Category Archives: Customer service

Maintaining service standards however busy you are!

maintaining service standardsMaintaining service standards when busy

Maintaining service standards when you’re busy is just as important as it is at any other time.

Is a customer any less important to you when you’re busy than when you’re quiet? They certainly shouldn’t be; and from the customer’s perspective, they expect to get the same positive customer experience when busy as they would at any other time.

Here’s my second article related to maintaining service standards during the Christmas Season. If you’re busy in the weeks leading up to Christmas, or over Christmas and New Year itself I’ve written this with you in mind.

Whether you’re a leisure, hospitality or retail business in the thick of Christmas festivities, a sporting, health or wellness business anticipating a flurry of activity from New Year’s resolutions, or a tourism business with a Christmas spectacle, your customers – be they guests, members or visitors (or any other term you use to describe your customers) – don’t really care whether you’re busy, short staffed or having a meltdown; they still want to be catered and cared for just the same as any other time of year.

But if you want to maintain your customer service standards, most of the points are equally applicable to any business at any time of year when you expect to be busy or you experience peaks of activity.

7 ideas for maintaining service standards

  1. First impressions count.  Remember, when you’re busy, many of these customers may be coming to your business for the very first time, so don’t let the volume of customers be an excuse to let customer service standards drop. Create a memorable first impression and a reason for them to return.
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  2. Maintain your reputation. Avoid damaging your reputation with your loyal regulars by allowing your normal standards to drop just because you’re stretched. It may have taken years to build loyalty and trust, and this can be broken in an instant. Even more so if they are entertaining; nobody wants the embarrassment of bringing their friends to their favourite haunt, only to have their expectations dashed.
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  3. Be up front. Most customers accept that things can go wrong from time to time. But, they are far more understanding if they’re forewarned. Keep the customer informed of the situation and give them options. Customers will appreciate your honesty which helps maintain trust and keep your customers loyal.
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  4. Don’t over commit. Be realistic about what’s feasible, and what’s not a practical proposition when you’re busy, so you don’t make commitments you can’t deliver. Check your team are aware too, particularly if something regulars normally expect isn’t currently available. What can your team suggest or recommend as an alternative?
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  5. Manage expectations. For example, if you know when you’re likely to be busy, make every effort to let your customers know this. If you let them know when the quieter times are, this not only helps them, it potentially evens out the peaks and troughs for you too, enabling you to maintain customer service standards.
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  6. Avoid disappointments. When you know something is unavailable give customers as much notice as possible – through your website, when booking or enquiring, prior to travel or on arrival – to minimise disappointment. But, offer customers choice and alternatives. Being kept informed is not about making excuses!  It’s about honesty so the customer can make an informed decision.
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  7. Try something new. If something a customer might normally have isn’t available; will it be available later or not at all? What’s the alternative? What can you offer that might be as good as or even better? Take the opportunity to introduce your customers to something they haven’t tried before, or something that could be classed as an ‘upgrade’ (at no additional cost to them, of course). It’s a perfect opportunity to let your customer experience something over and above what they were expecting, so enhance their perception of customer service and value for money.
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So whether your busy season is Christmas, the January sales, or sizzling summer days, the same customer service principles still apply…

Take action

Trust is the basis for building loyalty, and the quickest way to lose this is make promises you can’t deliver. Be open and honest with your customers and brief your team fully so they know what’s available and what’s not.

p.s. If you’d like some help auditing your venue to check it meets your customers’ expectations here are 3 different audit checklists to give you a head start.

https://www.naturallyloyal.com/resources/checklists/



Normal (Customer) Service is resumed

customer service as usual

Normal (Customer) Service is resumed.

Is it back to business as usual this week?

Whether you’re drawing breath at the end of your busiest season, or just back from your well-earned summer break it’s all too easy to drift back into things without much focus or purpose.

Which inevitably has an impact on employee engagement, productivity and customer service.

If you’ve been flat out all summer now’s the time to take stock and review, whilst things are still fresh in your mind. What went well, what didn’t go so well and what can you learn from it?

Here are 7 ideas to re-energise and engage you and your team to get you back into the swing of things and on a roll now it’s business as usual.

 

1. Celebrate

If your team were working hard right over the summer let them know how much you appreciate their efforts.

If September marks the mid-point of financial year now is an opportune moment to review progress.

Summarise and share your successes and highlights from the last 6 months, and recognise your team’s contribution to these.

Give recognition and praise where it’s due so it creates a buzz amongst your team for the remainder of year ahead!

 

2. Near misses

It’s inevitable there were occasions when things didn’t go according to plan or mishaps happened. Review some of the things that have not gone to plan over the past few months. Listen to your team and flush out any other potential risky situations, particularly if they have the potential to impact the team or customer service.

Rather than dwelling on the negatives, reflect on what you and the team have learnt from these events.

Even if you think it was a one off and unlikely to happen again your team might be aware of other ‘near misses’ or situations that are an accident just waiting to happen!

Agree what steps you can take to avoid them or minimise their impact, so they are confident they will be better prepared next time!

 

3. Set mini goals

It can often feel as if you’re not achieving much in the first few days or weeks back at work, or when you’re recovering from a busy period.

What short-term projects or goals can you set which eases everyone in gently, but still enables them to see some results within the first few days back.

This can help focus attention back onto the job in hand, and get everyone back into full flow as quickly as possible.

 

4. Take stock

A knowledgeable team not only gives them confidence, it enables them to make decisions and help build trust with your customers.

Take time to review and share your plans for the remainder of the year ahead, share up-to-date product information, what’s happening in your industry, with your competitors, or anything in the press.

It can feel a bit flat if it’s back to business as normal; give your team something to look forward to.

 

5. New challenges

The new school year is a good time to take stock of the team’s development needs.

Not everyone wants to progress, but that doesn’t mean you should let them stagnate. A bored employee is unlikely to put much enthusiasm into delivering wow customer service.

Schedule 1:1 reviews as early as possible. Discuss individual contributions and where they fit in with your plans, and how you can add variety, set new challenges or stretch them.

Identify and utilise people’s strengths, providing further development where needed to bring out the best in these areas.

 

6. Fresh perspectives

Customer Service is continually evolving, and there will always be little tweaks you can make to improve your service.

Review your entire customer journey and all the various touch points your customers experience.

When people have been away from the business for a couple of weeks, or even a few days, they often get a fresh perspective and see things in a new light.

What ideas have your team seen on their holidays or days out which they’ve appreciated and which could be applied in some way in your business?

Take a few moments this week to ask their views on any opportunities they can see to improve your service, to add value or make recommendations to customers.

Give individual team members responsibility over specific moments on the customer journey; this gives a sense of pride and ownership. And with ownership comes the desire to get things right. When individuals have one or two areas to focus on specifically it encourages them to go deeper and develop their expertise.

 

7. Play from a 10

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, which if we think it’s going to be tough getting back into the swing of things the chances are it will be.

Not just for you, but for your team as well.

It only takes one person resent being back to work after a fantastic holiday or quality time with the kids, to rub off on everyone else.  If we’re smiling and happy, confident,  enthusiastic and energetic it might not always rub off on everyone else, but it’s a better bet than if you’re down and resenting being back at work!

So whether you’ve just had break and gearing up for the new term, or just taking stock of your summer season, don’t let anyone’s post-holiday blues get you down.

Take Action

If you only do one thing – take some time out this week to sit down with your team and reflect what lessons you can take from the past 3 months which can help you get the best from the next 3 months.

Related article: Freshen up your Refreshers:
https://www.naturallyloyal.com/customer-service-training-ideas-refreshers/

Customer Service Training Ideas: 38 Activities: https://www.naturallyloyal.com/resources/28activities/


Delivering Customer Service Skills in House

customer service skills

I sometimes hear managers and even business owners commenting: “What’s the point in training people if they then leave?

They might also ask the question the other way round, and ask “What if I don’t train them and they stay”!

A lack of investment in your team might even be the very reason they leave.

When it comes to core skills such as customer service skills, having the resources to deliver your training in-house means that you get a far greater return on investment.

What this means to you is…

Far greater flexibility to:

  • Tailor the content to reflect your own challenges
  • Deliver the content in short sharp sessions to maintain participants’ interest, and suit your own schedules
  • Personalise or brand the content and materials to match your internal image and service culture
  • Develop the material to use as and when you need a top up
  • Keep all your new starters up to the same standard as everyone else to maintain your customer service skills standards

You can involve your management team in the training which means:

  • They have a vested interest in seeing it implemented
  • It’s fantastic development of their day to day leadership skills
  • It raises their profile and respect from their team
  • You get consistent messages
  • It’s easier to relate the training to people’s individual roles

And importantly it means your training budget goes so much further!

Developing Service Superstars gives you just that. It’s a ready-made customer service skills training programme giving you everything you need to get started on delivering your own customer service skills training. tomorrow

In short, it’s ideal if you want to deliver your own customer service skills training in-house but don’t have time to create a programme from scratch. So you save time, money and effort on course development

Ensuring you still get the training delivered, enabling you and your team to develop excellent customer service skills and deliver memorable customer experiences every day.

Plus, if you sign up to the programme by midnight on 5th February you will receive my special bonuses which will give you a massive head start in delivering the training and seeing the results.

So if this sounds appealing head on over here to learn more.



Attitude over Aptitude

I’ve had conversations with 3 different businesses this week about staff recruitment and getting the right people on-board. 

Getting your recruitment wrong can be costly, not just from the additional expense of recruiting, but all the knock-on impact that can have on staff morale, extra workload for fellow team members and disruption for your customers.

What I see many businesses doing is recruiting solely on qualifications and experience, but when it comes to under-performance that very often comes down to attitude.

In other words, they recruit on aptitude, but fire on attitude.

So, in this week’s blog post here are 3 considerations to help you recruit on attitude rather than aptitude.

  1. Test for a service mentality at recruitment. When your service standards are clearly defined it’s easier to identify the essential attributes you’re looking for in your ideal candidates. You can develop skills by training, but it’s more difficult to change people’s attitudes.
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    Think about your star performers. What are the characteristics that make them stand out? Then look for these traits when recruiting.
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    These can be a little more tricky to identify so ask for examples of situations they have been in that demonstrate these traits.
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    Test their perception of what makes good service and why it’s important. You don’t want to spend your time having to spell this out.
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  2. Create a business were people love to work, and are happy to be advocates and ambassadors for your business. Even when they move on.
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    This way when you come to recruit you’ll be able to do so wisely and have a steady stream of people – who share your ethos – queueing up, rather than your business being a last resort for those desperate for any job they can get!
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  3. Extend the same criteria to third party providers. Your suppliers could be your customers’ very first impression (such as a security guard at your site, a receptionist at your serviced offices or your call answering service) or very last impression (e.g. your delivery company).
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    The two most critical touch points on your customer’s journey. Don’t leave these to chance with your suppliers.

Action point

If you just do one thing, make a list of the traits that make your star team members stand out and put these to the top of your list of prerequisites when recruiting.



The Emotional Bank Account

An emotional bank account is a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that has been built up in a relationship (as described by Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) .  It’s the feeling of assurance you have with another person.

If you make enough deposits with others through courtesy, kindness, honesty and keeping your commitments to them, you build up a reserve.

This means that on the odd occasion when things go wrong, or you end up letting someone down – be that a team member, customer or friend – you have a sufficient balance that any withdrawal doesn’t take you ‘over drawn’.

Because others have established enough trust in you, you can call upon that trust if you need to.

When you are kind, honest, caring and friendly to another person, you make deposits on an Emotional Bank Account. However, if you are unkind, disrespectful, uncaring and mean, you draw from this account.

When the trust is high, communication is easy, instant and effective.

There are six major deposits we can make to the emotional bank account:

Understanding the individual

One person’s mission is another person’s minutia.  To make a deposit, what is important to another person must be as important to you as the other person is to you.

Attending to the seemingly insignificant

Kindnesses and courtesies are so important.  Forms of disrespect make large withdrawals.  In relationships, the things that can seem insignificant to you can count for others.

Keeping commitments

Keeping a commitment is a major deposit; breaking one is a major withdrawal.  In fact there’s probably no larger withdrawal than to make a promise that’s important to someone and then not keep that promise. 

Clarifying expectations

The cause of many relationship difficulties is often rooted in conflicting or ambiguous expectations around roles and goals.  Unclear expectations will lead to misunderstanding, disappointment and withdrawals of trust.  Many expectations are implicit and the deposit is to make the expectations clear and explicit in the first place.

This takes a real investment of time and effort up front, but saves great amounts of time and effort in the long run.  When expectations are not clear and shared, simple misunderstandings become compounded, turning into personality clashes and communication breakdowns.   It does, however, take courage.

Showing personal integrity

Lack of integrity can undermine almost any other effort to create high trust accounts.  It goes beyond honesty.  Integrity is conforming to the reality of our words – keeping promises and fulfilling expectations.  One way of manifesting integrity is to be loyal to those who are not present.

Apologising sincerely when you make a withdrawal

Great deposits come in the sincere words – “I was wrong”, “I showed you no respect”, “I’m sorry”.  It takes a great deal of character strength to apologise.  A person must have a deep sense of security to genuinely apologise.  It is one thing to make a mistake, and quite another not to admit it.

Action point

If you only do one thing this week:

Review the 6 types of deposits and identify just one whereby doing more of it (with either your customers or your team) could make a major impact in your emotional bank account.



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.
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  • “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.



Attracting talent for a good customer experience

At our local Institute of Directors event last week we discussed the topic of attracting and retaining talent in a tight market.Ensuring a consistent customer experience from seasonal staff

Of course having the right people on board is imperative for achieving a good customer experience. Not having sufficient people with the right skills will obviously impact service delivery.

But the way that service is delivered is of course dependent on the energy and enthusiasm of the people behind it.

Here’s a summary of some of the key points covered, with some of my own thoughts for good measure.

Why are they leaving?

If you are constantly striving to look for new staff then consider why you have a vacancy in the first place.

Fantastic news if it’s down to growth; but more often than not it’s down to labour turnover.

Unless we understand why staff are leaving it will be difficult to reverse the trend.

They say that people don’t quit jobs they quit bosses, so if someone has already made up their mind to leave be sensitive as to how you find out! But of course prevention is better than cure. Listening to, involving and engaging your team is a topic in itself, so I’m not going to cover this here.

But naturally if you’ve got good people you want to hang onto them. And of course they can make great ambassadors for your business.

Define what you’re looking for

It’s all too easy to focus on replacing like for like.

But when someone moves on it might be an ideal opportunity to restructure to open up opportunities for your existing loyal team members, and potentially giving you more flexibility in terms of potential candidates that can fulfil the new role.

In my experience when recruiting businesses tend to focus on skills and experience. But how often when we are reviewing somebody’s under performance do we focus on their attitude towards the work rather than capability? If team work and/or customer service are important to your business then define what attributes you are looking for so there are good fit for your company culture/aspirations.

Once you know what you’re looking for it’s a darn sight easier to use language that appeals to your ideal candidate. If you want someone enthusiastic, dynamic and lively make your ad enthusiastic, dynamic and lively too! You’re not looking to attract anyone who’s desperate for a job; make it clear what you’re looking for and who fits the bill of the ideal candidate.

Build your network and your pipeline

By the time you have a vacancy all your focus is on filling that vacancy as quickly as possible. Wouldn’t it be great to have a queue of people waiting with bated breath for you to get in touch to tell them you have that job they’ve been waiting for?!

Use your network of business contacts, connections with education, your existing team and even your customers to help develop a “candidate pool” from which you can pick the best candidates.  Network or socialise where your prospective staff are; this will not only help to build relationships and reputation but will give you an opportunity to see people in a more relaxed environment.

Keep this as an ongoing activity rather than waiting until you suddenly have a vacancy to fill.

Develop your talent

Promote from within whenever possible.  Always let your existing team members know when a position is available.  Even if this is not a step up, it may present a new challenge to keep someone motivated.

If you do have internal applicants treat them in the same way as your external ones – acknowledging receipt of their application, interviews, offer letters, salary details, etc.  If internal candidates do not get the job ensure you give feedback to help with their development and to encourage them to apply for future positions.

Become a great place to work

Create a culture where the best employees will want to work, and build a reputation as a good employer so you attract the best people.

This includes continuing to build your brand with applicants who haven’t been successful.

What does it mean to work for your organisation? Ask your existing employees for their perspective and to share what’s important to them about working for you.
If your existing team feel valued they are far more likely to recommend you to others and spread the word that it’s a great place to work.

No regrets

Start your induction process at the point they accept your job offer.

Let them know how much you are looking forward to them coming to work for you. Drip feed information that lets them know that they’re going to get a warm welcome. This might include a background to your business, your values and what’s important to you, current topical information, an invitation to any events/social activities happening between now and their start date, a copy of their induction programme and the point of contact for day one.

Doing all this before they start will make them feel more welcome and minimise that risk of any second thoughts.

Hit the ground running

During the first few weeks in the job people start to make up their mind whether or not this is the place they want to stay and whether or not they’re able to pursue their career here.

For new people it can sometimes feel to them as if they are not achieving much in the early days. So consider allocating a specific project that they can get stuck in to and for which they have some responsibility and ownership.

This is a great way to get them involved and give them something where they can contribute early on.

For more on employee engagement see https://www.naturallyloyal.com/engagement/


Are you losing your customers?

I find it quite ironic to be writing this post just a few days after the New Horizons probe has managed to make it several billion miles to Pluto without getting lost.

But, if you’re anything like me, I’m sure you’ll have driven somewhere confident that your sat nav will get you there safely. And when it helpfully tells you “You have reached your destination” you realise you are in the middle of nowhere, wondering now where?

In short you are lost!

So how does this happen? Let’s face it, sat nav is only as good as the info we give it, and I’ve had two instances recently that have landed me in totally the wrong place.

Had I been a customer these instances would have given me a far from good customer experience and first impression…

Probably arriving late and in a bad mood.

Not a good start to a good customer relationship, and potentially putting you on the back foot right from the start.

So as a business what can we do to prevent this negative first encounter? In fact can we use something as simple as travelling directions as an opportunity to impress our customers right from the start. All part of great customer service.

1. Make your post code prominent

90% of people these days are likely to go to Google maps or similar to look you up, (and probably want to see where you are before they decide to visit you) and chances are they’ll use sat nav to find you.

Make sure your post code is easy to find, not tucked away in minute font on a hidden contact us page.

2. Check your postcode actually comes up

Today I was looking for a hotel and had their postcode. But when I put it into Google Maps it didn’t like it one bit. I called the hotel and asked them where they are as it wouldn’t find them, and they gave me a different postcode. I suggested it might be an idea to put this on their website! “Oh, that’s a good idea” came the reply!

Hardly rocket science, but it’s one of those things that simply gets shunted to the bottom of the to do list – giving your staff more to do, and frustrating your customer from the outset.

3. Check it out

Get into your customers shoes and check your postcode and directions and where these take you. Not just your postcode when you enter it into a sat nav, but on Google maps and other map apps.

Check the directions it gives for the final part of the journey, and not down some farm track or footpath (yes, I am serious, it has been known) and it takes you to the front entrance, not some rear entrance that you’d rather your visitors didn’t see!

4. Give alternatives

If your postcode takes you somewhere remote, don’t just tell customers to ignore their sat nav – give them a practical alternative. Do some homework and check out the postcode for an alternative point on the journey to use as an anchor or waymark they can use instead. And then make this clear.

5. Update your Google listing

Get your business on Google so when people find your location on Google maps your business name comes up too (not just your competitors’). It’s nice and reassuring for a customer when they see this.

6. Keep your eyes open

It’s easy to drive in on auto pilot, but is your business easy to spot? Have road signs got over grown, faded or damaged. Is your entrance visible from the road? Are sign posts accurate (who hasn’t been caught out by some prankster turning signs around and sending you in the wrong direction?) It’s fine for us, we know where we are going; your customers don’t!

7. Road closed

Keep an ear out for roadworks. If you know in advance a road will be closed or there are major roadworks give your customers the heads up. It’s a great excuse to get in touch before their visit and earn some brownie points.

But don’t just warn them; let the know the alternatives (particularly if you know any diversions will take them the long way round when there is a sneaky short-cut).

8. Provide old fashioned directions

What did we do in the days before sat nav? Oh yes, we gave directions with landmarks. Be prepared to do the same today. And ensure anyone likely to get asked can do the same – e.g. reception or anyone who answers the phone to customers. Build this into your customer service training.

9. Reserved Parking

Once your customer has found you, what’s their first impression when they arrive? Do you provide parking? If not where is the best place, how far is it, will they need change for the meter? If so forewarn them in a friendly note before they travel.

But if you do provide parking one of the best ways to wow your customer is to reserve a space. Having your plum parking spaces nearest your front door reserved for directors or your own team speaks volumes about how much you value your customers!

10. Applying the principles

Although I’m referring here to directions to help customers, what other processes do we fail to make simple for our customers? Is your ordering process clear, how simple is your cancellation or refund process, do you make it easy for customers to pay you (e.g. clear invoices and prominent bank details), is your website easy to navigate, is it easy to find your contact details and a way to contact you directly?

Ask your team for their input. What do customers remark on. What questions do they frequently get asked? What else can we do to to make it easy for our customer?

These seemingly insignificant factors all add up to giving your customer either a simple smooth experience or a stressful one, which loses them on the way…



Exceeding customer expectations with GLUE

I often refer to GLUE with my clients or when I’m delivering customer service training.

According to Gartner, by 2016, 89% of businesses will compete mostly on customer experience.

G.L.U.E, is the practice of giving little unexpected extras to exceed expectations. Doing the little signature things that can make a big difference.

Stan Phelps in this TEDx talk sums up the principle beautifully:


Take stock of your Customer Service

On the twelth day of Christmas my true love sent to mechecklist

Tip #12

Take stock

What minor changes and improvements can you make to your customer service systems and processes to give your customers an even better experience?

Sometimes all it takes is a minor adjustment to make a big difference.

And if you can’t see the wood for the trees this might help…