Telling the truth about SME life today

It’s simple: hire people with personality

Ashley from Pontypridd was there because he saved a bemused best man from extreme embarrassment when he corrected a competitor’s unfortunate spelling mistake on the bridesmaids’ engraved gifts.

“How much do I owe ” asked the best man.

“Nothing,” replied Ashley.

“But it was my mistake.”

“Don’t worry,” said Ashley. “Call it a wedding present.”

After our guests had left, Alex said, “You look pleased with yourself.”

“Yes,” I said, “it was a great day full of fantastic stories – much better than Saturday when you sent me shopping with the foster children and we queued at the checkout for 20 minutes.”

“How do you know your shops are any better?” asked Alex, who has taken a keen interest in business since masterminding The White Eagle, our pub on Anglesey.

“While I’m in Cheshire,” I replied, “I can’t know how well customers are served in Aberdeen or Plymouth, but we try to keep in touch. For years we used mystery shoppers, who wrote detailed accounts of their shopping experiences.

"They were not always perfect – one report criticised Mandy in Middlesbrough for not shaving, and another complained about staff in Newmarket where we don’t have a shop. And I was caught by a mystery shopper in Cambridge, who accurately described a grey-haired man who couldn’t operate the till.

“Two years ago we replaced these written reports with filmed evidence. Our shoppers now act as a human tripod, carrying a tiny concealed camera. I expected a backlash from our troops but they approved – they liked seeing themselves through the eyes of a customer. The DVDs revealed the truth and showed them how to improve.”

“But this is all pretty subjective – it doesn’t really measure your level of service,” insisted Alex.

“I’ve found the answer to that, thanks to a book called The Ultimate Question, which reveals the secret of successful customer surveys. We now only ask one question on comment cards: ‘On a scale of one to ten, how likely is it that you would recommend Timpson to a friend or colleague ’

“The responses produce a loyalty factor by using the following formula:

Total responses of 9 to 10 Total responses of 1 to 6

“And in the past few years we have discovered something that really improves our customer care.”

“Oh, yes?” asked Alex, with a look of impatient resignation.

“Yes,” I repeated. “It’s pathetically simple: pick people with personality and give them the freedom to serve customers the way they think best. It works so well we display a notice in every shop that reads:

‘The staff have my authority to do whatever they think will best give an amazing service. John Timpson.’

“That freedom helped Adrian in Beverley win an award at our lunch today,” I said.

“I suppose I’m going to hear another anecdote ” said Alex testily. I ignored her remark and continued.

“Adrian’s customer arrived at 5pm with shoes that needed a full repair.

‘Give me 20 minutes,’ said Adrian.

‘Sorry,’ said the customer, ‘my bus leaves at 5.16.’

‘Not a problem,’ said Adrian, ‘I should close at 5.00 anyway, so I’ll get your shoes done straightaway and give you a lift home.’”

I didn’t think Alex was listening, so I gave her a letter we received at the office. She read it quickly and went quiet. It was her first complaint about The White Eagle.

“Don’t worry,” I said, trying to be helpful, “be thankful your customers care enough to write – complaints are good news as long as you take them seriously. They bring you down to earth and prove your business can get even better.”To read more of Timpo’s columns, click here.



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