About Us

Karen Martin and Beverley Ireland-Symonds promote the value of having effective communication skills for individuals, teams and organisations.
Monday, 31 January 2011

Are your business e-mails professional enough?

I’ve read lots of blogs and articles recently debating whether or not business e-mails should open with ‘Dear’, ‘Hello’, or ‘Hi’, and I’ve noticed fewer people in the UK using ‘Dear’ over the last year or so.

I’ve read with interest when people argued that ‘Dear’ is too old-fashioned or stuffy and there is no place for it in today’s business world, but is this really true? I believe there is a time and place for all of the above salutations depending on the situation and the recipient.

I’ve been corresponding by e-mail with organisations in other countries over the last year and they have all used a formal structure for business e-mails – starting an e-mail with ‘Hi’ wouldn’t have been appropriate. However, if I’m e-mailing someone I’ve met at a networking event, I usually open with ‘Hello’ as I’ve already started building a relationship with this person.

Tips for Writing a Business E-mail

  • Think about who you are writing to: Sounds obvious, but people often use a standard opening regardless of the recipient and/or the culture. Sometimes ‘Dear’ will be suitable, sometimes ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’ will be suitable – take a few seconds to think which one would be most appropriate.

  • Use an opening greeting: You wouldn’t walk into a meeting and get straight down to business without saying hello, so don’t do this in a business email. Some e-mails have become so informal that they go straight into the message without any opening greeting – this can come across as rude.

  • Avoid your messages being ignored: Include a clear subject line or your email could end up in the junk mail folder. Make sure the subject line matches your message - people often send e-mails backwards and forwards without changing the subject line.

  • Don’t write in capitals: It’s very easy for e-mails to be misinterpreted, so avoid giving the wrong message to the recipient. Avoid writing in capitals and using exclamation marks as this can give your message a more aggressive tone.

  • Check your email before you send it: Sending out an e-mail full of spelling or grammar mistakes isn’t going to present a very professional image of your company. Also, make sure your message makes sense once you’ve written it – get a colleague to read it through if necessary. It’s worth a few minutes of someone’s time if it avoids inappropriate messages being sent out.
Thursday, 20 January 2011

What’s lacking in customer service training?


Whilst watching the Mary Portas programme last night, I was interested to see that sales staff in the high street retailer Pilot had only received the most basic of customer service training. This isn’t the same for all high street retailers – some staff are expected to take NVQs in customer care as part of their staff training, but there is still something important missing. Training staff in procedures is not enough – sales assistants need to understand how to communicate effectively with their customers.

The following communication tips are essential for retail staff dealing with customers:

  • Language – the vocabulary that you use can totally change the message that is being given to the customer. Make sure that language used is appropriate for the target market e.g. the teenage market might be happy with slang, but will the rest of your customers?

  • Grading – If customers don't understand what you are saying, don't just keep repeating the same thing more loudly and slowly! Maybe the customer doesn't understand because he/she is from another country, has literacy problems, or maybe you are just using the wrong vocabulary. Grade your language – if the customer doesn’t understand what you are saying, find another way of saying it.

  • Intonation & Tone – the intonation and tone you use can change the meaning of your message. Something that is meant to be a simple instruction can sound rude or aggressive if said in the wrong way.

  • Body Language – you may be saying one thing, but your body language could be saying something else. Slouching or leaning on the counter/a rail doesn’t give the right impression to customers. Standing up straight and checking your posture will give you more confidence and you will appear more professional.

  • Eye Contact – make eye contact with customers when you are talking to them. This will make you appear interested in what they are saying and make you more approachable and friendly.

  • Smile – nobody wants to be served by a shop assistant who looks like he/she wants to be anywhere else but in the shop. Customers want to feel welcome when they enter the store and feel that they can approach you.
Wednesday, 19 January 2011

How to make sure your messages reach your customers

Few companies realise how many of their customers have poor literacy skills and struggle with reading, writing, speaking or listening?

According to the National Literacy Trust, a staggering 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. The National Literacy Trust launched a new campaign last November to highlight the difficulties people face on a daily basis if they have poor literacy skills. The Director of the National Literacy Trust, Jonathan Douglas, spent a whole day without speaking to highlight how important all literacy skills are, including speaking and listening, in order to communicate effectively.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

10 Worst mistakes made by first time managers

I remember when I got my first time management job; I was so happy that I danced around my lounge with my husband.  I didn’t even mind too much when my dog who wanted to join in the fun, jumped up and bit me on the bottom, tearing my best trousers in the process. 

The euphoria I felt on finding that I had got my first management job, probably lasted into the second week, when I was holding a staff meeting and I suddenly realised the scale of the task in front of me.  I had no previous experience of management, no training and as the post was completely new – no one to ask how to do it.

Of course, I made lots of mistakes,  but I like to think that I made fewer than I might have because I did a lot of listening to other managers, my team and other staff,  and I never stopped listening and learning.

Listed below is a list of the 10 worst mistakes that first time managers make:

1.    Wanting to show who’s boss – As a first time manager it’s normal to want to make it clear that you’re in charge, particularly if there’s some resentment about your appointment. Be clear, fair and firm – but do not be superior or belittle your staff.

2.    Failing to communicate effectively – There are many communication pitfalls for a first time manager but one of the worst ones is not agreeing with your team about how you will communicate and how regularly – e.g. team meetings, emails, phone calls , 1 to 1 meetings

3.    Making change for changes sake – First time managers are often under pressure to make quick changes to working procedures. Try and resist the pressure to act hastily and observe what is currently being done, and make sure you listen to other views.

4.    Failing to listen – By not listening, the first time manager often falls into the trap of introducing a new process or procedure and unwittingly reinventing the wheel. Listen to other people.

5.    Always being the expert- Most first time managers are appointed because they were good at their previous job.  However, you should avoid always being the ‘expert’.  Let other people in your team/area share their knowledge and expertise.

6.    Ignoring different communication and working styles – First time manages need to be aware that some of their staff will have very different communication and working styles. Familiarise yourself with these different styles in order to engage with your staff.  If it works effectively don’t try and change it.

7.    ‘Doing’ the job instead of managing – First time managers can be tempted to almost fall over themselves to be seen doing the job well, which can lead to them ‘doing’ instead of ‘managing’.

8.    Not saying no – It can be very hard to say ‘no’ as a first time manager – particularly if you don’t think you should.  However, it is one of the key skills to adopt when first appointed, as you will need to be able to say no if you are being asked to do too much.

9.    Working too many hours – working late, taking work home and skipping lunch hours are bad habits that first time managers often adopt.  Don’t. There’ll always be more work if you look for it.  You are entitled to a home life and skipping your lunch break is unhealthy.

10.    Not asking for help – As a manager, it is easy to think that you should be able to do everything. If you need help in any area of your work, then don’t be ashamed to ask.