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I Think Excellent Customer Service Is More Important Than Ever – Do You Agree?

Good customer service is very important to me – is it important to you? In fact during 2014, I made a point of praising anyone who gave me, or my family, excellent service and being very clear when service was not up to scratch.

One mantra I’ve heard repeated several times is ‘why is this important when you can buy so much online now?’ – to me, there is no difference between excellent customer service on or offline. If it wasn’t important, why would services like Amazon and Ebay ask for reviews? And do you ever read the reviews? I do – and does it influence a buying decision? It certainly does for me.

cafe in Ireland with words 'come on in, the kettle's on the boil'

Excellent Customer Service

 

In the real world, shopping has to be more and more like an experience – and a good experience at that – why? because it’s so much easier, more convenient and often cheaper to buy online. Therefore, real world shopping must offer something extra. There must be some added value which engages the emotion. These are absolute musts for 2015.

If anyone is in doubt – look at the success in my home town of Swindon of the Designer Outlet Village, where experience is at the heart of shopping. People come from all over the country to shop there – they anticipate a bargain and they also anticipate an experience. This flagship centre for McArthur Glen – the company which runs the site – is a testament to good service. The mailing list for this one outlet centre alone is huge – a list many of us would be thrilled to manage.

So what is bad customer service? For me, it’s any person within any business who makes me FEEL slighted, stupid, silly, of little value – EVEN IF I’M IN THE WRONG. Remember the old adage ‘the customer is always right’ – there’s sense in that. No one can argue with how a customer feels, even if that customer is being unreasonable. Here are a few things I personally class as ‘bad’ service:

*Being ignored when I ask a direct question – this once happened to me in an Apple store where the member of staff, started talking to another customer during a conversation with me – I left and  made no purchase.

* Being continually hassled by staff when it’s clear I’m browsing and taking in the shop and what it has to offer. Once is enough.

* Being made to feel stupid when you can’t work out the intricacies of the ‘bill’ – this happened to me recently at Dominos Express in Swindon where the manager insisted I was unintelligent – his view changed however when I told him I was a journalist (something I should not have to do to be treated well). I will never enter that shop again. Not because the pizzas aren’t good – but I will be reminded of how I was made to feel.

*Being pushed aside by a telephone call – if I’m being served and the staff member receives a telephone call, I expect to come first – not be dismissed in favour of a telephone. This will guarantee I will leave without making a purchase.

*Being told ‘we can’t do that because the system won’t accept it’ – this has happened to me several times, when you want to amend a standard order, especially in food outlets. Where you cannot make a small change because a computer system is set up to offer no options. Again, a great reason for me to leave.

However it’s no good being continually negative. I now take the time to thank people for good service, fill in surveys where requested and give feedback. Nothing will change if you don’t engage. I have no idea what happens to that feedback, i just know it’s worth doing. Some excellent customer service highlights for me this year:

* the patience of a store manager when one of my children was horribly embarrassed about having a bra fitting and was tearful on entering the shop.

* the excellence of an American company which supplied me with a faulty product and replaced it within 48 hours, from America, at no extra cost and did not insist on the faulty item being returned.

* the responsive attitude of a Mini Service member of staff in Swindon who listened when I explained a complaint, put it right immediately and then sought me a better deal to make me feel better – hence work on my car which I thought would be £200 at least was actually £25. Now how will I feel on entering those premises again?

So it’s all about excellent customer service – but the onus is also on me as a consumer to give feedback, to say thank you and to praise as much as possible those who go the extra mile.

I’d be interested in your experiences too….

Grandparents inspired to take action after daughter-in-law’s traumatic pregnanc

This article was first published in January 2014 in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald.

Grandparents Bruce and Bev Bodio are on a mission to help expectant mums deal with difficult pregnancies.

The couple, who live in Stockwood Road, Devizes, were so inspired by an invention which helped their daughter-in-law Carrie, that they’ve turned her story into a business venture.

Carrie, who’s 43, gave birth last year to her daughter Evie after going through a pregnancy which almost crippled her.

“When I had my older daughter Millie ten years ago, I developed a hernia. These can cause problems for pregnant women in varying degrees. Basically it causes aching, a dragging sensation, stinging and can be agony when you are on your feet for any period of time.

“With Millie, it was there and it was achy but it was manageable. However, when I became pregnant with Evie the weakness was already established and things became much, much worse.”

During the second trimester of the pregnancy, the hernia in Carrie’s abdomen got bigger and caused constant pain which restricted her movements.

“Very quickly, I was so debilitated I couldn’t even stand to make a cup of tea. I couldn’t go shopping or do anything without holding my abdomen to relieve the pressure. The only relief was to sit down all of the time.

“I ended up going to the hospital and was told that I would need surgery once the baby was born and I just had to put up with it. They wouldn’t do anything during the pregnancy because of the risk to the baby.”

Various aids exist in the UK to help women with pelvic, hernia or back pain during pregnancy but for Carrie, they didn’t work.

“I looked and tried the belts on the market and found they were expensive, ugly, huge bands which were uncomfortable, unsightly and they didn’t work for me. I wouldn’t have been able to wear them with leggings or nice clothes.”

Carrie tried several do-it-yourself attempts to support the hernia, including wrapping a coat belt around her abdomen so she could go out. Nothing worked for any length of time.

“Eventually,  I gave up and did some research online to try to find something which was more suitable.”

That research led her to contact an American mum, Caroline Christensen, who also suffered hernia problems during her pregnancy. Like Carrie, she couldn’t find any product on the market which worked – so she designed her own.

Carrie said: “She told me she’d love to sell in the UK but didn’t have any idea how to do it and the cost of buying a single item and having it delivered here  pushed up the cost.

“I was so desperate to get something which worked – but there was always the risk that it would be a waste of money. For most people when they are having a baby, they don’t have money to throw away.”

Carrie took a chance and received the product known as the Baby Belly Band. She also told her family about it.

“Within minutes of putting it on, I felt like a different person. I felt secure, it’s flexible and I knew it couldn’t hurt the baby as it’s soft and stretchy. Overnight my life was transformed. I could wear leggings and nice clothes without worrying that everyone could see I was wearing a ‘hernia aid’.

“I’m not one to bang on about this or that wonder product but this simple invention gave me such freedom.”

Unbeknown to Carrie, her finding the Baby Belly Band was only the start of this story.

Mother-in-law Bev said: “I decided to look into the product and do some research. To see the transformation in Carrie who was finding it difficult to stand or walk, made me realize that we had to do something to get this out to other women affected by hernias.

“Women with these problems can face months of discomfort, worry and stress which is just not healthy for them or their babies.”

Bruce said: “I’ve been self-employed for 20 years and am a specialist in helping companies sell their products internationally. This is my area of expertise. Carrie knew I did something to do with distribution and mentioned the belly band to me, but that was it.

“I just couldn’t believe that one day she couldn’t even make herself a cup of tea and the next day she was able to go shopping in Bristol.”

For information on the Baby Belly Band, which is licensed as a medical product, visit www.babybellyband.tel

Or e-mail bev@tricorn4.com

 

 

 

Fracking – is it on your radar yet? Coming to the south west in 2014….

This is an article which appeared in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald on January 2 2014 and includes an interview with mum Becky Martin, a scientist by profession.

As 2014 dawns, it could be a very important year for one campaigning mum from Wiltshire.

Becky Martin is the parent behind a new group Frack Free Families which campaigns against the removal of shale oil or gas from the ground – even if it’s for exploration purposes.

Already Becky can be seen handing out leaflets in town centres across Wiltshire, including Salisbury and Swindon, as well as joining forces with other concerned groups. She recently spent day at a protest at Barton Moss near Irlam, Manchester where drilling took place in November and December.

“I became interested in this subject some time ago as a scientist – I’m a biologist and had a career in cancer research before having my son.

“I looked into hydraulic fracturing and did what research I could and I was horrified. I just had to do something about it.

“This is entirely outside my comfort zone. I’ve never campaigned about anything before or taken such a strong stance on any issue. With this subject it was a case of ‘I have to do something about it’.”

Becky often takes her two-year-old son Aidan with her when she hands out leaflets to make the point that families will be affected by this search for a new energy source.

“Being a mother has been the driving factor behind this for me. What are we leaving behind for our children? We could be risking their health with this process and it’s insanity.

“Even taking that into account, it isn’t even going to deal with our long-term energy needs. Even if shale gas was magnificent, it isn’t going to solve our energy problems,” Becky said.

The extraction of shale gas and oil – and in some cases coal bed methane – is likely to become a familiar theme here during 2014. It’s a process which has been used in America for many years but is still in an exploratory phase in the UK. It is just one measure the government is looking at to ensure energy sustainability in the future. Renewables is another.

Becky said: “We have to look at, and invest more in, renewable energy such as solar, wind and tidal power. Shale gas is just too risky and we could be spending money on the burgeoning renewables sector. It’s crazy to me that we’re not looking more seriously at offshore wind farms or tidal power. We’re an island for goodness sake, and that could create a sustainable energy future. We must move away from fossil fuels.

“Apart from anything else, shale gas will not help us with our main addiction when it comes to energy use – our cars. It will not solve the problem of our addiction to petrol.”

A licensing round for exploratory work around is due to be held in the first six months of this year. These licences could allow boreholes to be drilled and/or well pads to be created in Wiltshire. This means companies involved in this exploratory work – such as IGas, Cuadrilla and Celtique – will be able to bid for the licenses.

For Becky this is must not happen. Like many anti-fracking campaigners, she is concerned about the potential for contamination of water sources caused by the process of drilling. She’s also concerned about the long term health effects for communities living around drilling sites.

“Fracking fluid for the process is an unpleasant mix of chemicals. I’ve been told it contains nothing more than that which is under my kitchen sink. However these cleaning fluids are incredibly toxic and we’ll be pumping that into the ground in large quantities. Some of the chemicals used are very, very dangerous such as oxirane.

“There are also risks around what could be released by the process itself. There are naturally occurring radioactive materials in the earth which we would not want to contaminate our water.”

She wrote to her own MP, John Glen, expressing her concerns. He replied in detail:

“It is worth mentioning that the deposits of shale gas identified by the British Geological Survey in Wiltshire are extremely minimal – and located in the north west tip of the county. The majority are in central and northern England.” 

 “I’m afraid that I’m strongly in favour of fracking. I welcome the potential it has to provide with a vitally needed new energy source, and to catalyse a new industry in the UK.” 

However, Becky disputes that there will be any significant creation of jobs for local communities. She claims that in the Fylde area near Blackpool, where the first UK explorations were carried out, only 11 per cent of the workforce was recruited locally.

John Glen also says there is little credible evidence to show that contamination of water sources could occur if proper regulation and procedures are in place.

“It’s important to note the differences between water systems here and in the USA. In the UK, most aquifers like within the first 300m below the surface. Fracking operations will taken place some 2km down – migration of methane or fracking fluids could therefore only occur through fractures in the rock which would allow the chemicals through.”

Becky claims research from America suggests this method of obtaining energy is having adverse health effects on nearby communities – effects which emerge after a period of time. She believes this is not being taken seriously at home.

“There is evidence from Pennsylvania which suggests that children are having frequent nosebleeds, headaches and other problems when they live very close to the drill sites. I would also urge anyone to seek out the film Gasland which looks at the experiences of families living close to sites where shale gas and oil are extracted.”

Becky also claims there are a number of myths around fracking which are common among the wider population. The most common one, she claims, is that obtaining shale oil or gas will bring down the price of energy.

“Many politicians have now openly said that this will not happen including Ed Davey, David Kennedy and Lord Sterne. This will not make energy cheaper.”

Factoids: 

What is fracking? –  or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers deep within the earth. Fracking makes it possible to produce natural gas extraction in shale plays once unreachable with conventional technologies.

Germany has taken a different stance and has concluded, due to lack of data, the precautionary principle should be adhered to and a moratorium around fracking is in place.

For the American documentary about communities living near hydraulic fracturing sites – you can find Gasland the Movie on YouTube.

Frack free families can be contacted by joining the Frack Free Families group on Facebook.

 

Tired Swindon dad spells out demands of being a father…

Guest post from my Twitter friend @Ianaf72 or Ian Francis from Swindon – we had a little twitter chat about being tired and I challenged him to write a guest blog. Here it is!

‘Man was made at the end of the week’s work when God was tired’

I’ve included this quote, not because it’s particularly relevant to this blog, but because I hope it would make me seem more intelligent to the mums who work in media reading this site.
I’m not intelligent.  The fact I’m typing this, when I could be taking the opportunity to sleep, is proof of that.
And in my case, that is my failing: that I don’t manage my time effectively and take the opportunities I have to rest.  I could play the sympathy card and state that I’m tired because I’m a modern dad with a two and a half year old daughter (which is partly true) – but she sleeps much better nowadays.  I’m just bad at listening to my body.
Now's the time to sleep? or is it?

Now’s the time to sleep? or is it?

Take last night.  My wife was away (she was working, not on a jolly) and I was solely in charge.  I managed bath-time and bedtime with efficiency, and got to eat before midnight.  I went to bed early (I was in bed by 8.30!) What did I do? Did I crash, safe in the knowledge that I’d get a few hours solid sleep? No – I did some work (I did work, promise) – 1 point to me; I then spent far too much time on twitter (as always) and then played Football Manager (you’ll know that ladies, it’s what takes loving partners away from you for weeks at a time).  Minus 2 points.  I finally turned out the light at 11.30pm.
So – I can whinge and whine that I’m tired; and I can tell myself that it’s the pressures that life places on me – but the reality is, I’m obsessed with the unimportant things which steal time from us all if we’re not careful.
I guess I can catch up with my beauty sleep whilst being made to watch Despicable Me for the 200th time.

Hope in the midst of horror – the killing of a soldier in Woolwich

A young soldier is attacked and killed in full public view on our streets, seemingly by extremists intent on creating fear and panic among the population at large.

An act of violence and abomination. A  terrible, terrible event for the family, friends and colleagues of the victim. An attack on one of our soldiers, one of the many men and women who are prepared to die to protect our way of life.

Yesterday the news was full of stories about horrible killings in our society. This was one was so shocking because it was so immediate with video clips on the internet and the killers using that medium to spread whatever twisted message they wanted to get across.

Today I’ve heard several negative things which, in my view, play into the hands of all extremists. People calling for death, mobs, marches, violence to a whole group in our society who are as innocent as we are. People suddenly showing support for organisations which shouldn’t be more than an annoying pimple which needs to be popped. These organisations jumping on the horror and claiming it for their own – it’s utterly despicable. What is it that Gandhi said? An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Let’s not let anger and fear make us blind to the good things…..

There are pros and cons to seeing a death like this victim’s played out so publicly  – in America, people are used to seeing this type of thing more often. I’m in two minds about this. I heard a man on the radio saying it was disgraceful bringing this into everyone’s living rooms. Is it? Is it disgraceful that we face the horror up front? Those people in that street, that young man didn’t ask for that, did they? They had no choice in it. Can we hide from the risks we may all face?

But this exposure also highlighted other things – small acts of courage and care which happened in the few moments that this horrific event took place. The woman who tried to reason with someone who could not be reasoned with. Did she think or did she act? Her efforts provided, at a minimum, a distraction which could well have prevented another death or serious attack. Could I have done that? Would I have done that? I honestly don’t know.

The person, who even though it was hopeless, held the victim and wept over him – a stranger who cared, who just tried to be there in the most terrible of circumstances and amid carnage. Someone who just saw the young man and reached out. I believe the victim’s family will take a small crumb of comfort from that one act.

I heard comments about wishing the police had shot dead the people responsible. Yesterday, in the immediate aftermath I too had some sympathy for that view. But our police  are professionals. They too, being there and in the midst of that awful situation, may have felt that way. But they, like our soldiers, were professional. We have no idea what the bigger picture is here – is there more intelligence around this incident? Is there information to be gained from the men responsible? Two meetings of COBRA in a 24-hour period suggest something else is going on here that we, the public, are unable to see and may well never know.

We should therefore take heart in all the courageous people around this incident who reacted in split seconds to an unspeakable horror. Many acted with dignity and caring towards complete strangers. Now is the time for the police to do their jobs, and for us to consider the pain of the family involved.

What has Twitter done for you this week? Come on – share the pr love!

Today, I decided to talk about a week where social media has really started to show its power.

I’ve been taking social media seriously now for the last two years, sometimes feeling as if I’m too embedded in a virtual environment – a bit like that scene from the Stargate movie where they put their heads through the ‘watery’ porthole which sucks them in….

But I think it’s paying off in so many ways. First and foremost it’s the friends I’m making all over the world – I can’t believe that someone from Singapore, or San Francisco finds anything I say remotely of interest. This week, I’ve connected with Jason in America (no I’ve never met him) and we’ve decided to mutually appreciate each other for a month. So choosing positive key words to describe someone you’ve never met – and probably never will – across Twitter. Might seem a bit pointless but it’s strangely fun and all in the best possible taste.

Also I’ve been flagging up a DIY PR event we’re holding in the south west next month for women in business. I had four inquiries on the first day I started tweeting about it. I wasn’t expecting that!

With my even more business-like hat on I’ve got two lots of paid work in the last two weeks purely through messages put across on social media. How did that happen? I think it’s a question of engagement and being there – that simple, replying at the right time. And, of course, we are good at what we do…

None of that covers the countless RTs we’ve enjoyed and I’ve enjoyed from people all over the place – as you can tell Twitter is my favourite site though I’m also active on Linked In and Facebook.

On the downside I did have one nasty attack as well. Someone thought it would be funny to call me names – I didn’t know this person so I just blocked them. After  saying ‘sad little man’ – if, of course it was a man at all.

Twitter and social media outcomes

Get tweeting – don’t be afraid to show off a little….

All in all, I’m enjoying my time online and it’s paying off in unexpected ways. Long may it continue….

Titanic – what does the story mean to you? Review my thoughts….

Titanic!

No not the film – I couldn’t bear to watch it again – no, for me, it’s the real story which is captivating me as the 100th anniversary of  the sinking looms.

Through this wonderful job that I do, I’ve recently spoken to a man who’s an authority on Titanic who works at his family’s auction house in Wiltshire. To my surprise, this auction house is now the world’s (yes the world’s) most respected place to sell artefacts and memorabilia related to that ill-fated vessel. And this weekend is one of the auctions of Titanic stuff. (Henry Aldridge & Sons, Devizes)

I’m mentioning this because the sale couldn’t be more timely for me – as Saturday is my birthday and it seems a fabulous thing  to do on one’s birthday. After all, I am going to be 41 again, and again, and again…..

Why am I going? Am I going to buy anything? Am I loaded? Hardly.

The top items could sell for between £50,000 and £90,000 – that’s a little too rich for me. I’m sure the auctioneer almost spluttered over his coffee when I asked what he had for around the £100 mark. Memorabilia around the James Cameron film, I was told. So, I’ll settle for observing.

How much would you pay for a set of keys?...

I would love to see just who is there with £50k in their back pocket. Though I suspect that person or persons will be on the telephone or online. However, I have been to auctions where people do stump up loads and love to talk about it. Like the man sat next to me a few years ago at another auction house who bought a Princess Diana letter for £20k. When I asked him why, he said to put into a safe deposit box and wait for it to make money! Would that I had a spare £20k for such a purpose! I often wonder if he’s sold it on yet.

It seems incredible though that a First Class luncheon menu for April 14 1912 for Titanic could fetch a price of at least £90,000 or a set of keys used by the lamplighters has a price tag of £50,000. In the case of the latter, that’s a tool used by a working class man to carry out a working class job. On a ship which really epitomised the class system of the time. Not that that was any guarantee of survival of course. The richest man in the world at the time went down with the ship, along with the hundreds of second and third class passengers.

What is it about Titanic that so captivates us even now? Is it because it was a seemingly jinxed ship? I was told only this week that it was one of the only ships ever to not have been blessed by a monarch – I don’t know if that’s true. I think it’s the fact that we could all put ourselves in the shoes of those on board, especially those who were going to start a new life in the USA on the biggest liner ever built at the time. It’s a tragic romance along the lines of Glenn Miller.

But like the many romanticised tragedies, we know in our hearts it would have been the most appalling, terrible, horrific event to live through, witness and experience – all, unlike the film, in the dark. How many survivors were permanently scarred by it? How many suffered what we’d now call post traumatic stress disorder?

I love history and I’m genuinely interested in the lives and stories of those on board – and for a small amount of time, I really will be able to touch something that came from, or was related to that fateful ship – and I’ll wonder where those expensive items will end up……

 

 

Have you forgotten Meredith? It’s all about Miss Knox.

Let's not forget Meredith....

Social media world is buzzing tonight with the freeing of Amanda Knox, as an Italian appeal court quashes her conviction for killing Meredith Kercher, from London.

 

It’s interesting as a UK resident to see the American reaction to this result – it seems many, many people always believed Amanda Knox to be innocent.

 

Even Oprah Winfrey apparently did a programme

involving Miss Knox’s parents.

 

In fact, the reaction suggests that Miss Knox will almost be welcomed home as a hero. All in keeping with the impression I have of this lady, an outgoing, all-American girl, confident and, to me it seems, a bit in-your-face.

I wasn’t there to hear the case in its entirety and as my Italian allows me to ask for an ice-cream and that’s all – well, it wouldn’t have made much difference any way.

 

But on seeing this reaction, I just keep thinking what about Meredith Kercher and her family?

 

What must they be feeling now? Does any one care about them? Will we ever truly know what happened to poor Meredith?

This family has kept themselves very private during this latest twist in a tale of murder and sex.

And while, it’s right that any miscarriage of justice is revealed, what about the victims in all of this?

We must not forget that at the centre, there is a family whose child was murdered in horrible circumstances and there is, to me, something grating about celebrating an all-round awful situation.

A man is serving a sentence for his involvement in the killing of Meredith. But this appeal case does raise so many questions about what happened to her.

 

I feel so uneasy about all of this. I don’t want innocent people to spend time in prison but let’s not forget that a young woman died here and her family don’t have the answers.

 

So as I see the buzz and watch the media reports, my heart goes out to the Kercher family – because for them, nothing has changed. Meredith has gone and they have to deal with that day in, day out. Tomorrow won’t bring a day of freedom for them.

Hotel maid apparently not able to take on powerful money man

You all know the case in America to which I am referring.
A hotel maid claims that she is sexually assaulted by a high ranking person in the world of international finance.
He denies forcing himself on her, she claims a crime was committed against her. Her word against his. His word against hers – just who to believe?
The case has been dropped by the prosecution based upon the victim’s credibility – she changed her story about her movements after the alleged assault. She lied on an asylum form. The case is likely to be dropped. Probably unable to prove a crime happened, beyond any reasonable doubt.

Clearly we don’t know the details, but are these two things so great that this woman’s account doesn’t deserve to be examined in court?

What about this man’s past would make him completely reliable or otherwise?
Hardly a case which encourages women, or men, to come forward with claims of rape or sexual assault.
Doesn’t it feel like the victim’s past has been rifled through to see what can be found to discredit her and we don’t know exactly what those things are!

 

Is this a woman who has dollar signs in her eyes? Did she realise who this man was and think – this is my opportunity for a cash windfall? Possibly.
Our record of dealing with sexual assault and rapes in the courts is not great in the UK – a tiny percentage actually make it to the end of the road. Guilty or not guilty.
This is one case where you can see why a woman might think twice? Don’t you think?

 

Some stranger assaults me in the street and I have to hand over my medical records, reveal my sexual history, lay out my private life for all the world to see. Tell the world things I would rather forget or which happened years ago.
And if the case is deemed to be unsuitable, people can find out why ie. my dubious past – but the alleged defendant walks away with no stain on their character.
Rape and sexual assault should not be a question of what’s the chance of success? – evidence should be examined in an open and transparent fashion. The end result might be a conviction or not, the end result might be that a woman or victim is found to be lying.

Reporting a rape or sexual assault can be a ‘pig’ of an ordeal….

Victims of assault often just want one thing – they want their day in court, they want the best chance of justice.

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