Author Archives: Caroline Cooper

And the winner is…

Award WinnerEarlier this month I was a guest at an awards ceremony – the British Excellence in Sales Management Awards, hosted by the very funny Jimmy Carr. Quite apart from having a great evening and an excuse to put on a posh frock, I was delighted when I discovered my host was up for an award. And this wasn’t any old award; this with the lifetime achievement award. So you can imagine my delight – and of course his – when he was announced the winner. Such a proud moment for him, and made me feel proud to be part of it.

Congratulations Peter Thomson, well deserved.

So today I’d like to talk more about the power of awards, but…

Before we get into that I’d like to announce our survey results.


The results are in

It was fantastic to hear that so many of you (47%) feel incredibly lucky to have an amazing team who are fantastic ambassadors for your business.

The not so good news that 35% of you believe your managers/supervisors lack confidence/experience to lead effectively.

Although 30% say you have only one or two challenging people but overall they are fairly engaged, 22% recognise you have a number of staff who are disengaged.

I was also really interested in some of the things you systematically do to measure levels of engagement amongst your team.

So over the coming weeks I will share with you some more ideas of things you can be doing with your team to measure levels of employee engagement and ideas on how to improve it.

I’m also thinking through what else I can do for you to help bridge that gap where your managers lack the confidence to lead effectively (which probably no doubt has an impact on levels of employee engagement too).

Here’s one way of boosting employee engagement for starters…


External awards are a fantastic way to give recognition to your team; to show you appreciate their hard work. And although winning is great, just being nominated for an award is a great morale booster, because it demonstrates your team you think you are worthy of it.

They also provide an opportunity to stand out from the competition and boost your business profile.

I recall from my corporate days when our sales director put me forward for the Institute of Marketing Sales Trainer of the year award. I didn’t win but I was one of the finalists, which gave me a huge boost, and an opportunity to invite my colleagues along to the awards dinner which was great for my profile and for the business.

Keep your eye out for awards which are relevant to your business or your market. Look at the criteria they are looking for and ensure a good match for you and your business.

And even if you currently think you’re light years away from reaching those criteria, set it as a goal to nominate your team (or an individual within your team) for the award next year. Let them know the goal and work with them on developing an action plan to fill the gaps. Then empower them to do what it takes to reach that goal.

Even doing something internally as a league table can help maintain focus as well as an element of fun. This might mean concentrating on a different theme each month so that everyone has the opportunity to be recognised for their particular skills and strengths. Just as long as it’s relevant to your definition of success.

Be sure to recognise all departments, including back of house staff, or those in non-customer facing roles. It’s all too easy for them to get forgotten, and of course they all have their part to play.

So what awards will you be entering in 2018?

Putting Theory into Practice

parachute-brittany-gaiserIn all my years as a trainer the number 1 mistake I see businesses making with their staff training is not doing enough to make an easy transition from theory to the real world.

What takes place in the safety, and often false environment, of the training room can be very different from what happens in the big bad real world. Particularly so with any skills training which needs practice to perfect, and time to form new habits.

Of course this means not only does the business not get a good return on their investment, it can also have a negative and demotivating impact on the employee.

The link

Making the link to their role really starts before the training even begins, by discussing with the team member how the training is relevant to the job.

But this needs to be followed through during the training itself, asking for ideas on how team members are going to implement what they have learnt. Help them identify situations where they can put their learning into practice as quickly as possible, preferably within the next day or two, and get their commitment to one or two specific actions.

Flush out any questions or concerns, or anything they know of which will make it difficult or even impossible for them to implement what they’ve learnt. Check they have the necessary resources, time, authority, peer support and opportunity to put it into practice. If not, ensure you get these in place before that momentum is lost.

These might be things you don’t want to hear, but better to know about these now (and have an opportunity to put them right) than them going away confused or negative through questions unanswered and discover two weeks on that nothing has changed!

On an individual level this might include a lack of confidence or a concern they might make mistakes. They may be unclear on which actions are their job opposed to anyone else’s. They might not even see these actions as part of their role, but somebody else’s responsibility.

Be available for individuals to ask questions on a one to one basis after any training; not everyone will feel comfortable raising their queries in front of colleagues, and some may need a while to reflect on what’s been covered.

Set some specific medium-term goals to focus people’s attention in implementing the training. It might simply be based on customer feedback, or a specific target to sell x number of a certain product or service.

Finish training by giving recognition for their participation. Create a link to further training, or how you’ll be following up in the workplace.

Making the transition

Sometimes the only way to really hone new skills and develop true competence is once applied on the job. It simply can’t always happen in the confines of the training session or without the pressures of the real world.

We shouldn’t expect perfection straight away. People need time to practise and find their own way of doing things, and not be afraid to make the odd mistake so long as they learn from it.

Everything takes longer when it’s new and you’re still learning a little from trial and error. Confidence can be low as you get to grips with it all.

Unless followed though promptly, any potential barriers will simply provide an excuse for not putting things into practice. The longer problems are left unresolved, the less the likelihood of anyone getting to the point it becomes habit.

So when you plan training, schedule time for team members to practise and time for you or their line manager to check how they are doing. Or assign a mentor, coach or buddy to help overcome the initial barriers to perfecting their new skill.

Observe how team members handle the conversations with customers and give them feedback after the event on what they’re doing well, what they could do more of, and give the appropriate coaching, support and guidance on areas where they need more help.

Maintaining Momentum

Provide back up resources such as prompt cards or checklists. Reinforce messages by building exercises into your daily and weekly calendar, etc., as part of team briefings or meetings, 1:1 reviews and ongoing feedback.

Recognise the role line managers have in the follow up to training. What’s working well, what fresh perspectives have they brought, what needs more practice?

If the training isn’t being implemented identify what’s getting in the way now, not wait until they’ve been struggling and given up hope. When something doesn’t work right first time around it’s all too easy for them to go back to their old and familiar ways.

It takes time to instil new habits.

Just like any other week

Next week (2-6 October) is National Customer Service Week.Engaging your team in customer service

Customer Service Week is the perfect opportunity to acknowledge the critical role customer service plays in running a successful business.

Of course, customer service plays a vital role at any time of year, not just during customer service week.

But if nothing else it provides the perfect opportunity to put customer service in the spotlight.

As you and I know, delivering great service and a memorable customer experience starts with your team.


here are 10 ideas for raising the profile of customer service and engaging your team in the whole customer experience.

1. First impressions

You probably already do some activities involving your team in the customer journey (and if you’re not, now might be a good time to start!).

Take them a step further back and ask them to review the very first customer service to touch points. These might be a Google search, your website (how clear as it, how easy is it to navigate, contact you, etc), telephoning you (how quickly the phone is answered, what happens out of hours, how messages are taken, etc), signage to your property, etc.

Get them to identify what’s good, but what could be better. Get a plan in place to make these improvements. The good thing is you’ll already have their buy in if they’ve suggested them

2. Opportunity knocks

Prepare a flipchart with a list of all the touch points on your customer journey down the left-hand side. Divide everyone into small teams and allocate each team 2-3 touch points.

Give each group a stack of Post-it notes and ask them to identify as many opportunities as possible for adding value or up-selling to customers at the touch.

3. Internal service superstars

You may already have something in place for recognising good service for your front of house/customer facing teams. But what about those who beaver away behind the scenes supporting your customer facing teams.

Set up ways for your internal customers to put forward internal service superstars.

4. Learn from mistakes

Ask your team to analyse any negative customer reviews, be they feedback forms, social media or direct customer feedback. Set them the task of analysing what led to the customer’s perception (even if in their eyes it was unfounded), what can be done to minimise the risk of this happening again, and what actions they can take responsibility for.

5. Back of house perspective

It’s easy for those who are customer facing to get accustomed to flaws in the system. Allocate one aspect of your service to each of your back of house team to experience it from a customer’s perspective.

Not only will you provide you with invaluable feedback, it gives them an opportunity to understand more about your customers’ experience (and depending on your services could be giving them a bit of a treat into the bargain).

6. Service champions

Nominate team members to be ambassadors or champions the different aspects of the customer experience, building on personal strengths. This works best when people volunteer for the role or are nominated by their peers.

Being a champion gives them pride in what they do and they will appreciate that you’ve recognised that they do a good job. This allows the champions to delve deep into the task, plus gets their buy-in.

7. Feedback on performance

Is only natural that people will put more effort into things that get measured than those that don’t. So if all your emphasis is on the bottom line or productivity, guess what? That’s what people will focus on!

Set some metrics for evaluating service if you don’t have these in place already; ideally involve the team this. Make these a regular feature an agenda item for your team meetings.

8. Say thank you

Recognise and reward those who go the extra mile for customers. Not only does it show you appreciate their efforts, and also reinforces for others and demonstrates examples of best practice.

9. Simon says…

Do remember the game Simon Says, when everyone ends up copying what you do, rather than what you’re told to do?

Well, it’s the same with your team! Walk the talk. Ensure you and your management team are shining examples.

10. Last impressions

Ask your team to review the very last touch points from your customer’s perspective. If you’re selling a product, this might be when they come to use the product, or phone you with a query. If you’re selling a service this might be how well you demonstrate your appreciation of their business after the event. Anything that might impact the customer either positively or negatively.

Challenge each of your team to come up with one idea that would leave your customers with a positive binding memory or GLUE

Whichever of these activities you do, make sure you follow through. Get a plan in place to implement the ideas. The good thing is you’ll already have buy in from your team if they’re the ones who’ve suggested them.

So, what will you do next week to demonstrate your commitment to delivering great customer service?

Maybe you’re doing some or even all of these things all the time, so for you customer service week is just like any other week!

Here are some more ideas for customer service week.

If you don’t measure it how can you manage it?

As a business owner understandably you’re focused on sales and growth.employee engagement

Most business owners I work with are too. But I also see many letting money slip through their fingers unnoticed. Profits they could retain with a few simple steps.

We’ve finally woken up to the benefits of having an engaged team yet evidence still shows that 80% or more of staff are not engaged at work.

That’s shocking and frankly quite sad.

What’s more it’s costing us millions.

It’s crazy that business owners measure their financial and sales performance, yet so few measure how engaged their employees are.

And if you don’t measure it how can you manage it?

Unfortunately disengaged employees aren’t necessarily that easy to spot.

They come to work on time, they do what’s asked of them and they say yes to your requests.


These are also the people who only do the minimum expected and seldom more, they rarely go out of their way to support their colleagues, and are liable to whinge the minute your back is turned.  They’re not consciously unhappy, but nor are they enthused, excited or energised about their job.

But the worst of it is they are like a rotten apple. If we don’t spot them early they bring everyone else along with them.

Look here to see how you can measure your engagement levels right now. And stop those profits sneaking out the back door.

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Sitting on a Goldmine

Gold (1600x1066)I believe many businesses are sitting on a potential untapped goldmine.

Most managers think of team development to achieve one of two things:

  • to fix someone’s weaknesses
  • as a way of grooming somebody for promotion

Fixing faults v seeing strengths

Rather than making everyone mediocre in everything by trying to fix weaknesses, by focusing on people’s strengths we’re able to tap into opportunities to enable a person to really excel.

If you think about a football team or an athlete they work on honing their skills in the areas in which they already perform well. A football team where everyone is trained to be a striker, goalie and a midfielder is unlikely to go places. Instead the focus is put on where they are already strong so that they can excel in those positions.

Look for the capabilities in others that they themselves may not see and help them to see these for themselves. Focusing on strengths not only boosts confidence, it enables people to shine and excel. It means complementing potential shortcomings of others in the team, contributing unique value in the eyes of colleagues and customers. And in most cases the tasks we’re good at we enjoy more, excite us and keep us engaged.

Stagnate v stretch

Grooming for promotion might be one intention or outcome for development, but even when we know that a team member has probably reached their peak, or we know full well they are not interested in progressing; it doesn’t mean to say we let them stagnate.

A bored employee is unlikely to shine and even less likely to wow you or your customers!

So look for opportunities to stretch team members within the current responsibilities or in areas where they’re already strong. Maybe give them responsibility for training others in that area, giving them ownership over the procedures, looking for ways to make efficiencies or refine a process or improve that task. By giving individual team members ownership over particular tasks we create a sense of pride and responsibility.  And with this comes the desire to get things right.

When they have one or two areas to focus on specifically it encourages them to go deeper and develop their expertise. You’ll be amazed what people can achieve when their strengths are recognised and they’re given the authority and autonomy to apply them. This can take the pressure off you as this person then becomes the go to person instead of you.

Most businesses I talk to are blissfully unaware of the potential goldmine sitting right in front of them within their team.

Are you sitting on an untapped goldmine?
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A Waiting Game

queueBusy periods should be great for business. But don’t let the bonus of being busy backfire.

With half term next week and the glorious weather of late you may be expecting a busy week ahead, particularly if you’re a visitor attraction or leisure business.

And quite possibly some of your customers will be visiting you for the first time. So naturally you’ll want to give them a great first impression. And keep your regulars happy, too.

So how can you ensure that even when you’re busy your customers get the same warm welcome and attention they do on every other day of the year.

When we’re busy one of the criticisms from customers can be queuing. Let’s face it; none of us like to be kept waiting. We always think of the 101 things we could be doing instead.

Here are 10 things to think about so your team can be prepared and your customers get the warm welcome they’re expecting …even if waiting.

1. Prevention is better than cure

Queues and being kept waiting are never going to be popular with your customers. Whether it’s waiting in a queue, being put on hold, waiting for a slow internet connection or waiting for your order to arrive, any of these situations can try our patience.

Estimate your busy times. If you know when your peak times are in the first instance warn customers of these times, with alternatives when they can avoid the rush – and potentially even out the pressure for you.

I know this sounds obvious, but adjust your staffing accordingly. This isn’t just a case of more staff when busy; it means more staff who are competent and confident to take on the extra workload, so ensure appropriate training is given to anyone who is redeployed to ‘help out’.

If you have self-service areas, or payment machines, help speed up the process by helping customers; you can avoid the time it takes them to read instructions, which might reduce your transaction time by half, thus reducing queues.

Can you divert people from queues to other options to achieve the same result? E.g.  to other tills, entrances or places with shorter queues. Give your team licence to cut red tape and open up alternative channels where you can.

2. Make use of waiting time to save time elsewhere

If people do have to wait, make this as painless as possible.

Can customers be doing other things whilst queuing or waiting to be served which will save time once they get served –  such as reading information that speeds up their buying decision, e.g. reading what’s on offer, finding out about specials, understanding what’s included in each price option?  Or learning of anything that isn’t available so they can be thinking of alternatives (and not have their hopes dashed when you tell them they can’t have their No 1 choice).

Can they be getting tickets or vouchers ready, filling out forms or processing payment. Can you take cash payments from people in the queue to speed things up?

Can customers be doing something that saves them time once served, e.g. reading menus or site maps to plan their visit?

3 A team effort

Even if you don’t have enough space, equipment or outlets to serve more customers at any one time, you can at least have people on hand to deal with any queries, printing out bills or acting as ‘runners’ for those dealing with customers.

Have empathy for the waiting customers; the waiting may not be your fault, but take some responsibility for action, not blame others for their wait.  If you rely on business partners or outsourced services, your customers don’t care if it’s down to them; as far as they are concerned you all represent your business.

4. Alleviate the pain

Make waiting time a pleasurable experience by offering your customers something to distract from the wait or maybe even compensate for their wait. Ask them to take a seat, or stand in the warm…

Maybe a little something to compensate for the wait may be appropriate: a drink, map, kids’ colouring in sheet or sticker, as appropriate for your business. Just a small token gift, just to say we appreciate your patience.

(And if you’re now subconsciously thinking you couldn’t afford to do this every time someone has to wait; maybe it’s time you reviewed your customer experience. Waiting should be the exception, not the norm. Compare this investment to the cost of losing the customer altogether!)

If people have been kept patiently waiting for even a few moments, at the very least acknowledge this and thank them for their patience.

5. Give alternatives

If there is a delay, does the customer wait, or do they opt for something that doesn’t involve waiting? That might of course depend on just how long they have to wait.

When we’re put on hold, if told we are 2nd in the queue we are far more likely to hang on than if we’re told we are 10th.

So let you customers know – is it expected to be a 2 minutes wait or half an hour? Disney have mastered this; you always know how long you’ll be waiting in line, so you aren’t agitated whilst you wait.

Being honest (and not making false promises and under estimating) allows the customer to make an informed decision. If you need to put someone on hold, ask them first if this is OK; don’t just assume they’re happy to hang on.

If you’ve a backlog of orders and they’ll have to wait 10 minutes for their Panini tell them so (and of course make sure it does only take 10 minutes or less!).

At the very least give notice if you can’t deliver your promise.

Being kept informed is not about making excuses!  It’s about keeping the customer informed of the situation and giving them options…

6. Streamline your operation

Review all the touch points on the customers’ journey – where can time be saved; waiting for web pages or images to load, phones being answered more quickly, keeping on top of orders so purchases can be dispatched/served quickly.

Do customers ever have to repeat information they’ve already given, double back to access things they need, duplicate processes, or re-queue for secondary transactions or information. This not only wastes their valuable time, but takes more effort on their part, (and potentially disrupts other queuing customers).

Just because this is how it’s always been done, isn’t a good enough reason to do it that way!

Do you give customers accurate information so they can get to speak to the right person first time around? Do you have some generic phone number that takes customers through 5 (or even more) options before they can even get to speak to a human being? Give them a direct number next time so as a valued customer they can jump the ‘queue’ to go directly to the right person.

If you’re not sure if there is any doubling up – ask your customers… And ask your team; I bet they know where things could be streamlined.

7. Save your customers time and effort

In the same way that anything that wastes time for your customers can be an irritation, anything that saves your customer time will add value.

Why not have an express service, line, process, phone number, etc. for your existing loyal customers. Make them feel special and valued. Even for new customers who are time poor, introduce a quick option that saves time – at a premium price if you need to – you may be surprised how many take you up on that.

A minute here, and a minute there may not seem much individually, but add them all together and you might save your customers considerably time.

8. Keep a balance

However, remember you don’t want customers to feel rushed, so apply time savings sensibly and appropriately.

Never compromise quality for speed or let your team use it as an excuse to cut corners or make mistakes.

It’s a fine balance. Test, review and ask your team for their ideas, then tweak accordingly.

9. Last impressions

You’re only as good as your last encounter with the customer.

What’s the very last thing your customers see, hear, smell, taste or feel as they leave?

Say thank you. A simple verbal thank you and acknowledgement as they leave, even if it’s just a smile and a nod of the head or wave is always appreciated by customers; it’s one of the simplest ways to make them feel appreciated.

Whatever happens in the last few moments of their visit will undoubtedly influence their lasting impression.

What’s the one thing they remember when they get home, or next time they’re thinking of visiting you…?

10. Engage and enthuse your team for the busy time ahead

A happy team equals happy customers. Give your team all the information, support, resources and training they need.

Tap into people’s strengths and give experienced team members specific responsibilities to oversee key points on the customer journey.

Empower everyone to make decisions to do what’s in the customer’s best interest. Having to seek approval or authorisation at the best of times is annoying for the customer and demeaning for team members, but it becomes even more irritating when you’re busy.

Be the prefect role model. Stay enthusiastic and energised; staff and customers will soon pick it up if you’re not.

We talked about acknowledging customers, but at the end of the busy period it’s so important to acknowledge your team; thank you for their hard work over any busy periods. It doesn’t have to be lavish; a simple thank you for all their hard work goes a long way.

So make the most of your busy periods and don’t let the bonus of being busy backfire.

Learn to Let Go

Balloons letting go

I caught myself this week doing something I really should have delegated to someone else.

Not only was this tying up my valuable time when I could be doing something only I can do; the person who should have done it would have done a better job, and quite possibly in half the time!

Do you ever find yourself falling into this trap?

I’m not just referring to doing routine administrative or mundane tasks. There’s many a time that the things we do to respond to customers’ needs and expectations could also be done just as well (or even better) by others.

When we have an excellent relationship with customers it can be difficult to let go. We often feel guilty or obliged to that customer to look after them ourselves; to give them a personal service. And we’re potentially worried they won’t feel as valued if we delegate some aspects of the customer relationship to our team.

But in doing so we could actually be diluting our efforts and giving a poorer customer experience. What happens when we’re on holiday, tied up with other projects, or when two or more customers all need us at the same time?

We can’t do everything! We need to put our trust in others and delegate some of that responsibility.

But what if we’re not confident anyone in the team is up to it?

I’m not talking here about abdication. You if you were teaching your child to swim you wouldn’t just dump them in at the deep end and let them get on with it. You’d show them, coach them, support them until they were ready to go it alone. And even then you’d be watching at the poolside until you could see they were safe.

Ah, but… I hear some say.

  • “My customer trusts me and expects to deal with me”
    They expect to always deal with you because that’s what you’ve always given them. If they are never given the chance to speak to your team that will never change. Set expectations early on with your customers so they know who is the best person to speak to when. Introduce your customers to your team so they know who they’re dealing with and build trust (and their expectations) early on.
  • “It takes too much time to explain, I can do it quicker”
    In the short-term yes, but in the longer term if you delegate you are saving time to attend to more important things to add value for your customer. Having simple systems in place for routine queries means you might only have to invest the time once.
  • “They aren’t yet capable”
    And never will be unless you start incorporating delegation and trust into your people development plans.
  • “They won’t do it as well as me”
    Maybe, but are you being too much of a perfectionist? Does the task need such a degree of excellence?  If not, maybe someone can deal with the task adequately in less time so the customer isn’t kept waiting. 
  • “They aren’t yet qualified, authorised or licenced to do that”
    Everyone has to start somewhere so get them involved and leave time for you to approve or endorse their efforts before it gets sign off or the rubber stamp. (None of us would ever pass our driving test if we weren’t able to actually get out on the road and drive; it just needs plenty of practice and handholding along the way until ready.)
  • “If they are left to deal with someone else my customer won’t be happy and I’ll lose their respect”
    You’ll upset customers far more and lose more respect by delaying your response and by not devoting enough time to the areas of expertise they’re paying you for because you are too distracted by routine and administrative issues.

So in regard to having an obligation to that customer to look after them and give them a personal service – yes you should. But you won’t be able to if you get sucked into tasks that don’t require your level of expertise or experience.

The skill is knowing when to let go of the day to day issues, and put your trust in someone else to get on with things, leaving you to focus on the more important aspects of your relationship that only you can do and on the more strategic aspects of the businesses.

But, I do that already!

One of my clients was telling me last week of her frustration when her team were reluctant to get involved in training.  “They think they know it all already” she said.

Have you ever experienced that too? I know I have.

A big barrier to training, particularly customer service training or management skills, is when an employee thinks they know it all or are already doing everything correctly already. So they see the training as a criticism.

This means they are not receptive, which is not only frustrating for you, but means in all likelihood your training is a waste of time, money and effort.

Here are some ideas to get over this…


I’ll have to get my manager

When you’re a customer and want to make a complaint the last thing you want to hear is “I’ll have to go and get my manager…”

Not only is it frustrating for you as the customer, it’s demeaning for the employee and time consuming of the manager.

This week I’ve been training line managers, giving them the skills and confidence to coach their own teams in how to handle customer complaints, so they can trust their team to handle them effectively.

This means customers get any complaints handled swiftly, team members feel empowered, and managers are freed up to get on with other things.

You can watch here to discover the 4 key areas we covered.

So what’s the process in your business when a customer has a complaint? Do your team have the skills and confidence to deal with complaints, and do their line managers have the skills and confidence to train, coach, and support them?


Who handles your customer complaints?

Coaching in Complaint Handling

When you’re a customer and want to make a complaint the last thing you want to hear is “I’ll have to go and get my manager…”

Not only is it frustrating for you as the customer, it’s demeaning for the employee and time consuming of the manager.

So what’s the process in your business when a customer has a complaint? Do your team have the skills and confidence to deal with complaints, and do their line managers have the skills and confidence to train, coach, and support them?