Can I pick your brain?

Can I pick your brain?

Can I pick your brains?

Do you ever get asked this?  I do constantly.  By people who have been given an inch in the past and then want to come back and take a mile.

These, without fail, are people who I have helped for free in the past and then think they can take advantage of this generosity.

I really do find it incredible how often people who already a decent income, and would never dream of giving anything themselves, will ask for time and information that will make or save them a significant amount of money, but they aren’t prepared to pay for the answer.

Among messages I have received are:

  • Can I pick your brains?
  • Just a quick question to run by you…
  • Let’s meet up for a coffee. I have something I would love to chat with you about.
  • How about lunch so I can have a chat about my business? My shout for a sandwich and a coffee.

Hmm, now let me think about these for a moment …

How about NO!!!

A sandwich and a coffee aren’t going to pay my bills.  The time I spend on lunch would also be wasted time that could be better spent looking after my paying clients.

But for some people, they honestly believe that I should give them my valued time and attention for nothing.  They think they should pay absolutely zero for:

  • The wisdom I have found from the hundreds of books I have read
  • The lessons I have learnt from the thousands of hours I have studied
  • The expertise I have built up whilst gaining my qualifications and accreditations
  • The knowledge I have gained from the mentors and coaches I have worked under
  • The practical experience I have from working with hundreds of small businesses over the years
  • The insights to the mistakes I have made whilst building my own businesses and how to avoid them
  • The solutions I have found from the thousands I have spent in learning and practical applications
  • The know-how and learning I continue to build daily from running my own successful business

They don’t want to put the time and effort in to learn all this themselves.  They want me to give it to them for free.

And I bet you get asked this too.  Too often we want to help everyone and start to feel guilty for saying no to free requests.  Go write down all the things that you have learned that are of value to others like I have done above.  And when someone asks you for free advice for the umpteenth time, go back to this list and realise how much your knowledge is worth.  I’m not saying don’t give away free info when building relationships but I am saying turn away those that your gut is telling you are taking you for a ride.

When I get these type of requests now, I tend to reply with:

“Thanks for reaching out to me but my diary is so packed at the moment that I can only take calls and meet with paying clients. Thanks for understanding.  And of course, if you would like to see me as a paid client you can book at …”

And do you know what happens next?  9 times out of ten I never hear from them again.  Surprise surprise!

Not my ideal client in the slightest.

If you get asked this and aren’t sure how to reply, try my message above.  Be fair both to yourself and to those that value you enough to pay for your services.  You are worth it.


Essential do’s and don’ts when a customer complains on social media

Essential do’s and don’ts when a customer complains on social media

Have you ever had a complaint on social media?

Today, more and more people take to social media to make a complaint.  But there is such a huge difference in how businesses deal with these complaints.

If you get a complaint on social media, do you want to keep that client who complains (and create a raving superfan for your business) or just get rid of them (and take others with them)?

Things go wrong.  If they don’t, you probably aren’t that busy or aren’t trying hard enough.

And this past week two retail giants had major problems.  Their websites broke!  Sainsbury’s was online but whatever search went in ended in ‘no results’ available.  Boots UK site was completely down and simply couldn’t be accessed.

Sod’s law dictated these problems happened on the very day that I was trying to do some online ordering.  After numerous frustrated attempts to order what I wanted, I gave up and took to Twitter to ask when they would have their problems rectified.

Within minutes of my tweet to Sainsbury’s, they responded to say they had checked and yes, there was a problem and would report back to me.  In a short while, they tweeted me again to say they were doing their best to rectify the problem and would I bear with them and try to order in a few hours time.

Boots?  The silence was deafening!  No response at all.

Later that evening Sainsbury’s asked if I would send them a contact number so they could speak to me direct.  I duly sent this and they called me to say the site was back up and had I managed to place my order.  I told them that I hadn’t placed my order as time had run out and I had gone elsewhere.   They apologised profusely for the inconvenience caused, told me how much they valued my custom and immediately sent me an e-voucher.

I was impressed.

Boots?  After sending a second tweet they responded 48 hours later to say their site had only been down for one hour.  Utter rubbish, it was down for over 6 hours!  And no further correspondence was had from them.

So what can you learn from these two companies and the way they handled a problem?  As I am sure you can guess, it’s not rocket science.

What to do when you get a complaint on social media

If you get a complaint or a client/customer flags up a problem try the following:

  • Immediately acknowledge there is a problem and it will be looked into
  • Ask for contact details to take the complaint off line
  • Inform the client of when they can expect a response
  • Respond
  • Let them know what went wrong and what has been done to rectify the problem
  • If you and your business were not at fault, there has still been a misunderstanding of some sort so acknowledge this and look into ways of ensuring the misunderstanding or problem does not happen again
  • Let them know how much you value their custom and apologise for inconvenience caused
  • Go over and above to make them feel special and offer them a freebie/voucher or similar to show you genuinely care

This is an effective way of regaining trust and credibility with the client and retaining their custom.

It is also possible they will be so impressed that they will turn back to social media to say how impressed they were with how your problem was handled, raising awareness of your business to others.


What not to do when you get a complaint on social media:

  • Ignore them
  • Deny there was a problem – this is basically calling them a liar – not recommended as insult will be taken
  • Get into a public argument
  • Do absolutely nothing to let them know you value their custom

If you do the above, you are most likely to lose their custom forever (there are plenty of other places to buy the same products and services from).

It is also quite probable that the client will take to social media to highlight your poor attitude giving a bad impression of your business to others who may have been thinking of buying from you and will now go look elsewhere.


Create a customer care policy

If you don’t have a customer care policy in place, go create one now.  It doesn’t matter if you are a one woman band or a multi-million corporation.  The principle is exactly the same.

Hopefully, you will never have to use it but as the boy scouts famously state, it is always good to be prepared.



How to handle customer complaints

How to handle customer complaints

How do you handle your customer complaints?

Recently I had reason to lodge a customer complaint against one of my suppliers.  I had ordered a box of A4 paper which did not arrive on time.  I duly sent off an email and said the order had not been received.  I got a response almost immediately saying that the matter would be looked in to.

After a few more days with no further correspondence I sent another email in a rather more abrupt manner letting the supplier know how let down I felt and that I would no longer use their services in the future.

From past experience I expected a refund and that would be the end of the matter.

What I got was very much different.  I had an email explaining how they had changed courier services and had been badly let down by this new company which had then impacted upon their own customers.  They explained how much they valued my custom and were incredibly sorry that this had happened.  In a clear but concise manner the person on the end of the email told me what a nightmare they were in trying to sort out this mess but as I had been so let down, they would issue an immediate refund but would still send my order out for free.  They admitted they had received quite a few other customer complaints and were doing their best to rectify the matter and regain trust.

What made this response different to most of the standard ones I get and why was I so impressed?

Firstly, they put their hands up and admitted things had gone wrong.  This is so different to a recent response I had from British Airways after an appalling flight when they basically refused to admit anything was wrong.

Secondly, this was not an automated response.  This came from an individual who genuinely seemed to care.  They let me know how they were feeling personally in such a way that I instantly had empathy for their situation.

By not only issuing me a full refund but also still sending me the order free of charge, I regained my trust in them and will now stay with them as a future customer.  If I had simply been given a refund, I would not have ordered from them again.  They showed me that they valued my custom.

All too many companies hate complaints so much that they just get rid of the complainant as quickly as possible by sending a refund and not thinking of the bigger picture.  This company went out of their way to ensure I felt valued and to show they genuinely felt remorse for the problem.

If you get a customer complaint in the future take a leaf out of this company’s book and see how you can go over and above what is expected of you to gain a loyal future customer.

Customer service secrets to make you stand out from the crowd

Customer service secrets to make you stand out from the crowd

Over the past couple of weeks I have been amazed by the ongoing lack of customer service by so many businesses that I have come into contact with.

Make your first impression the right one

Firstly, I requested quotes from a number of virtual assistants to supply help to a client of mine whilst they were going through a particularly busy period.

One that I contacted did not respond at all and another came back with just a one-liner that they could do the work.  Not a good first impression!  If that was the standard of work they sent me I certainly wasn’t going to let them loose with admin for my clients.  Only one replied with a fully prepared proposal and price and suggested a phone conversation so that she fully understood what was required and to ensure she would be a good fit.  I chose this lady as during our conversation, she was honest in what she couldn’t do but said she would do her best to learn anything new if required to do so.  To me, this showed enthusiasm and a desire to work with me.


Every contact we have with a customer influences whether or not they’ll come back. We have to be great every time or we’ll lose them. – Kevin Stirtz


Be crystal clear on your service and what you can offer

I then phoned to get quotes for social media support for a client from a number of companies.  One passed me through to their social media ‘specialist’ who took what seemed like forever to find his notes on what they could offer and at what price.  He then could not clearly explain the service and upon questioning had no idea what he was talking about. No sale!

The next waffled on forever and ended up asking me what I thought they should put together as a package and at what price.  Hang on.  I thought I was phoning to find out what they could do for me, not for me to give them business advice.  No sale!

Another went into a barrage of sales spiel but was rabbiting on about social media channels wholly unsuitable for my client.  He didn’t ask one question about my client’s needs and gave me no opportunity to explain them.


“The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations.” – Roy Hollister Williams


Don’t make promises you cannot keep

Next I went to order some items from a website but had a query on another product they had for sale.  I phoned and left a message as their answerphone promised a call back within an hour.  No return call was forthcoming so I then emailed and again received no response at all.  Needless to say that I deleted the items in my shopping basket and purchased them elsewhere.

I then had another purchase to make and ordered an item for next day delivery but which did not arrive for 48 hours.  This really irritated me and I complained to the company.  If they had said delivery in 48 hours my expectations would have been met and I would have been a satisfied client so why did they promise me something that could not deliver?


 Make a customer, not a sale. – Katherine Barchetti


Exceed expectations

Finally, I made one more purchase that stated 5-day delivery yet turned up in 3 days.  Even though this item turned up one day later than the promised delivery time of the first company, I was over the moon as they had exceeded my expectations.  Just be honest with your customers and don’t set out promises that you can’t keep.

It is no use going to the time and expense of promoting your business only to throw away enquiries and valuable customers when they try to buy from you.


Here is a powerful yet simple rule. Always give people more than they expect to get. – Nelson Boswell

4 key tips to satisfying customers

So my key 4 tips to satisfying your customers are:

  1. Create the right first impression. Whether it is via email, phone call or face to face, when someone gets in contact for the first time, ensure that you create the right impression to gain their business.  Be professional, take an interest in their needs and listen carefully to what they actually want.
  2. Be clear on what you can offer. First and foremost, make sure that both you and every single staff member know what you offer and can explain this clearly when asked.  If you can’t, you will lose your prospect from the outset.
  3. Set expectations and then live up to them. Be clear on your pricing policy, terms and conditions, delivery and anything else relevant to the sale.  Make sure the customer is clear on these and set their expectations accordingly.  Don’t make promises to gain the sale that you just cannot keep.  It will do you more harm than good in the long term.
  4. Under promise and over deliver. Wherever possible exceed customer expectations so that they remember you for all the right reasons.  With the apparent lack of customer service with so many companies, you are highly likely to stand out from the crowd and gain long term customer loyalty.


Do you have a customer service story to tell, either good or bad?  Please leave your customer service experience story in the comments box below.

How to decline a customer request

How to decline a customer request

Have you ever had to decline a customer request?

How do you respond when someone makes a request that is not normally something that you do?  Do you instantly say no, not possible?  Or do you take a moment to consider whether it is something that you would consider helping them with?

Rather than just saying no, consider saying that you will look into it for them and get back with a response at a later time.  This has two benefits.

The first is that you show them respect for their request by not dismissing them instantly.  This can have a far better lasting impression than a straight out no that leaves them unsure of where to go or what to do next.

Too many businesses refuse to stray from the straight and narrow and therefore miss opportunities that are lying right under their noses.  They are too quick to say no, we don’t do that and leave the enquirer feeling dismissed with care and consideration.

Even if you decide that the request is not something that you can deal with, you can go back and let the person know that you have taken the time to consider it, but it is not something that you can personally help with.

It may, however, be the case that you can refer them on to someone else who can help.  This provides value to the person and also to any businesses that receive a referral, all of whom may remember you for your help in the future and feel the need to repay the compliment.  There may even be an opportunity for starting up collaborative working with another business that will pay future dividends to you both.

The second benefit is that by considering requests that are outside of your normal remit gives you an opportunity to consider whether it is something that you could actually incorporate as a product or service into your business.  This could become another revenue stream that you had not previously thought of.

We get all too caught up with our day to day running of our businesses and can sometimes not see the wood for the trees.  By listening to requests, and dealing with them in the appropriate manner, we can find opportunities that may have otherwise passed us by.

Next time you get a request for something that you don’t currently offer, rather than instantly decline a customer, stop and think for a moment as to how you can turn it into a future opportunity for your business whilst providing great customer service at the same time.