills are, including speaking and listening, in order to communicate effectively.

Learn more about how to reach more customers by following out Top Tips on Twitter

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Make social media work for your business

I've been reading and listening to lots of advice recently about how important it is to use social media to promote and market your business.  As someone who is fairly new to using social media websites, I have found most of the tips and advice extremely useful and can totally see how using these sites can be beneficial for my business. However, there is something crucial missing for me as nobody talks about how to actually use social media sites!

I went to a Business Link seminar a few months ago to learn about Twitter. There were lots of people at the event, and from the comments in the room, I believe that most people were new or newish to using social media. Whilst the speaker was very engaging and encouraged us all to go away and start using Twitter, which I did, I didn't really understand what I was doing. I signed up for Twitter and half-heartedly attempted to use it, but I can't say it really grabbed me as I didn't know what I was doing.

I continued hearing about the great benefits to be had from using social media but this didn't mirror my experiences, so I must admit I wasn't convinced by the whole social media 'thing'. This seems to be the case for a lot of SMEs according to a recent report carried out by a UK non-profit organisation for SMEs. Apparently, more than 50% of SMEs in the UK are unsure of the benefits they can get from social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Linked In, so are not committed to using them to promote their business.

I am convinced that this is down to not understanding how to use these social media sites and not understanding what benefits they can bring to your business. This is understandable - I was in the same position a few months ago. I then decided to invest in some training, which was money well spent.
I now understand how to use social media sites, what I need to be doing and how often. As with everything in life, there is always more to be learnt, but I least I no longer feel as though I'm stumbling around in the dark

My advice to anyone about to start using Twitter, Facebook, Linked In etc is don't waste time - find out how to use them properly from the start!
Saturday, 16 October 2010

Learn how to use social media for your business – 5 Top Tips

Is your company taking advantage of social media to promote your business?

You can’t avoid hearing and reading about how important it is to use social media to promote and market your business. Even if you haven’t got involved with social media yet, you will probably be aware that everyone is talking about it, so maybe you should start looking into it.

But where do you start? Look on the Internet and you’ll find lots of information, tips and advice, but do you really understand what you can get out of using Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In etc? Which of these sites are going to reach the right customer base for your product or service?

If you are going to spend time using social media sites as a marketing tool, you need to invest in some training to find out how to use them effectively. Take a look at our top tips below to get you thinking about what you need to find out before you get started.

5 Top Tips
1) Find out which social media sites are out there

2) Look into which ones will work best for your business

3) Decide how much time you are going to invest in building up your profile on these sites

4) Decide who is going to be responsible for managing your social media sites/profile

5) Remember these sites are about building up relationships with existing, and potential, customers and clients, so you need to engage

My advice to anyone about to start using Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In etc is to find out how to use them properly at the start - it will be money well spent and save you a lot of wasted time!
Friday, 15 October 2010

How does the language you use affect your business?

Are some of your customers from other countries? Do some of your customers use English as a second language?

The answer to this question is yes for the majority of businesses in the UK, yet very few organisations think about how the language they use will impact on their customers and clients. Organisations are seriously limiting the number of customers they can  reach by not reviewing their communication strategy.

Let’s consider the first question again: Are some of your customers and potential customers from other countries? The answer is yes they are. According to the Office for National Statistics, ‘The number of people from overseas living in the UK reached a record high of 6.7 million.’

So, the chances are pretty high that a large percentage of your customers and clients use English as a second language. Communicating with someone who isn’t a native English speaker isn’t a problem though, is it? The majority of us have come into contact with people from other countries around the world in our everyday lives or when we go on a foreign holiday. Most of us have some experience of communicating with people from other countries.

Stop and think for a moment. Have you always been able to get your message across? How do you know if the other person has really understood? Often we assume that we’ve explained ourselves clearly, but have we really? Being a native English speaker and using English everyday doesn’t mean we naturally know how to adapt our language to different situation and for different people.

In business, thinking you’ve got your message across isn’t good enough. In order to retain existing customers and attract new ones it’s vital to be certain that you’ve put your message across clearly and concisely.
Learn more about how to get you message across to a wider customer base by following our ‘Top Tips’ on Twitter.
Saturday, 9 October 2010

Bad managers damaging UK!

A friend recently told me about an incident she had with her manager. IT equipment in her department had been either unreliable or out of order for a number of weeks, which was stopping her from doing her job properly and so adding to her stress levels.

She put up with the situation for a number of weeks before finally going to see her line manager, but was taken aback by the response she got. My friend explained how frustrated she was with the situation and how stressed it was making her feel and all her line manager said was, "Are you having a bad day?". So she walked out of the meeting feeling more stressed than when she went in and totally unsupported by her line manager!

This manager, who is new to the post and new to management, is working in a busy department with a heavy workload, and is probably under immense pressure herself. She may be finding it difficult to cope with the stresses of her job which then makes it difficult to take on, and deal with the problems staff in her team are experiencing.

According to Ruth Spellman, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, "Britain is suffering because our managers and leaders are simply not up to scratch.......Without investment in effective management and leadership in the UK , we are in danger of lurching from crisis to crisis".

In November 2009, the CMI published research findings that showed that almost 50 per cent of the UK workforce have left a job due to bad management, while a similar amount said they would take a pay cut to work with a better manager.

Isn't it about time that UK companies started investing more in managers, particularly new managers. Provide new managers with training and support when they are starting out and they will be able to take your company forward, build strong teams and become the leaders of tomorrow.
Friday, 1 October 2010

How will employment law changes impact on your organisation?

How many UK companies have put strategies in place to deal with the changes to employment law that have come into force from today, 1 October 2010? Very often Equality & Diversity training in organisations is seen as a tick box activity with few managers and employees fully understanding the implications of the legislation and how it impacts on them as an individual and on the organisation.

Below are just a few of the changes that organisations need to consider:

Equality Act 2010

Why do we need new legislation in this area when there are existing laws in place? Well, the existing laws were complex and too many people were still being discriminated against in one way or another, so the Equality Act 2010 aims to simplify the legislation and make it more widely accessible.

Most of the Equality Act 2010 (90%) comes into effect today, and although the act brings together a lot of the existing anti-discrimination legislation, there are some keys areas that could have a major impact on organisations:

• If an employee is harassed by a customer, client or supplier on the grounds of race, sex, religion etc, the employer will now be liable.

• How and when employers can use pre-employment questionnaires will be restricted.

• The introduction of ‘Discrimination arising from Disability’ – greater protection for disabled people.

• Organisations employing 250 people or more must report on any differences in pay between male and female employees.

More detailed information is available from the Equalities Office, and guidance is available from Equality and Human Rights Commission. A ‘quick start’ guide on how the Act changes existing discrimination law is available from ACAS.
Now think about how this is going to impact on your organisation. What training do you need? Do you need to train all your staff? Can you disseminate the information throughout your organisation by adopting a ‘Train-the-Trainer’ approach? How about on-line training modules that employees can complete in their own time?

Whichever approach you decide to take, don’t leave it too late or you may be caught on the wrong side of the new legislation!