Tag Archives: customer care

Getting hands on

Profiling a Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneur

Hannah Stobbs knows all about the stresses and strains we inflict on our bodies – she plays rugby and cricket. It was a back injury playing cricket aged 17 that first introduced her to the magic of massage that has now become the core of her business – Hannah Stobbs Holistic Health.

Putting elite athletes and overworked employees back together again is Hannah’s passion – developed through studies at Loughborough University and ‘hands on’ experience working on the bruised bodies of fellow sports enthusiasts – including friends who would go on to be World-Cup-winning cricketers.

For a job which seems to be essentially about physical manipulation, Hannah’s description of the traits of a skilled massage therapist is perhaps surprising. “They are people who can be fairly relaxed – who know how to switch off the parts of their brains that cause anxiety. You need to have a flexible mind; to be able to do your best work even if you don’t feel at your best.”  

As the name of her business suggests, Hannah’s approach is very much about getting a 360-degree understanding of her client’s situation – to look beyond the immediate injury at the bigger picture. As Hannah explains, “I aim to get a fairly extensive client history at the start. I also ask what they would like to get from the massage session and this can raise a host of other issues – often related to stress at work.”

For Hannah, the relationship between massage therapist and client is best when there’s a shared understanding of what lies behind the problems being presented. “I aim to build a rapport – to focus attention and treatment on the most pressing issues and explain what I’m planning before I begin. Most people want to know this – it’s what they’re paying for!”

It’s clear that Hannah’s approach works – she has an impressively high return rate and has built up a solid base of regular clients, with 95% first coming to her through referrals – word-of-mouth recommendations. This is the core strength of any business and one on which Hannah is keen to build. That said, she sees part of her role as educating her clients so they don’t need to return for further treatment as regularly as other therapists might advise.

Reflecting on the first eight years of a career putting broken bodies back together, Hannah sees it as a play in three acts. The first was to gain experience – for which she was well-placed at Loughborough University, renowned for its specialism in sports science.

The next act was moving from Loughborough for post-graduate study, working on sports massage alongside other jobs, and wondering whether it could ever become a fulltime occupation. This was a testing time, as Hannah explains “I’d come away from Loughborough where it was very easy to get clients. From 60 – 70 clients, I went down to three. It felt like a big step backwards, but it taught me how to re-build my client base – through networking. I’ve made great friends through playing rugby and cricket, so I never need to massage a stranger!”

It was the third stage when, with the support of The Prince’s Trust, Hannah decided to focus on developing her business as a massage therapist. She credits that support with helping her to make better use of her time – to think more entrepreneurially. “I’m now thinking more about how to reduce time-wasting – less driving and more massaging – and generally structuring my days better. It’s also about better use of the resources I already have – working on my strengths more than weaknesses. For me, that’s my networks for developing the business through word-of-mouth.

It’s interesting how often professionals don’t practice what they preach. Hannah admits that she has had to learn to look after herself better – through mentoring and acquiring the skills to achieve a better work-life balance. For Hannah, this is a combination of playing sport, making new friends at home and abroad, and never stopping learning – three passions that should take her far, both personally and professionally.

For further information about Hannah Stobbs Holistic Health, go to  https://www.hannahstobbssportsmassage.co.uk

What price learning?

There’s a famous Mahatma Gandhi quote “Live as if you’ll die tomorrow, learn as if you’ll live forever.” I love it because it puts learning in its rightful place – at the heart of our lifelong journey.

This love of learning in its widest sense is exemplified by a social enterprise in Cambridgeshire – GAP Learning. The two creative sisters who run the enterprise sent me their newsletter some time ago and, with permission, I’ve reproduced it for this blog.

Austerity hits hard

Local authority budget cuts are visible everywhere. Brilliant organisations that provide meaningful social impact and community cohesion are lost. For example, more than 350 Sure Start children’s centres have closed in England since 2010; 45% of councils have cut provision for young people by around 30%. Public spaces are closing, social and essential services are experiencing crippling budget cuts. Closer to us, the Cambridge & District Volunteer Centre closes its doors tomorrow after 26 years; HOPE Social Enterprises in Huntingdon, a Craftworks venue, closed last month with the loss of their volunteer programme and shop. Everyone we partner within the training, advice and support world seems to be affected.

And Adult Learning (our world) will be doubly hit. Due to Brexit, the UK is losing the European Social Fund which part-funded almost all our free courses such as Fullspoon and Craftworks. What money there is, is increasingly difficult to secure with lengthy applications that, even if you have the fortune to win, have so many limitations attached the people you are trying to reach and support are knocked back by the sheer force of documentation and data gathering required for them to access the help. And if you’re a small charitable business, like GAP Learning, it’s tough out here with no credit rating or specialised departments. We’ll even have to say goodbye to our office in October.

But that’s what’s happening to us as a small business, it’s nothing compared to how some of our fellow humans are suffering and there will be no means to help them if things continue as they are: people facing cuts in welfare and benefits, people facing mental health challenges, people living with disabilities, people who are lonely and in need of a friend. There’s never been a better time for people to get together in their community to support one another. Teresa and I identified that people feel better when they make or create and that space to think is enough to see that changes can be good and necessary. We set about building a business that provided the means for people to get together to have fun, build passion and confidence and inspire hope in a future, whatever that may be.

Cambridgeshire County Council have been instrumental in enabling our work thus far and we will always be grateful for the opportunities they provided for us to support learners hardest to reach. We may have no contracts upcoming but we will not give up on our mission [see manifesto below]


GAP Learning Manifesto

We will make positive change for the vulnerable, the unheard, the overlooked to give those without voices a means to communicate

We will create a sustainable business that puts people first – not the profit. We don’t give two hoots if you ticked the financially unviable box. We all have value

We are the change-makers, activators and will enable others via non-threatening, empathic, loving and caring means to open new ways to breathe

We are not commercial – we are utilitarian. We use sustainable materials to make products that will last. That have meaning. A purpose.  A beauty

We celebrate diversity. Not just recognise a random festival once in a while

We will not stand for racism, sexism and all other everyday isms that belittle, degrade or maintain control over others

We stand for Equal Opportunity for All.  The same mirror for each reflection – full and bright and clear

We recognise, support and partner individuals and companies that want to make a positive change in society

We value sisterhood. Family; Love; following your dreams; the small, quiet voice in the corner, in the shadow; the darkness

We value the symbiotic, natural world around us

Our language is clear (for those over eight years old).


A hopeful future

Our idea is to become sustainable as quickly as possible by selling goods and services. We’ve been getting the Craftworks Rocks ready – with new branding and everything and are actively looking for venues to host a box for us.

We will develop more corporate and paid-for workshops but of course we will still look for small grant pots to run stand-alone projects. In fact, we’ve got a new project The Fixing Shop funded by Santander Foundation starting over the summer.

*     *      *      *     *

If you take a look at the Gap Learning website (http://gaplearning.co.uk) you’ll get a good idea at what’s at stake here. And while you’re there, check out ‘She Loves him tho’’ for another demonstration of the sisters’ creativity.

As Teresa and Amanda point out, what’s happening at GAP Learning is, sadly, nothing special. The current cuts have no respect for quality. But I’m sure they would love to hear your thoughts on possible ways out of their current sticky patch. I know the sisters won’t be giving up and you could be part of their fight!

STOP PRESS: A recent [ 7 July 2017] newspaper headline confirms how budget cuts are hitting local services for young people –  Council plans to scrap four dedicated children’s centres in Cambridge and 15 others across county in bid to save £1million www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/cambridge-news/childrens-centres-cambridgeshire-county-council–13291759  and there’s a petition against the closures  www.cambridgelibdems.org.uk/no_childrens_centre_cuts

Read more about Teresa and Amanda at:




When customer care doesn’t have to costa lot

coffe-mugIn 2002, I visited a community café in Market Rasen in Lincolnshire – I was helping to set up something similar in the Cambridgeshire Fens at the time.  The entrepreneurial organisers of the café – Arena – had recently paid £2,000 for an Italian coffee maker (a machine, not a barista) and I’m not sure they didn’t have to import it direct from Italy.

I use their purchase – a bold and costly investment at that time – in marketing courses as an example of a USP (Unique Selling Proposition) that differentiated Arena from the other two cafes in the town – a greasy spoon and a teashop with doyleys. (If you’re too young to know what doyleys or greasy spoons are, look them up).  They made excellent coffee at a time when that was hard to find, particularly in a market town, and people used to travel from far and wide for Arena’s continental offering. But that wasn’t all; the baristas taught their customers how to use the machine and had them judge each other’s brews. ‘Barista of the Week’ posters adorned the walls of the café.

I’m sorry to report that the Arena Café closed in 2009 after the best part of a decade, so it looks like their USP had a limited shelf-life.

Of course, excellent coffee wouldn’t be such a strong USP these days with coffee shops on every corner. The theory goes that everybody now has to make great coffee because customers expect it, right? And all the competition means cafes have to look after their customers or they close, right? And the best coffee shops are local and independent, right?

Well, no – not in my experience.

All I want from a high street coffee shop is decent coffee (but I’m easy to please…) and somewhere I can relax with no hassle from staff – so passive, reactive customer care does me fine. Which is not easy to find in many popular coffee and cake outlets where they want to get you out as quickly as possible once you’ve stopped spending. I once heard that a famous burger chain tilted their seats forward slightly to discourage customers from staying too long, but that may be an urban myth.

we-dont-rush-our-coffeeSo, I’m happy to commend a chain of coffee shops – Costa – for treating their customers like adults, and for being friendly and laid back. My day-job means I meet enterprising young people for 1-2-1 advice sessions on a regular basis. A coffee shop is ideal – a public place where they can relax, stay out of the cold, and get a hot drink. Costa coffee shops are particularly suitable because they’re ubiquitous, accessible, usually have enough space and, above all, the staff are relaxed about me staying all day to meet a steady stream of visitors.

In practice I introduce myself when I arrive and explain what I’m doing. They seem to be genuinely interested – one manager wanted me to take a look at his business plan (part of my job) for a new venture, another offered commiserations when two young people failed to turn up. In every location I’ve been to, the staff have let me set up a tab and I pay for all the drinks when I leave. They haven’t learnt my name yet or started making my regular drink (medium Americano in a takeaway cup since you ask…) as I walk through the door, but that might come with time.

Another way to build your reputation is through consistently good service (assuming you have a winning formula). A recent return to a Costa coffee shop was just as I’d hoped – the manager welcomed me; said he remembered me from last time (I bet he says that to everyone) then left me well alone until it was time to pay.

Afterword: Yes, I know the chain is run by a hospitality conglomerate, I know that their coffee shops are franchises, but I still want to drink to their continued success.


Keeping the past alive

Guest blog from Kathy Wilson, Royston Repair Cafe volunteer

IMG_0051Sometimes items arriving for repair at the Royston Repair Café are from a bygone era. This was certainly the case on Sunday 24th April 2016, when Naomi Wallen brought her grandfather’s 50-year-old Ekco Transistor Radio, which didn’t seem to tune into any modern radio stations.

Naomi fondly remembers the radio always on whenever she visited her grandfather’s house as a child, and expressed how lovely it would be to have it working again.

The volunteer repairers were clearly excited with the prospect of taking apart something so old and doing their best to get it working again. Because there are usually lots of owners bringing in broken goods, normally only one volunteer repairer can look at each item. But this was special, so next thing at least three repairers were eagerly bent over the partially dismantled radio, all giving their views on what the problem could be.

IMG_0050Most of the volunteers remember happily taking apart and putting back together all manner of items when they were young, which gave them a good grounding in ‘how things work’. After approximately 90 minutes, they managed to fix the radio to the point of picking up stations, but not completely clearly. They realised it was a matter of replacing one part, and the radio would work fully again!

There’s definitely a sense of satisfaction in repairing something, or at least attempting to do so. It’s not just that repairers feel a sense of personal satisfaction, but having fixed something, we feel we’re helping, in our little way, to overcome manufacturer planned-obsolescence and the concept of the ‘throw-away society’. And in the case of the transistor radio, we’ve given Naomi new memories to make.

Radio Fix success

Get updates on the Royston Repair Café at www.facebook.com/roystonrepaircafe 

A circle of care

Circle of supportOn the eve of the first strike in 40 years by England’s junior doctor, I wanted to recount a very recent experience of the NHS.

Readers of this blog may remember that 13 months ago I shared my frustration with getting a hospital appointment in connection with prostate problems. The problems continue and yesterday – a Sunday evening – I arrived in A&E [Accident and Emergencies] at the same hospital in considerable discomfort. It was not an emergency, but my bladder thought differently.

I was greeted (yes, I do mean greeted) by a plain-clothed doctor who asked about my problem and even managed a joke “You don’t look old enough to have prostate problems!” Three hours later that same doctor helped me find my car (I’d parked in a hurry, taken a circuitous route through the hospital to get to A&E and, anyway, I had other things on my mind …)

The doctor handed me over to a colleague to get me booked in and I was given a wristband in case I got lost or the hospital confused me with a similarly young-looking 60-year-old. Over the following three hours, I was seen by ten health professionals in what, apart from one small hiccup, felt like a highly co-ordinated routine. All staff were consistently professional, communicative and, above all, caring. Remember this was a Sunday evening – the end of a weekend at a time which covered a shift change – with more urgent cases to be seen (including a younger man who’d overdosed and an older man who’d had a fall)

It confirmed what I already knew – NHS care is already 7 days a week; it has to be. I left A&E much-relieved (pun intended) that we have the health care system we do and so grateful to the dedicated professionals taking care of us. Thank you Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

The paying customer is always right

Bob and a shy Michael with commissioned window boxes

Bob and a shy Michael with commissioned window boxes

At The Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead we’ve spent the best part of the year learning an important lesson.

We’ve been making products for sale from reclaimed materials, primarily old pallets. The products ideas – for homes and gardens – have come from many sources, including members of the Shed, their families, and of course, the internet. The result has been a range of traditional and more unusual items.

We’ve had fun making them and we’ve put them ‘out there’ – to research the market – online through Etsy (a craft-based selling site), on our webpage [https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/repair-shed-shop-2] and on Facebook [www.facebook.com/TheRepairShed]. Over the summer we’ve also been at outdoor events – country fairs, street craft markets and charity events. The face-to-face contact and feedback has been valuable, if somewhat disheartening.

We’ve learnt that it’s time to stop making products that we want to sell and to start making products that people want to buy. Online sales have been spectacularly unsuccessful and sales on stalls have not been much better.

a less shy Michael

A less shy Michael

Where we have had success is in taking commissions. Some are quite wacky – a ‘cat kennel’ a milk crate with a roof, and a sweet cart (as in sweets to suck and chew, not a hostess trolley for desserts) as well as more conventional items such as window boxes, and bug houses.

A commission is, of course, a firm sale at an agreed price (but costing is not always easy when you’ve never made the item before) so they’re a much better business proposition. And once made and photographed the one-off product can be promoted and might well become a source of further sales.

So we’re pushing for commissions and hoping the next stage will be repeat commissions of different items.  There are various statistics about how much more expensive it is to get a new customer than to keep an existing one (I’ve seen anything from 4 – 7 times more) but the detail is unimportant. Regular and repeat paying customers are the lifeblood of many businesses both big and small.

I was reminded about this when I heard that the landlady of a local pub knows pretty exactly how much each regular drinker is worth to her business. She can look down the bar and put a price above each head – £3,000 a year, £5,000, £10,000 … (yes, that’s a lot of beer!) And she looks after them like VIPs because they are; without them she’d close. This five star treatment was confirmed when a friend went to the pub for a meal with a small group of friends. When they asked if the noisy drinkers at the bar could be quietened down a bit, the landlady politely told them “sorry I can’t – they’re my regulars.”

Second impressions also count

Sekond impresions also countIn training days on not-for-private-profit marketing I’ve often hung a part of the course around the much-quoted ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’ – variously attributed to Oscar Wilde, Bill Rogers, Andrew Grant, and probably others.

It’s something of a cliché of course, but it’s also true. It takes a lot of work to undo a blunder at a job interview, a foot-in-mouth first meeting with your partner’s parents etc, so we need to try to control the things we can and minimise the risk around things we can’t.

But for all the talk about first impressions, we also need to concentrate on second, third, fourth impressions – and the messages we put out there – all the time.

A few weeks ago I was shocked to upset someone I’ve known and liked for over a decade. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people I’ve knowingly upset (as I remember each, a shiver goes down my spine). In this case, what I thought was a fair and frank exchange was not received as such and the damage was done. I now have to guard my words much more carefully than before, and I realise that our relationship may never be the same again.

A second experience at The Repair Shed (our aspiring social enterprise bringing men in the 50+ age group together to mend, make and learn) made me wonder whether, after 35 years in marketing, I need to go back to school.

I’ve recently been banging out what I feel is an avalanche of publicity about The Repair Shed, including a targeted approach to recruit new Shed members.

Whenever I put out publicity (on and offline materials, in talks to individuals and groups of people etc) I always stress our three areas of activity – mending, making and learning. These will also be our three broad income streams if all goes as planned (and if I don’t upset too many more people).

But for all my promotional effort and decades of experience, I recently learnt that the message I thought I’d been putting out was not the one received by at least one person I wanted to reach.

One of those I targeted with my membership pitch (I’m delighted to say he’s now joined us at The Repair Shed) was saying how much he was looking forward to getting stuck in. He then added casually “until recently I hadn’t realised you made things – which is my particular interest – I thought you just repaired them.”

Another timely reminder that when it comes to effective communication, I should continue to choose my words carefully, learn from my mistakes, and guard against making assumptions.

If you haven’t been bombarded by Repair Shed publicity yet, see our webpage and short film clip  at www.communityactiondacorum.org/the-repair-shed You can also sign up there to receive our free monthly e-bulletin Make & Mend. If you’ve done so already – sorry – no offence meant.

When high demand doesn’t mean success

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????A recent Enterprise Essentials blog alluded to the problems of success for parkruns around the country – concern about deterioration of courses, pressure on facilities, and conflicts with other users of the open spaces.

A 5K run on a Saturday morning is, of course, not a matter of life and death, but wear and tear on the NHS can, indeed, be life-threatening.

When the NHS was established in 1948, apparently it was envisaged that as the nation’s health improved demand for the national service would go down. We now know, of course, that prediction was very wrong; unlike in business, increased demand is not a sign of success!

M.D. (aka Dr Phil Hammond) writing in Private Eye magazine recently, reminded readers of this difference between the NHS and businesses. “If the NHS were just a large collection of independent businesses, emergency departments would be welcoming customers with open arms rather than begging them to shop elsewhere. If money truly did follow patients, the unprecedented demand that did for Circle [the private sector provider running Hinchingbrooke Hospital] would have saved it.

In the less pressured world of Men’s Sheds, there’s been an impressive growth in the number of sheds being set up across the UK. During 2014, the number of Sheds in the UKMSA network doubled to 127 and a further 58 are currently in development. It’s not unrealistic to think that number will double again in 2015.

The link with the NHS is relevant here, as sheds have been achieving great things in keeping older men out of the health system in other parts of the world (see http://bit.ly/1zyPWPx) and similar health benefits are now being reported closer to home.

At The Repair Shed in Hemel, we’re expecting a local surge in interest as our promotion kicks in and word of mouth spreads (we’ve already had three people recommending their fathers for membership). Like A&E departments around the country, albeit without serious risk to health, we may have to learn how to turn people away – a difficult lesson.

See  parkrun blog at https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/the-numbers-game

Testing the patient’s patience – customer care lessons from a brush with the NHS

NHStressI was recently referred by my GP to a big, fairly-local hospital for an ‘urgent appointment’ defined as one within two weeks.

The Health Centre’s referral letter included information about why I’d been referred urgently to the hospital. The explanation included ‘The two week appointment system was introduced so that any patient with symptoms that might indicate cancer, or a serious condition, could be seen be seen by a specialist as quickly as possible.’ It reassured me that it didn’t mean I had cancer but that ‘early diagnosis and early access to treatment is shown to improve health outcomes’.

Customer care lesson 1 – Giving clear information in unemotional language is generally a good policy but, just as you can’t help think about blue elephants if someone tells you not to think about blue elephants, it does get the customer/ patient thinking…

Customer care lesson 2 – If you flag something up as ‘fast-track’ and ‘urgent’ and say that having an appointment within two weeks is ‘very important’ – your subsequent customer service should reflect that sense of urgency (without panic of course) for reassurance if nothing else.

When it comes to health, people, particular men, are as likely to be panicked into inaction as action!

10 calls on 6 different numbers…

So the day after receiving my referral letter, I phoned the number given to make my ‘urgent appointment’. I’m told I can only call between 2pm and 4.30pm, and when I do phone – and on four occasions after that – I get a recorded message asking me to leave my details and they will get back to me.

I leave my details on three separate dates over the next 10 days without response and call the Health Centre (the number on the referral letter having referred  me to a second Health Centre number) to ask for advice.

I’m given the main switchboard at the hospital and the switchboard gives me two new numbers to try (note: they don’t transfer me). I call the first of the two numbers to be told that the number the Health Centre gave me is not recognised by the overworked-sounding-voice I talk to and he eventually establishes that I’m even then on the wrong number because I’m a new patient.

Customer care lesson 3 – If you build up goodwill by having human beings on the end of a telephone line you need to make sure those people give the impression they’re bothered about you, and are enabled to give accurate information. Otherwise that customer/ patients goodwill goes up in a puff of smoke – and it takes a lot of effort to claw it back.

And finally…

I’m given another new number (the sixth) and finally speak to someone who cannot locate my referral details but takes my number to call me back. I get a voicemail about an hour later telling me ‘we cannot give you a date, we’ll call you when we have additional dates for the clinic.’

Customer care lesson 4 – It’s the old marketing adage ‘under-promise and over-provide’. Try to make it as easy as possible for your customer to get an average service, then surprise and delight them by exceeding their expectations.

I’ve always suspected the NHS is in crisis (no fault of the majority of health professionals who work in it – my wife is one of them!) but my recent experience is in danger of confirming that conclusion.

In a day, the ‘two week timeframe for an appointment’ (and I think this is two weeks for being seen, rather than getting a date to be seen) will be up. I hope what it fast turning into a health scare story has a happy ending.

For a blog with further lessons in customer care, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/im-just-putting-you-on-hold

Enterprise essential – Look and listen

That we have two ears and two eyes, but only one mouth should be a constant reminder that effective communication uses different senses. It’s said that over 50% of face-to-face communication is through body language (with tone of voice being much more important than the actual words for verbal communication that’s not face-to-face).