Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Radical Idea: Don't annoy your customers

Why do some companies have rules that can only annoy their customers? My daughter's phone is with 3 Mobile and is in my name. She is on a £15 a month contract, which includes 600 texts. Seems a lot to me, but not to her. The latest 3 offer is a £15 a month contract with unlimited texts.

So I rang up 3 and asked if we could switch. The answer was, of course, no. The offer was for new customers only. Now this concept has been brilliantly parodied by Mark Benton in the Nationwide adverts. The ads, showing how Nationwide does not have offers for "brand new customers only", are said to have brought them a million new customers.

I asked the two customer service people I talked to from 3 whether they thought it better to follow a strict rule or to make a customer happy. They both laughed and agreed it would be good to make the customer happy. But they weren't allowed to. They weren't even allowed to give me a contact number or email for somebody who might be allowed to.

Why does 3 (and many other mobile companies) do this? The extra cost of the new contract is marginal. Much of that £15 actually goes to subsidising the cost of the phone that came with the contract. But the rule is rigid and you can only have the original deal you signed up to.

I am happy to give 3 a simple idea for their next marketing campaign. Why not offer any customer signing up to them the chance to swap to any other contract of the same monthly cost that comes out over the period of their contract? It would be a simple promise that they value their customers and want to keep them happy. And it would cost very little.

Of course 3 aren't alone here. I could give stories of dreadful recent service from Sony, Virgin and many others. I have a simple principle here: Don't have rigid rules that annoy your customers. One day I hope that won't seem too radical and crazy an idea.

Friday, 13 February 2009

It is good to pay tax

Some years ago my mother was cold called by a financial adviser. The conversation went something like this:

"Hello, can I help you pay less tax", he said
"No, I'm not interested" replied my mum
"No, really, I can save you money" he continued
"No thank you" said my mum
"Please, just give me 10 minutes of your time and I can prove that I can help you pay less tax."
"No, you don't understand" explained my mum. "Its not that I don't believe you. But I'm a socialist and I believe in paying my taxes"
Quick as a flash the adviser came back "Perhaps I can help you pay more taxes?"

My mother declined this kind offer but her attitude, believing paying taxes was part of being a responsibile member of society, is all too rare nowadays.

When we tendered for a new auditor in the summer the main focus (even obsession) of nearly all the accounting firms who presented was how they would help me avoid paying my tax. All I wanted to know who would do my audit best and give good business advice.

Over the last two weeks the Guardian has shown the extent of tax avoidance among the UK's leading companies. Many of these make much of their corporate social responsibility. But theya re exposed here as complete hypocrits. While they spend a few million on the local community, they go to great lengths to avoid paying hundreds of millions, if not billions, in tax.

And you can be sure that the bankers wallowing in their millions in bonuses would have found a hundred-and-one ways to avoid paying the proper level of tax on it.

One of the principle social responsibilities of any business is to pay the tax that enables the health service, the education system, the country's infrastructure and much more besides.

So I hope I can live up to my mother's example. And I hope one day tax avoidance will be as illegal as tax evasion - doing a lot of our leading (and supposedly socially responsible) consutancies out of a major source of business.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Happy Wins Double Gold

Last week was the Institute of IT Training's annual awards. And it was a great night for Happy Computers. We won Gold for IT Training Company of the Year and Gold for IT Trainer of the Year.

Which was fantastic and a complete surprise. We had got Silver in Training Company in 2006, 2007 and 2008 but I wasn't sure it was our year. Apparently the judges were especially impressed by our social responsibility work.

It was great that Ed Lepre won Trainer of the Year. Ed is profoundly deaf and teaches his courses using British Sign Language. He originally joined us on a work experience scheme 3 years ago and has had such dedication to learning and improvement.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Socialise at Work And Get More Done

Should you let your staff spend time at work on social networking? Some recent research suggests that if you don't, your staff may be less committed and effective.

The research was presented at London Business School's Management 2.0 conference last week. Bruce Rayner, of employment benefits company You at Work, found that those staff who spent up to an hour a day on non-work emailing, texting and social messaging were far more committed than those who spent no time on those activities.

Big Issue for Generation Y
And its an especially big issue for Under 25s, the group known as Generation Y. The survey found that 33% of this age group were frustrated by employer restrictions over the web (compared to just 9% across all age groups). Over three quarters of under 25s said they were "less likely to leave a company that encourages me to socially interact with colleagues”.

Bruce divided companies into 3 categories: the 'ban-its', the 'agnostics' and the 'embracers', those companies who actively encourage staff to use social networking. He argues: "If employees take a 'social networking' slice out of their day it doesn’t mean the 'value adding' work slice decreases - it means the overall pie increases. Trust is repaid through higher creativity and productivity"

So is your company in the "ban-it" category or are you ready to join the forward-thinking embracers like Cisco, IBM and Microsoft?