LinkedIn – creating a community

linkedinLinkedIn offers a great opportunity for office products companies including suppliers, dealers and wholesalers, to engage with each other and improve ways of working.

It has its benefits over other types of forum, too. Some forums are open to abuse. This is generally caused where people can engage anonymously. It is very easy to post unconstructive and sometimes defamatory comments when you don’t have to admit your identity. But LinkedIn offers a professional, business-like environment in which to engage and share ideas, knowledge and opinion.

I have recently delved into the world of LinkedIn Groups and set one up for Spicers UK. It’s a small but growing group of like-minded people who want to make a success of their business – be they Spicers employees, suppliers or dealers. Having posed a couple of questions to members, it’s interesting to see that, despite the growing size of the group, there is an apparent nervousness to be an early contributor.

But the benefits outweigh the risks. The site can be well controlled to ensure it includes only relevant members and content. In addition, ideas can be developed to benefit all parties and aid the survival of businesses in the industry through tough economic times.

Supportive communities can be a vital lifeline in times like these. So if you’re a supplier or dealer in the UK office products market, why not take a look and see how we can all work better together.

January 31, 2009 at 2:45 pm Leave a comment

Twitter – Business Value for the Office Products Industry

twitterOnly last week I was in conversation with someone about social media who stopped me mid conversation to ask ‘What’s Twitter?’. My explanation covered details of ‘micro-blogging’, ‘character limitation’, etc. The person remained puzzled and after a while asked ‘So why do people do that?’.

It’s a good question from someone with no experience of the service. This is someone, whilst not connected with the office products market, could just as easily be a dealer, end user, PA or office manager purchasing stationery for a business.

What is the value of Twitter in our industry?

Communication is a two way process and Twitter offers the opportunity to both monitor what is being said about your business, respond, share news and business or market updates, answer queries, engage with customers to improve service and enter in to a true two way conversation. In fact, as Tweets (the individual updates) can be either private or visible to all, you are able to engage people who are not active, but just monitoring the conversation. All these features are of value to suppliers, wholesalers and other companies within the office products industry. Just go to www.search.twitter.com and type in “Post It Note” in the inverted commas and see who is talking about this product.

For more information on how Twitter can be used, see the Twitter Book from the Financial Aid Podcast.

January 3, 2009 at 7:44 pm 3 comments

Challenging Times

growthIt’s nearly 2009 and the economic climate looks set to get worse before it gets better. However, as New Year dawns, it’s worth looking at the opportunities for businesses during these challenging times.

As many companies start to tighten their belts and lay off staff, what better time to stay ahead of the game, review strategies to deliver growth, maximise opportunities to excel where your competitors are weak and keep lines of communication with customers open…all the time.

Economic downturns are tough, but they do deliver opportunities for those who seek them out and are agile enough to implement change or activate strategies to deliver success. Don’t sit back and take it. Do something. Now!

December 29, 2008 at 2:24 pm Leave a comment

Customer Service…at its worst

kind-to-eyes1As a marketer, you learn a lot from a bad customer service experience – the impact on the customer, the eagerness they feel to share their experience with others and how not to get it so wrong in your own business.

My most recent experience is with a company called Accantia. Not a company I’d heard of, though one with well known brands such as Wright’s and Cidal soaps and their best known brand, Simple.

Simple is quoted on thier website as “the leading brand of soap, skin care and toiletries products designed to respect the needs of sensitive skin”.

In fact one product in particular ‘Simple – Kind to Eyes Balm’ is stated to be “a perfect blend of active ingredients and multivitamins to reduce puffiness and refresh tired eyes. Perfect for even sensitive skin.”

Not so, I’m afraid. After a single use of a product costing around £4 I ended up with a hospital visit for eyes that were so swollen that I could barely see out of them, and to top it all, over £17 cost for prescriptions for steroid and antihistamine tablets and hydrocortizone creams.

As you can imagine, my first port of call was an e-mail to the company, Accantia on the Sunday evening, detailing the experience, the outcome and sending photographs of the hideous result of using ‘Simple Kind to Eyes Balm’.

By the following Thursday the company had failed to respond. I searched their website for an alternative contact point, to find only their PR Agency’s details at Beattie Communications. Credit to them they must have forwarded my details back to Accantia who responded on the Friday saying “Please accept our apologies in the delay in responding but having checked our e-mails, I am unable to locate your original e-mail.”

Interestingly, they actually responded as a reply to my original e-mail!

I was asked to reply giving my full details so that they could “deal with [my] enquiry in a professional manner”.

This I did and one week later I received a letter containing a £5 Boots voucher “entirely without prejudice” to “reimburse [me] for the product” but asking me to return the product at my own expense and complete a 2 page questionnaire regarding my experience.

 Lessons learned:

  • Respond to your customer queries and complaints within a realistic timeframe – maximum 1 working day
  • Do not deny receiving the original contact if you know this actually was not the case – emails, particularly, are easy to track
  • Refund in full any expense which results from the use of the product you supplied
  • Telephone the customer and engage in conversation – research can be done during this phone call and a friendly response from a professional and well briefed menber of staff can often placate an angry customer
  • Don’t ask the customer to do anything at their own expense to help your research
  • Where you take it from there is up to you as a business but get the basics right as a minimum
  • Remember, what was once word of mouth with a small group of friends, is now much broader, as people share experiences with larger communities via the web.

So the outcome for me? I won’t be purchasing ‘Simple’ products, that’s clear. I also won’t be recommending them.

Will I be completing the two page questionnaire and returning the product? It’s a difficult one to answer. From a marketer’s point of view, I am interested to see where this takes me and how they handle the issue. But from a personal perspective I am still too angry to help them, at my own expense, having already personally funded hefty presctiption charges as a result of their product.

What would you do?

December 20, 2008 at 5:42 pm 2 comments

The History of Stationery

pencilsIn a recent blogpost entitled ‘Stationery v Stationary’ I challenged agencies and potential employees to ‘up their game’ and check the fundamentals in their presentations when selling their wares to stationery or office products companies.

Today I noticed a blogpost on the site of Ryman, the UK high street stationer, entitled ‘The History of Stationery’ that gives an interesting account of both the history and future of products within this category and the history of the term itself.

The confusion aparently dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries when there were two types of stationery retailers – a travelling sales person selling stationery in towns and villages and another type of outlet that was truly stationary – selling the same types of products, but from a static location.

Now if anyone who spells ‘stationery’ incorrectly in future pitches actually manages to explain their justification for the error, I will be impressed!

December 6, 2008 at 8:50 pm Leave a comment

Are you doing or saying something of value?

picture2How much goes on in your organisation that really adds no value to the customer or to the bottom line?

I recently had a conversation with a very well respected person in the office products industry who said, ‘Don’t do every thing right, do the right thing‘.  Spot on! It is not that difficult to deliver a good standard of work on every project or request you work on…but are these things all important? Are you really being selective as to what adds value to your business or just being a ‘good egg’.

Doing the ‘right things’ and doing them well can only add value to the customer and the bottom line.

November 22, 2008 at 2:10 pm 2 comments

Industry blogging…to pay or not to pay!

The office products market is fascinating. A vast market servicing dealers, offices, retailers and end consumers with everything from coat racks to coffee and pens to printers. Catalogues play host to nearly 20,000 different products. It’s big business.

And within this market in the UK there are a number of blogs springing up. Some have been around for a while, others, such as Moving Stationery, are much more recent.

Dealer Support, one of the key trade titles, recently launched an Editor’s Blog. It’s a great move, however there needs to be a review to ascertain the difference between the Blog and the Forum on this site as they currently appear to be serving a similar purpose but with the blog being neglected. A quick look at the objectives for both would soon rectify this and give clarity for users.

Strangely, however, the oldest of the blogs on the radar in the industry, Proficiency 2020, has taken the decision that people should now pay to read the content. In a bizarre move, its editor, Peter Frost, has asked for £120 per annum for access to his industry blog starting from 15th September 2008. However, with all the material currently fully accessible (at date of publication of this post), I’m sure any who agreed to pay the fee will be suitably dis-engaged!

This brings us to the question about how or should people monetise blogging activity. What do people see as the benefits to blogging? For me it’s about sharing and exchanging information and insight with a like-minded community. I can also see the value for those who run a business in offering knowledge and information freely to generate other sources of revenue such as speaker opportunities or contract work in your area of expertise.

What are your thoughts on the subject? To pay or nor to pay…that is the question.

October 24, 2008 at 1:34 pm Leave a comment

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